Preview: Rick and the Mountain Lions are Starting from Scratch

By Doug Fitzgerald published August 22, 2008

For a chef, creating a great recipe from scratch requires equal parts inspiration, artistry and patience.

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's soccer coach Nichole Rick will need those same traits as she is, most definitely, starting from scratch.

Not only will UCCS be competing in women's soccer for the first time in 2008, the Mountain Lions will be doing so in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Over the past six years, the RMAC has produced a national champion, three national semi-finalists and two quarterfinalists.

With a brand-new program entering such a difficult conference, the expectations of most observers is, to say the least, modest.

"In the (preseason coaches' poll) we're not ranked to even be competitive," said Rick, who pointed out that UCCS had been picked dead last in the 10-team conference. "But I don't see it that way at all.

"We know we're going into one of the hardest Division II conference's in the U.S. I expect us to step up into that level right off the bat. We recruited specifically for that purpose to be competitive in this conference."

The biggest reason for optimism is in goal, where Amie Kern transferred from Division I George Washington to play her senior season at UCCS. After spending her freshman season with the Colonials as a reserve, Kern was GW's starter in all 37 of its matches in 2006-07. She compiled a 17-19-1 record and, as a senior, was second in the Atlantic 10 Conference in saves and saves per game.

"We have a huge leader in our goalie and she's been a huge strength for the team," said Rick. "In women's soccer, a lot of times the goals are scored off of the long-ball chip over the keeper where they don't react properly or the one-v-ones because they don't know how to dive properly.

"To actually have a keeper who's not only the leader but also has years of experience under her belt is obviously a strength."

Kern will be backed up by a pair of southern Colorado kids who spent time at other colleges. Ashley Armstrong, who played at Douglas County High School, was the starting goalkeeper at Dana College the past two seasons. Tiffanie Christoffersen redshirted this past season at the Air Force Academy after starring for Liberty High School.

Kern's presence will also benefit the defense, which has talent but will need to develop chemistry and continuity. Freshman Lindsay Link is currently penciled in as the sweeper who, in Rick's diamond set, is the last line of defense. Former pentathlete Josi Heer gives UCCS depth at the position.

"The sweeper has to be a very, very dominant player," said Rick. "The position demands speed, confidence and control. That's a very hard player to find.

"Our goalie controls the sweeper and our sweeper controls the defense."

The defense begins with Jelisa Guy, a junior transfer from Montana State-Billings, who will begin the season at stopper. Lauren Hall and Kelby Petry are expected to start as the outside defenders. Pushing for playing time will be Whitney Prescott, Chelsea George, Nikki Schroeder, Jamie Civitate and Alyssa Nagy.

The center midfielders are key possession winners on any team, and Rick thinks she has a couple of good ones in Ashley Collins, a junior transfer from Air Force, and freshman Brianna Guzzardo. Two other freshmen, Amy Ross and Halleigh Loucks, have shown considerable promise.

Another transfer, Jennifer Joern, will team with freshman Jessica Escobedo on the wing. Julia Saenz, who was a prolific scorer at St. Mary's High School near UCCS, will see plenty of playing time at the wing as well as at forward.

Two freshmen, Kristin Preble and Jessika Williams, are penciled in to start up front, but several players will see time at both forward and wing as Rick wants those positions to be active. Juniors Krista Mirabelli and Sandy Porter plus freshmen Becca Scheele, Micaela Fachathaler and Saenz will all factor into the mix.

"I would have to say we have a lot of great players," said Rick. "They just have to learn to play together."

And that's been the biggest hill that Rick's had to climb. Taking a group of individuals and molding them into a team, especially with no players already familiar with the program, is a challenge.

"The team dynamic has to be found; that's what we're dealing with in preseason," said Rick. "As of right now, my hierarchy is me, my assistant coach (Craig Decker), graduate assistant ( Jenny Cleland) and then my captains. Because there is no established hierarchy that the freshmen walked into, some of them are walking in the wrong direction or acting as if they were still at the top of the squad like they were in high school.

"I'm not afraid to hurt their feelings."

That's good, because opponents will be more than happy to hurt feelings if given the chance. Once the lights come on, it won't matter that the Mountain Lions are a first-year program; they will either rise to the challenge or not. That's what the preparation has been about.

"I think we have a really solid team honestly," said Rick. "I'm not going to predict that we're going to win conference or anything like that, but we're not going to be a team that backs off. We have some transfers that are contributing right off that bat, we have freshman who are stepping up to the plate, and we have a senior goal keeper leaning in from the back.

"I feel like all the hard work is paying off, and we will be able to compete."

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Jamie CivitateJamie Civitate14D
Chelsea GeorgeChelsea George16D
Jelisa GuyJelisa Guy10M/F
Brianna GuzzardoBrianna Guzzardo18M
Jennifer JoernJennifer Joern11M
Amie KernAmie Kern1GK
Halleigh LoucksHalleigh Loucks17U
Krista MirabelliKrista Mirabelli13F
Alyssa NagyAlyssa NagyD/M
Kelby PetryKelby Petry7D
Kristin PrebleKristin Preble23D/M
Amy RossAmy Ross21U
Whitney PrescottWhitney Prescott24D
Nikki SchroederNikki Schroeder8M/D
Lauren HallLauren Hall22M/D
Micaela FachathalerMicaela Fachathaler12F/M
Ashley ArmstrongAshley Armstrong28GK
Tiffanie ChristoffersenTiffanie Christoffersen2GK
Becca ScheeleBecca Scheele20
Jessica EscobedoJessica Escobedo6F/M
Josi TalbotJosi Talbot5U
Julia SaenzJulia Saenz4FFr.
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