POTSDAM -- Fourth-year SUNY Potsdam women's soccer head coach Mark Misiak has patiently and incrementally built his program over his first three seasons.
The Bears have shown improvement every year and took a huge leap forward defensively in 2013. Potsdam cut its goals allowed from 59 in 2012 to 27 last season.
The Bears also recorded five shutouts, the most in four seasons, and earned conference victories against Oswego and New Paltz. The squad's play kept them in the playoff hunt until the final weekend of the season. Misiak is very pleased with the progress, but has raised the bar and his expectations again.
"It's a really important season for us," said Misiak. "I think other teams have taken notice that we've been improving year-by-year. Last year we could say that we were young and inexperienced, but we can't make excuses for ourselves now. It's time to show up and take a really big step forward for Potsdam soccer."
Contrary to last year's youth, the 2014 Bears roster is more balanced with a strong mix of experience and talented new faces. Potsdam has 15 veterans returning, four transfers with prior collegiate experience and seven rookies. Assistant coach Lauren Mackay also returns for another tour with the team.
The Bears will miss the offense of All-SUNYAC forward Hailey Hollenbeck and the defensive toughness of Summer Bader and Marissa Skaczkowski. However, Potsdam will get a boost from the unexpected return of senior midfielder Kate Clauss (Bloomfield, N.Y./Bloomfield), who was considering graduating early. Clauss will retain her captaincy and rejoin co-captain and senior midfielder Kristin Webster (Schnectady, N.Y./Schalmont) to lead the team.
"I'm thrilled to have Kate and Kristin back," Misiak said. "Kate planned for last year to be her final season with us so it was a welcome surprise when she told me she'd be back last spring. It's a dream for a coach to have two leaders like that. With their attitude on and off the field, they really are the perfect pair. I'm super excited to have them leading our program once again."
The Bears have six strikers on the roster this season, including four veterans. The most experienced is junior Erin McClusky (Watertown, N.Y./Immaculate Heart), who played in all 17 of Potsdam's contests in 2013 and made 10 starts.
"Erin had a fantastic spring season," said Misiak. "I think she's really motivated to have a successful junior campaign. She has all the talent in the world and now she's ready to break out and have a big year for us."
Sophomore Alex Guidarelli (Cortlandt Manor, N.Y./Walter Panas) will make the switch from defense to wing this year. She played in 12 games with six starts last season.
"Alex is a fantastic one-v-one attacker, so we're going to try to isolate her and get her to really drive at the hearts of our opposing defenses," Misiak said.
Also back are senior Nina Komosinski (Akron, N.Y./Akron) and junior Brenna Vukelic (Buffalo, N.Y./Amherst). She will primarily be used as an outside back, but she may see some time up-front as well. Komosinski started eight of the 14 games she played and Vukelic made two starts in her six contests.
Freshman Michigan native Jaci Morr (Monroe, Mich./Monroe), who will also compete for the Bears women's hockey team, and Cape Vincent rookie product Morgan Robbins (Cape Vincent, N.Y./Thousand Islands) are the two new young guns for Potsdam.
"Jaci is the reigning high school regional player of the year after scoring 44 goals last season," Misiak said. "She's as dangerous a striker as we'll have in the conference this year. We have high hopes for Jaci to score some goals for us. Obviously goals change games, so Jaci is going to be charged with getting us some more production from our forwards this year. And Morgan is a really clinical finisher, so she's going to be asked to help us with our offensive production this season as well."
Clauss and Webster will lead a strong midfield corps that consists of seven returnees, one transfer and two freshmen. Clauss started all 16 games she played and Webster started every game last season.
"Kate is somebody who's going to have a freer role this year," said Misiak. "Look for her to play that final killer pass and set up some more goals for our team. Kristin did a great job last year playing in the holding midfield role. She gave our team a lot of balance and a lot of leadership in that position."
Senior Alli Cleaver (Watertown, N.Y./Watertown) is back and healthy after injury cost her the last season and a half. She started 24 of the 25 games she played during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"Alli is healthy and fighting for good quality playing time this year," Misiak said. "She is extremely intelligent in terms of her movements. Her decision making is always spot on. We're delighted to have Alli back to full fitness."
Juniors Jess Sterns (Henrietta, N.Y./Rush-Henrietta) and Mackenzie Cotter (Bloomingdale, N.Y./Saranac Lake) are also back with sophomore Kaylen Van Wagner (Red Hook, N.Y./Hotchkiss). Sterns played in 14 games with 13 starts, while scoring two goals. Van Wagner also made 13 starts and played in all 17 games. She scored two goals and added two assists for six points.
"I see Jessie playing at center midfield, but she's so versatile that we can move her a lot of different positions within each game itself," said Misiak. "So she offers us a lot of different options with her capabilities."
Sophomore Michaela Cole (Parishville, N.Y./Parishville-Hopkinton) has moved from goal to the midfield this season. Last year she emerged as the primary starter after injuries thrust her into the role. She posted a respectable 4-5-1 record with a 1.21 goals-against-average and two shutouts.
Junior Karley Cree (Hogansburg, N.Y./Salmon River) moves up Route 11 from SUNY Canton to join Potsdam this season. She was the Kangaroos' third-leading scorer in 2013 with three goals and eight assists for 14 points.
"Karley was always the focal point of our pregame talks when we played Canton," Misiak said. "So it's nice to have her with us now."
Freshmen Becca DeRubertis (Brunswick, N.Y./Tamarac) and Lexi Barnes (Williamsville, N.Y./Williamsville South) join the Bears from opposite sides of New York.
ry excited to have Becca," said Misiak. "She's extremely quick, very technical and has a very high soccer IQ. Lexi will be right in the mix for playing time as well."
Junior All-SUNYAC selection Chloe Hay (Burnt Hills, N.Y./Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake) returns to anchor the Bears' defense this season. Hay started all 14 games she played last year.
"It's great to have Chloe back," Misiak said. "She gave a great account of herself last year. Chloe's a fantastic left back. She's a real attacking threat for us out of the back in addition to her defensive capabilities."
Joining Hay on defense this season are three sophomores, one transfer and two freshmen. Sophomore Amanda Peterson (West Chazy, N.Y./Beekmantown) played every minute of all 17 games as a rookie and has kept expectations high. Sophomore Sara Livecchi (Red Hook, N.Y./Red Hook) did everything she was asked to help the team last year. She played in all 17 games including four in goal. Coach Misiak expects her to have a breakout season. Sophomore Massena native Kaleigh Zappia (Massena, N.Y./Massena) earned time in nine contests last season.
Junior Sara Sinnigen (Dryden, N.Y./Dryden) transferred from Tompkins Cortland Community College where she was a junior college All-American defender. Sinnigen started all 16 games for the Panthers and chipped in four goals and two assists for 10 points.
The two freshmen defenders on the squad this season will be Colton-Pierrepont graduate Andrea Aldous (Colton, N.Y./Colton-Pierrepont) and Madison Mahar (Stillwater, N.Y./Stillwater). Aldous, the former Colt, brings her physical play and quickness to the Bears. Mahar played under Mackay at Stillwater High School.
All of Potsdam's goalies will be brand new faces this season. Freshman Val Driscoll (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) will compete with junior transfers Bri Thibeau (Salem, N.Y./Salem) and Emily Lapage (Brushton, N.Y./Brushton-Moira).
"I'm fully confident in all three of our goalkeepers' capabilities between the sticks," said Misiak. "I can't really say who's the top goalie right now, but everybody will get their shot early on and the best goalie will play. It's going to be up to each individual to showcase their talents to the best of their abilities."
Thibeau trained with the Bears during their spring season, but was the starter for Clarkson University for the 2011 season as a freshman. She posted a 6-4 mark with five shutouts and a 0.80 goals-against-average in 13 games with the Knights. Lapage went 6-9 with North Country Community College last season. She totaled three shutouts and 134 saves for the Saints.
Potsdam opens its season on August 30-31 with a pair of matches as the Bears host the Potsdam College Cup. Potsdam opens up its SUNYAC slate with a trip to Plattsburgh on Sept. 28. In addition to local rivals Canton, Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the Bears will play non-conference games against Alfred, Alfred State, Sage, Elmira, Utica and SUNYIT.
"We're definitely pumped to be hosting a tournament again," said Misiak. "It's always nice for our girls to be playing at home during the first weekend. We definitely want to keep the trophy here in Potsdam. Also, there's a lot of mutual respect between the Clarkson coach and I, but that game is a local kind of derby match for the players and they always get psyched up for it. And there's also the Boyd Jones Cup with SUNY Canton. That game is always a fun event and we're happy to keep that tradition going."
Potsdam officially kicks off the season against the Alfred University Saxons at 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 30, in the first round of the Potsdam College Cup.