YORK, PA - New year…new coach…new
attitude…new heights. First-year head coach Jen Dragoni
vaulted the Spartans to unprecedented success in 2008 as York broke
the double-digit win plateau for the first time in the short
history of the program. In only her opening season at the helm of
the green and white, Dragoni led the Spartans to an 11-6 record
(4-3 CAC), their first winning season after York had posted six and
seven win campaigns in their first two seasons.
“Anytime you have a record over .500 that’s an accomplishment,” Dragoni said. “To win eleven games this year in only the program’s third season is definitely an accomplishment. This season was a step in the right direction.”
Dragoni’s experience, winning attitude, and intensity rubbed off on her squad as the Spartans steadily improved throughout the year.
“Our coaching staff pushed the girls hard all season,” Dragoni said. “But we improved each day, we worked hard and got better, and that is really all you can ask for as a coach.”
The Spartans began the season by splitting their first six contests. Road wins at Greensboro, Chestnut Hill, and Hood helped York to an early 3-3 mark. The green and white then picked up wins over Susquehanna and Capital Athletic Conference foe Marymount, as they proved tough on the road throughout the year.”
“Playing on the road, away from your normal surroundings, is tough,” Dragoni said. “Going into somebody else’s place and getting a win is hard. Fortunately we were pretty successful away from York and grabbed some good wins.”
After a tough loss to Mary Washington, the Spartans hit their stride and rattled off six consecutive victories. The green and white averaged over 18 goals per game during the late season stretch, while only surrendering a paltry 7.66 scores each contest. Included in the streak were CAC wins over Villa Julie and Wesley plus a great senior day victory over Farmingdale State.
“We played really well over that period,” Dragoni said of the Spartans’ six-game spurt. “Sometimes things just click, just go right.”
York would close out the season with tough losses to Muhlenberg and then to Villa Julie in the CAC tournament.
“Those last two games were in stark contrast to the previous six,” Dragoni said. “The girls played really tough in both games, but unfortunately it just was not enough to get the win.”
Despite the end of season disappointment, the green and white still posted a spectacular 2008 campaign. As a team, York averaged 14.81 goals per game while only surrendering 10.27, outscoring their opponents’ 248-172.
The team success brought forth several individual accolades. The Spartans landed three players on the All-CAC squad, the most bids that the green and white have received in the program’s short history. Additionally, York earned a pair of first-team selections, another first for the program, in senior midfielder Ali Napolitano (Annapolis, Md./Annapolis Area Christian) and junior goalkeeper Anne Feustle (Baltimore, Md./Catonsville), while senior attacker Kaitlin Davis (Annapolis, Md./St. Mary's) earned a spot on the second-team.
Napolitano was a force all over the field for the York side throughout the season. The senior captain led the squad in points (85), goals (61), and assists (24), was tied for the team leads in ground balls (40) and caused turnovers (22) while ranking second in draw controls (42). Napolitano leaves the Spartans as the all-time leader in points (126) and assists (45) while she is third in career goals scored (81), having only spent two seasons at York.
Feustle earned her first all-league honor after a season in which she played every one of the Spartans’ 1,005 minutes of action. The junior ranked fifth in the CAC in save percentage at .455, making 140 saves in 2008.
Davis capped her Spartan career with 41 goals in 2008, giving her a total of 69 tallies during her short two-year tenure as a Spartan. Her left-handed shot and savvy around the cage allowed her to produce strong offensive numbers for the green and white. Davis leaves York ranking fourth in career goals.
“Ali, Anne, and Kaitlin played great for us all season,” Dragoni said. “Their outstanding play and leadership was key in the success we experienced. It is wonderful to see each of them recognized for their contributions.”
Senior attacker Jaclyn VanLuit (New Freedom, Pa./Susquehannock) also registered a solid performance in 2008. VanLuit posted a career-best 52 scores to give her 93 goals as a Spartan, ranking her second all-time in that category. Seniors Lindsay Nixon (Westminster, Md./Westeminster) and Danielle Seling (Whiteford, Md./North Harford) also contributed on the offensive end of the field. Nixon tallied 20 goals and assisted ten times while Seling scored twice and handed out six helpers.
“To win you have to score goals,” Dragoni said. “Jaclyn was huge for us in that area, as she provided a strong offensive punch and valuable goals for us. Lindsay and Danielle were both solid attackers. They both did their respective jobs and played hard.”
Defensively, Megan Bell (Westminster, Md./Francis Scott Key) and Nicole Starner (Aspers, Pa./Biglerville) were steady, consistent players as each started all 17 Spartan contests this year. Bell led the squad with 60 draw controls while Starner’s athleticism, experience, and leadership as a Spartan captain provided significant contributions.
Senior captain Kristy Powers (Westminster, Md./Westminster) tied Napolitano for the team-lead in ground balls with 40. Junior Sara Schaffhauser (Middletown, N.Y./Minisink) and sophomore Kelly Vrana (West Islip, N.Y./St. John the Baptist) continued to develop in strong defensive players and gained significant experience that will provide dividends for next season.
“Defensively we grew a lot during the year,” Dragoni said. “The girls truly bough into the new defensive philosophy and we really came together as a unit. We should be even better in 2009.”
With the graduation of several key team leaders, Dragoni will be looking to the underclassmen to step up into leading roles in order to improve on this year’s success. Rachel Papsan (Baltimore, Md./North County), Meg Foy (Toms River, N.J./Toms River North), and Carla Thomas (Ellicott City, Md./Howard) are three key players slated to return to the Spartan line up in 2009. Papsan tallied 25 times this season and distributed five assists and will look to be even more of an offensive threat next year. Foy’s relentless work on the defensive end resulted in 30 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers, while the athletic Thomas filled up the stat sheet with 23 ground balls, 21 draw controls, and 12 goals.
“Rachel, Meg, and Carla each had strong seasons,” Dragoni said. “We are looking for each of them to come back even stronger next season and take more of a lead on this team. I am confident that they will continue to do great work for this program.”
Several other returnees will add quality depth to line up next season. Defenders Aubrey Newton (Baltimore, Md./Eastern Tech), Corey Hawks (Aberdeen, Md./Harford Tech), and Katie Mansell (Pasadena, Md./Chesapeake Senior) each received significant minutes this season and will be looked upon to step up and play greater roles in 2009. On the attacking end, Molly Kerrigan (Bel Air, Md./Institute of Notre Dame), Katie Bowers (Chantilly, Va./Chantilly), and Melissa Olsen (Wilmington, Del./St. Mark's) will add to the offensive capabilities of the squad.
“Our returning underclassmen are a very strong unit,” Dragoni said. “They all have the potential to have breakout seasons next year and be key players for us in 2009.”
After such a strong 2008 campaign and a subsequent full off-season of recruiting and preparation for Dragoni, the rest of the CAC should be put on notice that the Spartans are on the rise.
“I am here to win a national championship,” Dragoni emphatically said. “The steps we took this year get us ever closer to that goal. I am already excited about next season.”