The Stetson women’s soccer team will return to the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship for the first time since 2010 when the fifth seeded Hatters travel to Macon, Ga. to challenge the fourth seeded Mercer Bears at 7:00 p.m. in the first round of the tournament.
In just his first season at the helm, head coach Manoj Khettry has led Stetson to a 6-9-2 overall record and a 4-4-1 conference mark, both three full games better than the Hatters faired a season ago. Many of the players on this year’s squad credit the success to a change in attitude.
“The biggest difference is the mindset of the team,” senior goalkeeper Victoria Troccoli said of the 2013 version of the Hatters. “This year with the change of coaching staff it kind of changed a lot in regards to our drive as a team. We saw early in preseason that everyone was really motivated to do well.”
“We’ve developed a great sense of unity,” senior forward Alyssa Welsh said. “[Coach Khettry] has done a great job of establishing that we are a family and we work for each other. We have to go far together, because we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Senior midfielder Amber Grose, who was recently named All-Atlantic Sun First Team, echoed her teammate’s remarks, saying “This year we’ve come together as a team and there’s more of a family feel to the team. It makes a huge impact because half of the battle on the field is working for each other. It hasn’t been forced upon us either, we’ve just come together. It’s been a natural process.”
Khettry agreed wholeheartedly that it all happened naturally.
“The off the field stuff – the camaraderie, the feeling of family – it’s amazing how little work you have to put into that when you train well,” he said. “When you force each other to be better consistently and you win some games, it’s amazing how those other things fall into place. We’ve concentrated on being great every single day. It’s that simple.”
Stetson has certainly been great at times in 2013, winning three straight conference matches – including a dominating 3-0 victory over ETSU. Given that the Hatters were picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams prior to the season, the outcome is even more impressive.
“We used it as locker room material,” Khettry said of being picked ninth out of 10 teams in the preseason. “We put it up and told them that everyone else picked us to finish ninth. I said ‘if we think we can be better than that than we need to step out onto the field and go out and prove it.’”
The Hatters proved it, but they are not done yet. Stetson goes into Saturday’s first round matchup aiming to enact revenge against Mercer, a team that topped the Hatters 2-1 late in the regular season.
“It’s easy to feel good about making it to the A-Sun Tournament,” Khettry said. “But I’m not one to pat ourselves on the back. I think we feel like we could have finished higher.”
“As a senior you always want to try to prolong your season so it feels great to be given the opportunity to make the playoffs and keep playing,” Welsh said. “It’s something that we’ve earned and I’m looking to play three more games.”
Saturday’s contest can be watched live and for free on ASun.TV. Fans can also follow the action with Live Stats, the @StetsonWSoccer Twitter feed, and Hat-Alerts.