By A.V. Sherk
The women’s soccer exhibition match on Saturday, Aug. 17 between UNC Asheville and the Charlotte 49ers, goes down in the books as another defeat, but the 1-0 score seems promising to the Bulldog’s coach.
“I’m pleased with the way we played today,” UNCA’s Coach Michelle Demko said. “Charlotte is a great team. Compared to last year, we have a better outcome. We’re closing the gap.”
Demko references their match against Charlotte last year that resulted in a 3-0 loss.
“Our injured players are back on the field and we’re moving the ball consistently,” said Demko. “When playing against Charlotte you have to meet a high standard. We were able to switch out six players and our level of play didn’t break. So we can call on anybody and maintain our high level of play.”
The players supporting that demanding level of play included several freshman.
“The freshman players got in and did their role,” Demko said. “They’ll need to be 90 minute fit, but I think they’re doing very well adapting to college play.”
Among the freshmen that impressed Coach Demko included Maddi Meglic, midfielder, Abby Holt on defense, and Eve Kirkendall, who played all 90 minutes as a defensive right back.
“It felt pretty good to play and give Charlotte a run for their money,” Katie Coffelt, a freshman forward, said. “We upheld our side, and our defense was beating them to the ball.”
Freshmen say the moving in process can be chaotic. The Bulldog’s freshmen players must combine adjusting to the college dorms with tough preseason training.
“It sucks working to get fit,” Coffelt said. “But I love the preseason bonding. We get to start early and become a stronger team altogether.”
With only one day of rest between the end of preseason training and the exhibition game, fatigue was most likely a factor in the game’s outcome.
“Preseason consisted of two trainings a day, which was tough physically, but it also gave us the time to bond as a team,” junior goalie Heather Muller said.
Demko described the game as a very good starting point and the returning players, like sophomore Kelsey Palmer, are feeling confident and connected.
“We clicked.” Palmer said. “This year our team has a better bond and I feel we definitely outworked Charlotte.”
Palmer played the entire first half on defense, and for the second half she played a solid 20 minutes as an outside forward.
“Coach Demko gave me a lot of play time because of my transition speed and my ability to play any position,” Palmer said. “I prefer defense.”
Between Palmer and the rest of the Bulldogs’ defense, including goalie Heather Muller, 24 out of the 25 shots on goal were denied.
“We do have a lot of freshmen, but they fit into the dynamics of our team really well,” Muller said. “I see us being stronger as a team this year. It’s obvious that each individual player on the team worked hard over the summer and we have come back at a very high level. “
Muller is also taking on a new responsibility this season by training freshmen goalies Suzie Zigante and Bri Klien. Zigante played the second half of Saturday’s game as goalie and only allowed one goal.
“We compete every day at practice and I have already seen improvement in all of our playing in just a few short weeks,” Muller said. “ Being the most experienced I have been able pass on some of the things I have learned during the past two seasons, which hopefully will give them more confidence playing this season.”