Zero was the number on the minds of the backfield players on the Charlotte 49ers women's soccer team last year.
That was always the number of goals they strived to allow during any game. For some games, it was also the number of years of college soccer experience the entire starting backfield had.
Counting on freshmen for such a responsibility was a risk coach Jon Lipsitz knew he faced. But the results were indisputable.
On its way to a second straight Atlantic 10 championship and a 16-5-1 overall mark, Charlotte allowed just 17 goals and posted 11 shutouts. The wins tied a school record.
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Now, with a year behind them, sophomores Whitney Bryant, Megan Minnix and Katie Davis will anchor the defense, which may become the 49ers' identity in 2008.
Goalkeeper Lauren Brown returns for her junior season after posting school records for shutouts (10.5) and goals-against average (0.78).
“Zero” may have also been the amount of sleep coach Jon Lipsitz got before last season's opener, when he knew at least three freshmen would start in the backfield.
“It was something we were obviously worried about,” Lipsitz said. “Typically you can't win in college soccer with so many freshmen on the back line. But I really felt confident they were really smart players and that they take pride in what they do.”
The 49ers opened 2007 with 6-2 and 2-0 wins over The Citadel and East Carolina, respectively. After narrow losses to Georgia, Arizona State and 13th-ranked South Carolina, Charlotte went 11-0-1, allowing only five goals.
Brown recorded seven shutouts during that five-week period. The winning streak ended with a 1-0 loss to Rhode Island Oct. 28, but Charlotte rebounded with a 1-0 win over Saint Louis, clinching its second straight regular-season championship.
“The Saint Louis game was big,” said Bryant, who was named all-America as a freshman. “We had to win that to win the conference, and we held their leading scorers to only three shots.”
Freshman Jenna McKeon and junior Leah Zappone are battling for the fourth defensive spot, Lipsitz said.
The 49ers opened this season with a 5-1 loss to UNCChapel Hill, then beat UNCWilmington 3-2 on Monday. They are scheduled to host Tennessee Tech today at Transamerica Field.
While defense will be key, scoring goals will be just as important. Charlotte returns players who accounted for 31 of the team's 43 goals last year.
Sophomore midfielder Sam Huecker, sophomore Whitney Weinraub and Lindsey Ozimek, who will graduate as one of the most decorated players in 49ers history, tied last season with six goals each.
Despite having 13 freshmen on the team, Charlotte's Atlantic 10 runner-up still has eight returning starters and is picked to finish third in the conference.
Led by senior Chris Salvaggione (team-high eight goals, A-10 best nine assists), the 49ers return players who accounted for 66 percent of their goals in 2007.
Charlotte has two full-time starters – junior middle hitter Jennifer Webb and senior setter Courtney Cowles – and part-time starter Kara Raker, a sophomore middle hitter, returning. Webb and Cowles were the 49ers' top two servers in 2007, and Webb led the team in blocks.
Besides winning four meets last year, 49ers senior Aja Jackson (Waddell High) was named all-Atlantic 10 in 2007. Sophomores Amanda Goetschius and Keara Thomas also had promising seasons.
Junior Chase Eckard, an all-conference runner last season, will lead the men's team. Charlotte's other top runners will be redshirt junior Adu Dentamo (Vance High), sophomore Dakota Lowery, junior Jordan Rickard, and senior Ryan Jank.
Charlotte is scheduled to host the A-10 championships in November.