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Talented Archers Will Catch No One by Surprise

August 08, 2013

Jessica Smugala  
Sophomore Jessica Smugala has been named the Archers'
team captain this season.

With an inexperienced, talented group in 2012, Juergen Huettner’s Archers combined youthful ambition with a general anonymity among top NJCAA programs. That combination proved beneficial for STLCC, as the team completed a 16-6 season with a national tournament berth.

They won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year.

After putting themselves on the map among the nation’s major players in NJCAA women’s soccer, the Archers will have to not only live up to their well-earned reputation, but also contend with the target affixed squarely on their backs for 2013.

“I liked our team last year and I think we kept even more talent this year than we did last season,” Huettner said. “There’s more of a target on us this season, but it’s kind of nice as well when you get off the bus and another team says ‘There they are.’”

As they did last season, the Archers will open this year with a grueling schedule, with three games against four-year colleges before traveling to Florida to face Brevard Community College, which finished last year as the nation’s second-ranked team.

Against a similarly difficult early-season slate, the Archers struggled out of the gate in 2012, dropping their first three games before reeling off 16 wins in their next matches.

Offense Reloads for 2013

Provided the key components remain healthy, the Archers have much to look forward to from the forward and midfield positions this fall. This year’s sophomore group accounted for 45 of the 51 goals scored by the team last year. Sophomores Taylor Giese and Jessica Smugala project as starting forwards, and fellow sophomore Katie Rapisardo has also been a reliable offensive contributor from the wing.

However, Huettner and company will not be solely relying on that group to carry the entire load offensively. Of the 12 freshman on the team, three will serve as forwards, with another six seeing time at midfield. That level of depth figures to be perhaps the most significant area of improvement since last year.

“We lost some good players, but we gained a lot back,” sophomore midfielder Lauren Guerrero said. “With our bench players, right now they can come in and replace us easily.”

Defense Re-tooled

While the Archers’ offense returns a productive unit, and has received in influx of freshman talent, the team’s defense is undergoing a considerable makeover from last year. Gone is All-American sweeper Katie Foytlin, who transferred to Missouri Baptist University after graduating from STLCC. To help offset that loss, Huettner will be moving sophomore Donna Jolliff, who ranked second on the team in scoring with nine goals and nine assists last fall, to defense.

Apolonia Thomas  
Apolonia Thomas posted a 0.94 goals-against
average in the nets for the Archers last season.

The defensive unit’s personnel is not be the only change it has undergone. The Archers will be moving to a "flat four" defensive formation for this year, a switch from the stopper/sweeper defensive set from a year ago. With so much transition in front of the net, sophomore goalie Apolonia Thomas may be leaned on a bit more as the defensive unit takes shape. Thomas was more than up to the task in her freshman year, posting a 0.94 goals-against average, allowing just eight goals in 12 games.

Backing up Thomas will be sophomore Samantha Merlotti, a converted midfielder who appeared in 17 games for the Archers last fall, registering a goal and two assists. Also in the mix in goal is freshman Kelsey Hedges, a Sullivan High School graduate.

Taking the Next Step

For a team that put together what some categorized as a surprise run to the national tournament, the 2013 Archers have had no difficulty identifying their goals for this year: winning nationals.

That was the unanimous, simultaneous consensus given by the sophomore quartet of Smugala, Jolliff, Giese and Guerrero when asked where they see this team at the conclusion of the year.

“We kind of set the bar high for last year, but some people may not have expected what we were getting ready to do, because we were just starting to ‘get there,’ Jolliff said. If we keep working the way we’re working, we’re going to accomplish that goal.”

Smugala Named Team Captain

Coming off a freshman year in which she led the Archers with 12 goals, Smugala will enter this year as the team captain. The sharp-shooting forward has been lauded for not only her on-field contributions, but also her ability to foster a tight community with many younger players.

“I think it just comes naturally for many of us,” Smugala said of the tight community sophomores have built with incoming freshmen. “We’re friendly people, so we try to make them feel welcome, and I think it’s helping out with our team chemistry already.”