W-League Preview: Northeastern Conference
Washington, Long Island lead list of contenders


W-League Preview

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The newly-formed Northeastern Conference will see two 2012 division champions battling for a place at the W-League Championships, but the Washington Spirit Reserves and Long Island Rough Riders will not be alone in aiming for a berth at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The quintet of the Virginia Beach Piranhas, Fredericksburg Impact, New York Magic – F.A. Euro, North Jersey Valkyries and New Jersey Wildcats could also contend.

Fredericksburg Impact – After missing out on a playoff place by a point last summer, the Impact are aiming to claim their first playoff berth in their third season of action. The club has installed Rich Stoneman as its new head coach, and he has some familiar faces returning to action, including Chelsey Haney and Kara Blosser, both of whom had a pair of goals. Also joining the squad is the East Carolina duo of Kimberly Cummings, who scored 15 goals in her career for the Pirates, and Caty Butler, who had 16 goals in four seasons.

Long Island Rough Riders – The Northeast Division champions last summer, Long Island returns a number of familiar faces this season as reigning W-League Most Valuable Player Grace Hawkins is joined by Kimberly DeCesare and Hailey Hemmer. Also returning to the side this season is two-time W-League Defender of the Year Sue Weber, who took a season off last summer for maternity leave. The former Hofstra standout will lead a defense that will aim to emulate its performance a season ago, conceding only eight goals in 12 games.

New Jersey Wildcats – The Wildcats have had a number of departures, both to the NWSL and professional leagues overseas, but will be hopeful of remaining a contender with a re-tooled squad this summer. One player that could step into a larger role this season is youngster Danae O’Halloran, who showed promise as she recorded two goals and two assists last summer, while former Penn standout Jessica Fuccello will provide experience in attack, having scored 36 goals in 51 games in her career for the Quakers.

New York Magic – F.A. Euro – The Magic will hope to make positive progress this summer, and with some new faces on the squad, might be able to make their way up the standings. While co-leading scorer from last summer Brittany Pfaff returns to lead the attack, the Magic have added Florida State’s Hikaru Murakami and Polish U19 international Evelyn Nicinski, who had three goals and three assists last fall for Bucknell.

North Jersey Valkyries – North Jersey had a positive third season, finishing just behind Long Island in the Northeast Division. Now on the hunt for the first playoff berth in club history, the Valkyries have brought back a number of key players from last summer, including Nickolette Driesse, who had six goals and three assists last summer. Ashley Clarke also returns to pair with Driesse after leading the side with seven goals and four assists, and the duo should remain a potent threat to opposing defenses. At the other end of the field, goalkeepers Katherine Courter and Erica Keil both return to compete for the No. 1 jersey.

Virginia Beach Piranhas – Reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004, the Piranhas have a good group returning to try and build on their success, with leading scorer Esther Anyanwu back after scoring five goals and adding two assists last summer. Emily Kittleson and Taylor Mertz are also back with the side, which has added former Atlanta Silverbacks forward Nkese Udoh after she scored a pair of goals last season.

Washington Spirit Reserves – The Atlantic Division champion last summer, the Spirit have a new name, but a number of familiar faces as they look to return to the W-League Championship. Ashley Herndon makes her return after scoring five goals and adding three assists last summer, and will play her third season with the club before heading to James Madison this fall. The Spirit Reserves have also added some high-profile college players to bolster their ranks, with U.S. U20 international Alex Doll arriving from Stanford, and Maryland’s Danielle Hubka and Ashley Spivey both arriving after strong seasons for the Terrapins.