The NC State women’s soccer team finished the 2018 season with a record of 11-7-4 and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. While that is a solid record and a good tournament finish, the team had five seniors on the roster, four of which appeared in over 20 games.
Arguably the biggest loss from the 2018 senior class is goalkeeper Sydney Wootten. The shot-stopper played all 22 of the team’s games last season, making 104 saves and keeping seven clean sheets.
Head coach Tim Santoro has two options to pick from when it comes to the heir to Wootten’s throne, the first of which was Wootten’s backup from last season, junior Jessica Berlin. The second of his choices is Eden Millan, who is joining the Wolfpack as a freshman this season.
Millan played three years above her age bracket at club level for Beach FC '98, where she saw success finishing second and third in the USYSA National Championship in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and winning the USYSA National League.
“She's quick and powerful,” Santoro told University Athletics. “She's also very comfortable with her feet, which is a must for a goalkeeper at NC State."
In addition to the goalkeeper, Santoro is adding two players to the defense in transfers junior MacKenzie Crittenberger and sophomore Margot Ridgeway.
Crittenberger previously played at College of Charleston, where she redshirted the 2016 season due to injury before going on to make 24 appearances between 2017 and 2018. The defender was described by Santoro as "calm and skilled on the ball," with an ability to play in either defense or midfield.
Ridgeway is transferring from UC-Davis and looks like an excellent addition to the Wolfpack defense this season. Not only was Ridgeway named to the 2018 Big West All-Freshman Team, but she also has experience playing in the youth USWNT, featuring for both the U18 and U16 teams over the years.
"[Ridgeway] is a person and player I really liked during her recruiting process a few years ago, so the opportunity to bring her to NC State was a no-brainer,” Santoro said. “She's got all the tools of a top defender by being good on the ball, making good passing decisions, being strong on the tackle and having an aerial presence. She'll add a lot to our defensive group."
In the midfield, women’s soccer will be welcoming three new additions in freshman Jaiden Thomas and transfer sophomores Toni Starova and Sandra Geiselhart.
Thomas, a holding midfielder, will likely go under the radar for a lot of fans when she is on the field, but her position is undoubtedly crucial to any successful system.
“She's very comfortable on the ball, simple, good passing range and able to play with two-way responsibilities,” Santoro said. “She'll also add some size to the midfield to go with her high soccer IQ."
Starova and Geiselhart are transferring from Delaware and Charlotte, respectively, with the latter being voted to the All-Conference USA Freshman Team in 2018.
Starova, prior to her time at Delaware, played three seasons for AC Sparta Prague, and in each of her three seasons with the team, Prague appeared in the UEFA Champions League. The midfielder also has three caps for the Czech National Team.
"I'm excited to finally get [Starova] to NC State,” Santoro said. “She has a feel for the game that is innate and possesses all the natural qualities for a seamless transition into our program.”
Geiselhart made 17 appearances for Charlotte in 2018 in a holding midfield role and got one goal and one assist from a deep-lying position.
The final two players joining the women’s soccer roster as a part of the 2019 class are forwards Leyah Hall-Robinson and Jameese Joseph.
Hall-Robinson played for the Washington Spirit Developmental Academy, scoring 32 goals for the U17 and U19 Spirit teams.
"[Hall-Robinson] is a strong, powerful goal scorer that can play the game,” Santoro said. “Her ability to combine and link in the build-up phase has improved so much in the last year, and it will only get better in our environment. Her instincts for goals have always been there and as she adds to her game, Leyah will be a handful in the ACC."
Joseph played in the Sixth Annual High School All-American Game, and scored 32 goals for her high school last fall. With the team’s top two goal scorers from 2018, Tziarra King and Kia Rankin, both returning this season, Hall-Robinson and Joseph look unlikely to start but they could get some good minutes off the bench. Rankin and King are both seniors, however, so Hall-Robinson and Joseph are definitely two for the future.
"We were very patient and selective when adding to our 2019 class," Santoro said to University Athletics. "We had very specific needs and I feel, not only did we add talented players, but we added experienced players. These kids will give us great depth and they'll be ready for the ACC by the time September arrives."
With the difficult schedule the team has ahead, the added depth from the signings will be crucial to the its success this season.