SVC looks to get over semifinal hump

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BENNINGTON — The Southern Vermont College women's soccer team has come a long way since head coach Michael Zauzig took over before the 2011 season.

When Zauzig took the helm of the Mountaineers, they hadn't won a game since 2004, going five consecutive seasons without a win.

To say something had to change was an understatement, and although incremental, changes began to be made. The team won three games in his first season and things continued to get better from there as they won 11 in 2012.

Zauzig knew it was going to a tough road to bring prominence to the program, but they were willing to put in the work to get there.

"I come from a family of coaches and it was always 'worry about the process,'" Zauzig said. "It was always with the idea of can we help the women move forward. It really started to come together quickly."

Fast forward to 2017 and the Mountaineers find themselves in the midst of the best season in program history as they broke their record for most wins in a season with 12.

"We had a couple 11-win seasons, which has been phenomenal. This year we knew we would have the talent to do more than that," Zauzig said. "Talent means nothing if execution isn't there."

"It means world to me that this team did it because this team has just been phenomenal in every aspect for me," added Zauzig of his pride in the team he coaches. "Their relationship with each other, their culture, their work-rate, their competitiveness, this has been arguably the most complete team I've had."

Though the Mountaineers have brought their program to never-seen successes, one goal remains that they haven't accomplished yet, winning a New England Collegiate Conference Championship.

This is not to say SVC hasn't come close to attaining this goal because they have. In two of the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have been to the NECC semifinals, losing each. In last year's quarterfinal they lost against Bay Path, 3-2.

Their opponent in this year's semifinal, scheduled for today at 4 p.m., is the team that knocked them out in the 2015 playoffs, Elms.

Zauzig points to maintaining the consistency the team has played with to get them over the proverbial hump and into the conference finals.

"I'm getting goosebumps thinking about the prospect of playing on Saturday (in the finals)," Zauzig said. "I think what it's going to take is more of the same. What I mean by that is we've be an extremely strong team defensively this year. It's ridiculous to me when I think about the fact that we've given up nine goals in 17 games. That's a credit to our goalkeeper Melissa (Mascari). Natalie (Rose Canterbury) and Molly (Madore) have been phenomenal. That's part of the mindset of the team to really focus defensively and that goes for the entire back four."

The Mountaineers are well-equipped to handle the offensive load they're going into face in today's contest as their defense is one of, if not, the best in the NECC. SVC has allowed just 0.52 goals per game, good for the best mark in the conference. Their 10 shutouts are the second most in the NECC and have given up more than one goal in a game just twice this season. They have four consecutive shutouts and the last time they gave up a goal was to the Blazers back on October 14.

Zauzig knows the team will need to a whole team effort on that side of the ball to come away with a victory.

"The moment you don't have the ball in soccer, you have 11 defenders," Zauzig said. "It's been a real team culture, mindset and idea that we're going to defend. We're going to be really hard to break down and that's going to keep us in every match."

As strong as SVC's defense has been all season, they will have a tough task on its hand taking on an Elms team that has scored the third most goals in the conference. They have the conference's third-leading scorer in Brie Voight, who leads the team with 14 goals.

"We just need to make sure we know where is and don't allow her to get the ball in dangerous spots," said Zauzig of what his team will need to do to slow down Voight. "We don't want to allow her time and space to run at our defenders. She's a heck of a soccer player and she's had a tremendous career there, so we certainly won't be sad when this season ends and she goes on her way. They love to get the ball to her and let her make the next decision."

The SVC offense is pretty strong in its own right with freshman Jayne Wierzbicki leading the way with 11 goals. Taylor Mallett and Madore are good options as well offensively with seven and six scores, respectively.

In the end, all SVC wants is a chance and with their success this season, the opportunity is there.

"From day one, there was a real goal and a real mindset to host a playoff game, to make sure we get to the semifinals, to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win the conference," Zauzig said. "It doesn't guarantee anything, but we've given ourselves a chance and that's all you can do and ask at this time of the year."

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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