Entering her 18th season as head coach of the women's soccer program, Jess Mannella sat down to preview this year's team and talk about expectations, the roster and this year's schedule.
What are your expectations for the team this season?
There is no question about it, our goal is to win the Atlantic 10 Championship and get to the NCAA Tournament. We have been building slowly to get there, and this year we think we have the talent and support to do it. And we're really excited about that potential.
The team was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll. Do you think the Hawks are being underestimated?
Do I think they are underestimating us? Sure. We did finish seventh in the regular season last year, but I think if people looked at how we were playing at the end - beating Saint Louis in the quarterfinals and then playing a close game versus VCU in the semifinals that was decided on a PK - and the growing pains we had with dealing with some injuries, we could have been higher.
How will the returning letterwinners help set the tone for this year's team?
We have upperclassmen that knows how to win. They did it in their youth. And throughout their careers here they have been won big games against teams like Ohio State and advanced to the A-10 title game. They know how to win those games, and I think that is sometimes the hardest thing, but they can use it to their advantage.
The newcomers are a larger group than previous seasons. How will they play a role in the team's success?
We are excited about our newcomers. They are great kids that work hard. I think one of the hard things is balancing 11 newcomers with the upperclassmen, but there is a bunch of talent in them that can only add depth to what we already have. And that is what is most exciting.
As in past years, your nonconference schedule is a challenging one. Are there any specific matches that you are looking forward to?
We are looking forward to Temple right now because it's our first game. It's a Philadelphia rivalry too, so that's always exciting. We also have two top-20 teams that we'll play in Rutgers and Princeton. And we also wanted to play James Madison because they are always really strong in the Colonial and I think going out there will be a tough match.
The voting seemed about right, with the exception of us. Saint Louis is very strong again and returns a majority of its key players from last year. They are going to be just as dangerous and they are our first A-10 game, so hopefully our nonconference slate will help us prepare for that game. And without playing everyone in the conference, we have a very strong A-10 schedule. We play four of the five teams that were picked above us in the preseason poll, so the greatest thing is it's all in our hands. Our goal is just to take one game at a time and to prove to each team we are better than them.