Sunday, October 5, 2003

TMC women's soccer has come long way


College update

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Natalie Gardner never expected Thomas More College to be a women's soccer power, not during her four-year career, anyway.

Gardner, a senior defender, has played for three different Saints coaches in a program that hasn't had a 10-win season in nine years.

It wasn't long ago that opponents considered Thomas More the "joke game," she said. Gardner remembers the team living up to that expectation; players shoved shinguards into socks while driving to the field 10 minutes before game time.

Which is why this season's success is so astounding.

"It's outrageous," Gardner said. "To get from there to here . . . I never would have dreamed it."

The Saints, which two years ago went 5-11-1, are on a 12-game unbeaten streak dating to last season, and their 9-0-2 start is the best in school history. Thomas More earned a program-first Great Lakes Region ranking Sept. 22 and stands at No. 10 among Division III schools.

As a Holy Cross senior, Gardner chose Thomas More for its academic reputation and proximity to home. Because Division III schools don't offer athletic scholarships, Gardner said at first the soccer players' talent ranged from above-average to so-so.

"As a freshman, sometimes we only had enough people to play. If someone got hurt, we just didn't have anyone else to go in," Gardner said. "One year we had someone come out who never played soccer before. It was frustrating being beaten again and again and again."

Last season, under former coach Jeff Cummings, Thomas More set school records for wins (12) and shutouts (nine) and outscored opponents 61-10.

How did the Saints make the leap?

"Sheer determination," Gardner said. "We wanted to be a force to reckon with."

In the last two seasons, Cummings and new coach Jason Burr have brought in the best recruiting classes in Thomas More's history. The school, long known for its academic accolades, is now attracting marquee players from talent-rich Cincinnati high schools.

Burr, a first-time head coach with extensive Division I assistant coaching experience at Western Kentucky, implemented a spring-season regimen for the Saints. In past years, spring was considered an offseason.

"I didn't want to change much, because they'd done so many good things," said Burr, who imposed practices for five weeks, scheduled scrimmages and insisted on weightlifting and fitness training.

Harrison grad Cathy Santillo, who scored a team-high 21 goals last season and has 13 goals this fall, said many girls were initially nervous about Burr's Division I expectations.

"During the spring (in past years), players just went home and got jobs. They just came out for soccer during soccer season," Santillo said.

"We work a lot better together this season because we're in such better shape."

Standout junior goalkeeper Nikki Scott, a Goshen graduate, is another secret to the Saints' success. Scott has recorded five shutouts already, after posting five all last season.

Burr, who also coaches Thomas More's men's soccer team, established six goals with the women's team before the season started. The first task was to get serious about soccer.

Mission accomplished, Gardner said. Earning a berth in the Division III tournament would be icing, but Gardner said the team is reveling in the thrill of being competitive.

"We want to be the wild card," Gardner said. "We want to be the team that surprises."

Others

• Northern Kentucky University's Kristin Koralewski has been named Great Lakes Valley Conference co-Player of the Week in volleyball. The junior outside hitter collected 65 kills and 52 digs and finished with a .403 hitting percentage in three matches last week as NKU posted a 2-1 record.

• Thomas More sophomore volleyball player Laura Wiegele (Mercy) had 52 digs Sept. 27 against No. 12 Ohio Northern. Her total is just two behind the school record of 54 and is the highest total of any player in NCAA Division I, II or III and NAIA this season.

• Tiffin freshman volleyball player Holly Morgan (Finneytown) passed at a 95 percent average with 18 digs per game in the Lady Dragons' four matches last week. Morgan leads Tiffin with 277 digs.

• University of Cincinnati sophomore pitcher Bryan Wood (Fairfield) was honored Sept. 28 as one of seven recipients of the Rosie Red Scholarship. Wood was honored on the field at Great American Ball Park prior to the Reds' final game for his contributions to Cincinnati baseball.

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E-mail srussell@enquirer.com




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