NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – The Merrimack women's soccer team has established a tradition of excellence, and that did not change this fall; despite an array of hampering injuries that perhaps might have prevented the squad from reaching its full potential, the Warriors still posted another impressive season in 2012 highlighted by another return to the postseason.
Merrimack posted an 11-8-1 overall record this autumn, including the program's 28th consecutive appearance in the Northeast-10 Conference Tournament. The Warriors are the only team to qualify for the conference tournament in all 28 seasons since the league's inception.
After earning the No. 4 seed in the eight-team NE-10 Championships, the Warriors advanced to the NE-10 Semifinals by means of an exhilarating 1-0, overtime victory in the quarterfinal round against league rival Franklin Pierce. It marked Merrimack's 24th appearance in the league tournament's semifinal round, the most among all league schools.
In the semifinals, Merrimack battled the league's postseason Cinderella story, eighth-seeded Adelphi – who had upset regular-season champion AIC, 2-0, in the quarterfinals – but the Warriors were stunned in a 1-0 defeat that ultimately marked the end of their season.
A week later, Merrimack wound up on the outside looking in on the 48-team NCAA Tournament, as the Warriors wound up ranked seventh in the NCAA East Region and were the first team left out of the field.
Still, head coach Gabe Mejail, who completed his 29th season with the program this year, reflected not on the team's shortcomings in the postseason, but the fact that he was fortunate to guide one of the most resilient group of student-athletes that donned the Navy and Gold in recent memory.
"I'll tell you what, this was one of the scrappiest teams I've coached in a long, long time," Mejail said in summing up the season. "Nearly everyone was fighting injuries at one point or another, some more serious than others, and if you were to ask me if I thought we would win as much as we did this year with the amount of injuries we had, I would've said 'No way'.
"But, again, that's a testament to how much work these girls put in day in and day out since the beginning of the summer and in the off-season. I'm extremely proud of their work ethic and think that, with a little bit of better luck as far as injuries were concerned, we could've gone a little bit further."
There were several occasions when Mejail employed 20 or more players in a single game to counter the fact that there simply weren't enough healthy bodies over the course of the season. Still, that provided plenty of opportunity for others to step up.
"Everyone contributed and picked up everyone else when we needed them to," Mejail said. "And at the end of the day, I think that is just as important as wins and losses. We grew so much this year and for the girls coming back, that's going to be a huge help now that they have this vital game experience."
As a team, Merrimack extended its already-Division II record with its 29th consecutive winning season this fall. The Warriors' top-four finish in the league standings also marked the 27th time in 28 NE-10 seasons that they finished fourth or better, a mark that is also a league record.
But the most prestigious new milestone reached in 2012 came in early October. After the Warriors picked up a 3-1 victory over Saint Anselm on their home turf, the program earned tis 400th win, the most for any single school in all of Division II. By season's end, that win total reached 404, and the Warriors will continue to add to that record total next fall.
As far as individual success went, the Warriors were paced by a mostly well-rounded offense that saw plenty of young contributors enjoy solid campaigns, but none were better than Danielle Dion (Grosvenordale, Conn.). The junior was in the midst of a potentially historic season before succumbing to injury in mid-October.
Still, when she was on the pitch she was a scoring threat at all times. The Grosvenordale, Conn., native produced an astonishing 1.64 points per game through her 14 starts on the season. She posted a team-best 23 points in that span on a side-high 10 goals and three assists. She also led the Warriors with 22 shots on net (.524 SOG%), and was nearly converting one out of every four shots into goals, indicative of her .238 shooting percentage.
Sophomore striker Katie Bresciani (Hopedale, Mass.) posted solid numbers in her second season with the program, ranking second with nine points (3g, 3a) and two game-winners, including the clinching tally in overtime against Franklin Pierce in the NE-10 Playoffs.
Junior Jenna Zechner (Billerica, Mass.), the team's leading scorer from 2011, was a bit snakebitten at the beginning of the year but still finished with respectable numbers, notching eight points on two goals and four helpers.
Dion, sophomore Sarah Coakley (Medway, Mass.) and rookie Jenna Savi (Dedham, Mass.) all earned postseason recognition from the league. Dion earned a spot on the All-Conference First Team, while Coakley and Savi were named to the All-NE-10 Second and Rookie Teams, respectively. Dion also was named a CoSIDA Academic All-District and NSCAA All-Region honoree, as well.
Mejail brings back a strong squad next fall for what would be his 30th season leading the program, as the Warriors lose only four seniors to graduation and will bring back five of their top six scorers, including a healthy Dion and the team's leading scorer and Zechner.
For offseason coverage of the Merrimack women's soccer team, check back online at www.merrimackathletics.com.
This is the sixth in a series of recaps summarizing a successful fall season at Merrimack.
November 29: Women's Crew
November 30: Women's Cross Country
December 3: Women's Golf
December 4: Men's Cross Country
December 5: Volleyball
December 6: Women's Soccer
December 7: Football
December 10: Field Hockey
December 11: Men's Soccer