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November 6, 2013

University of Detroit Mercy women’s soccer aims to be Horizon League contender

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

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Victoria Sollestre is one of four captains of the University of Detroit Mercy women’s soccer team.

For as nice as winning an NCAA regular-season championship may be, many college coaches and players long for an even bigger prize.

While the University of Detroit Mercy women’s soccer team was co-champions of the Horizon League regular season last year, coming away as the only squad without a loss in the Horizon League Championship tournament remains as perhaps the biggest goal for the program.

For Division I programs, unless an automatic bid is received, the only way to make it to the NCAA tournament is via winning a conference championship.

Winning a conference title is a feat the Titans have accomplished two times in the history of the program (although due to conference championships not previously being enough to automatically qualify, the Titans have made the NCAA tournament once).

The Titans’ NCAA appearance came in 2004, and head coach Mike Lupenec would like to add another appearance.

“Anytime you win (a) championship, awesome for your program, awesome for the girls,” said Lupenec, who has coached the Titans since the program began competing in 1993. “That’s something you strive for. It helps in a lot of ways — helps in recruiting, in possibly getting more staff members, more funding. I think in a lot of ways, there’s a lot of pluses to it.”

In order to even have the opportunity to compete in the Horizon League Championship tournament, UDM would have to be one of the top six teams (out of eight) in the regular-season Horizon League standings. At press time, the Titans were fourth in the standings with a record of 3-3 (9-7-1 overall).

The length of time that has passed since the Titans last made the NCAA tournament may be a good indication of how challenging it can be to come away as the Horizon League champion.

“I think it’s very competitive,” Lupenec said of the Horizon League. “On a given day, anybody can beat anybody. That’s why the tournament (could) be very interesting. Any one of the teams can win on a given day. That’s how competitive it is (in) the Horizon League.”

Lupenec selected Alyssa Riley (Whitby, Ontario), Kaitlyn Quarrell (Thunder Bay, Ontario), Abby McCollum (La Salle) and Victoria Sollestre (West Bloomfield) as the captains. Strong leadership can go a long way toward helping a team come together in pursuit of a goal, and Lupenec has been pleased with what his captains have brought to the team.

“They come in fit (and) have a positive attitude,” he said. “The girls respect them, in regards to what they do on the field. But (they’re) also great leaders off the field, which helps with team chemistry and keeping the girls focused, in regards to what our team goal is.”

The chemistry that exists on the Titans’ roster has also not escaped the attention of Sollestre, who attended high school at Bloomfield Hills Marian.

“Our campus is pretty small, so we see a lot of each other outside of the athletic department,” she said. “Our team’s really close. It’s great.”

Aside from trying to make this season a success, Lupenec has his eye on the future.

“Every year, you try to figure out what went right and try to get better in the weak areas,” he said. “If it’s recruiting, training, coaching styles, watching film, that all goes to getting better. Last four or five years, we’ve been a very competitive program.”

The quarterfinals of the Horizon League championship tournament are scheduled for Nov. 5.

While the exact location and time of the opening round of the division tournament is yet to be determined, at press time, UDM is scheduled to face Youngstown State Nov. 1.

If the Titans win that match, they will earn a No. 4 seed and host a quarterfinals game. If UDM loses and Cleveland State defeats Wright State, the Titans would miss the conference tournament for just the second time in program history.

With a UDM loss and a Wright State win, the Titans would earn the sixth and final playoff spot.

Visit detroittitans.com for further information.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.