Head coach Sharon Pfluger had plenty of reason to be concerned when she learned that she would have to find replacements for arguably her two best players, senior forward/midfielder Leigh Mitchell and forward/midfielder junior Kathleen Notos, when the 2011 season began Thursday, Sept. 1, against Stevens Institute of Technology.
She had even more reason to agonize as senior midfielder/defender Alex Okuniewicz joined Mitchell and Notos, who are out with lingering injuries, on the sidelines in the home opener against Gwynedd-Mercy College on Saturday, Sept. 3.
Yet instead of viewing the setbacks as a hindrance, Pfluger looked at the situation and saw a rare opportunity.
The absence of so many players from the 2010 squad allowed Pfluger to rotate in almost her entire roster during the victories over the Ducks and Griffins.
“Every healthy player was in the game (against Gwynedd-Mercy) and it was nice to see those kids come from the sideline and have a clutch deflection to stop an offensive transition for the other team or have a nice pass,” Pfluger said. “We have to do it because we have a lot of veterans out right now and for the time being we have to give those kids a chance.”
Pfluger will do what she must to put a formidable squad on the field until her more experienced players return, and that includes throwing her freshmen into the mix.
Four first-year players — forward Erin Healy, midfielders Lauren Pigott and Erin Waller and defender Marissa Pennypacker — got the nod to start in the Lions’ first two contests of the 2011.
“We started four freshman the other day (against Stevens) and in addition to those four, Victoria Martin, another freshman, also got a lot of playing time,” Pfluger said. “They are skilled and they have a lot of potential, so we want to get them in.”
Healy and Waller become offensive factors right off the bat as they each provided a goal in the Lions’ 3-1 defeat of the Ducks, and that production didn’t slow down against the Griffins as Healy picked up an assist and Waller added another goal and an assist to her tallies. Also inking their names on the stat sheet in the 5-2 win over the Griffins were Pigott, who scored a goal, and Martin, who recorded an assist.
Such performances have impressed Pfluger along with at least one of the Lions’ upperclassmen.
“I think they have been doing really well,” junior defender Camille Passucci said. “Being a freshman and playing in college is really difficult because you’re away from your home and you’re in the college environment. So, I think they’ve had a lot to deal with and they’ve responded really well. They are trying really hard and they’re coming up with a lot of big moves on the field.”
Passucci has been full of big moves herself so far in 2011 as she collected two goals and four assists through two games, and her overall presence has been a key to keeping the Lions on track, according to Pfluger.
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead early on against Gwynedd-Mercy, the Lions allowed the Griffins to climb back into the game as they tied the score midway through the first half. The score at halftime read 3-2, leaving the Lions with a mere one-goal lead.
Passucci responded by carrying the Lions’ offense in the second half, taking passes from Healy and Waller and turning them into goals, but it was her demeanor and leadership when the Lions lost two players to yellow cards that impressed her coach the most.
“Camille is so valuable to us,” Pfluger said. “She is involved in every aspect of the game and I think today, when we were down two players, that she was the glue. She works so hard, her head is in the right spot and she’s really just a clutch player.”
Passucci admitted that there has been some pressure to replace Mitchell and Notos as well as last year’s seniors, but at the same time she says that the team cannot afford to let adversity stop the Lions from being a successful team in 2011.
“We knew that (Mitchell and Notos) weren’t going to be here, at least early on” Passucci said, “so we really tried to prepare the best we can every day and we don’t focus on replacing people, we focus on getting better.”