Saturday, May 8, 2004

Ladyhawks embark on fifth season today

Coach says he'll field competitive team

By Colleen Kane
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Ladyhawks will kick off another season of soccer today with a game at the Detroit Jaguars.

The opener marks the franchise's fifth season in the W-League of the United Soccer Leagues, an Open League that allows professional, college and youth players on the same teams. The Ladyhawks, who play home games at Lakota West Soccer Stadium, will fill this year's 24-person roster with 20 college or former high school players from the Cincinnati area, third-year coach and co-owner Wil Cagle said.

The Ladyhawks will look to expand on last year's 5-7 league record and make the playoffs for the first time in two years, but the team likely won't get a gauge of its full strength until a couple weeks into the season.

The W-League starts early this year because of its expansion to 37 teams, a growth that comes despite WUSA's collapse last season. Several of the Ladyhawks' Division I college players were just released by the NCAA to play for the summer on May 1 and many are taking exams or graduating and won't be able to make the season opener.

"It's really early, so it's hard to tell how we're doing," Cagle said. "We're going in blind. But I think we'll field a competitive team this year."

Once they're assembled, the Ladyhawks will return several key players from last year's squad, some of which also won the under-23 United States Adult Soccer Association's national championship.

Harrison High graduate Leah Miller will return at goalkeeper. McAuley graduate and former Miami All-American Andrea Cunningham will be back as the Ladyhawks' leading goal scorer and captain. UC midfielder and Lakota West graduate Amy Mink will also return.

Cagle said Wilmington players Claire Gauche and Katie Foucht, and Ferris State center midfielder Jen Gaylor are newcomers.

The Ladyhawks' home season kicks off May 15 against Fort Wayne and features seven W-League games and one exhibition game. However, Cincinnati's high-profile exhibition against WUSA's Washington Freedom last year, which brought soccer stars Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach to town, will not be duplicated this year because of WUSA's recent financial problems. The Ladyhawks still will host their first 4-on-4 youth tournament July 17 and 18, along with their usual soccer camps.

Ladyhawks returnees at a glance

The Cincinnati Ladyhawks enter their fifth season in the 10-year-old W-League determined to win the expanded Midwest Division. With 10 players returning from last year's United States Adult Soccer Association Under-23 National Championship team, the 24 player roster has a number of new faces looking to challenge for positions.

Last year's leading scorer, Andrea Cunningham (McAuley High, Miami University) will be leading the offensive threat again this year.

In the midfield, third-year player Amy Mink (Lakota West High, University of Cincinnati) hopes to rebound from a frustrating year of injuries last season.

The defense will be anchored by second-year player Erica Nollen, (Lakota East High, Ohio State University) who is coming off an excellent campaign with the Buckeyes. Joining Nollen in the defensive zone will be third-year player Kara McCue (Lakota West, University of Kentucky).

The key defensive returnee will be goalkeeper Leah Miller (Harrison High, Seton Hall), who is back for her third season.

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