Cornell women’s soccer is ready to forget about 2018. About 10 months after its 1-13-1 season mercifully came to an end, the Red is taking a new approach into 2019.
Head coach Dwight Hornibrook’s squad finished dead last in the Ivy League a year ago with an 0-7 mark, which included a pair of overtime losses. In the months since the season finale — a 2-1, double-overtime loss to Dartmouth — Hornibrook has sought to find a new team identity heading into the 2019 season, which starts at 7 p.m. Friday night at Berman Field as the Red hosts Iona.
Cornell lost just three players to graduation, leaving the last-place team mostly intact. But Hornibrook and company hope this year’s squad won’t resemble 2018’s. Although captain and All-Ivy goalkeeper Meghan Kennedy ’19 has graduated, Cornell hopes 2019 also marks the exodus of a passive and reactive approach.
“We’ve addressed the things we really lacked — legitimately dangerous players on the attack and more team speed everywhere,” Hornibrook, entering his third season as head coach, told Cornell Athletics. “We’re going with the concept of ‘attack first; ask questions later.’”
Despite having graduated just three seniors last May, Cornell’s identity will be different in large part due to a shake-up in Hornibrook’s staff: All three assistant coaches are new. Rob Ferguson and Kelsey Ferguson have come onboard to assist Hornibrook, and Vanessa Romero has also joined as a volunteer assistant coach.
Hornibrook told Cornell Athletics that having more experienced assistants has brought fresh ideas to the team.
“Add nine new players to those three, and now we have 12 new people — and they’re all really hungry to make a difference,” Hornibrook said. “There’s a whole lot of new energy.”
Cornell hopes its new aggressive approach, new coaches and refreshed mindset can help it avoid another losing season in the Ivy League. The Red hasn’t finished in the top four in the Ivy League since 1995 and went 0-7 in conference play last season after posting an 0-5-2 mark in 2017, Hornibrook’s first season at the helm.
Cornell scored just eight goals in 15 games a season ago. Now, despite lacking a deep roster of goal-scorers, the Red hopes to create a scoring punch that puts opponents on the defensive. To avoid a third straight last-place finish, Cornell is relying on senior Kennedy Yearby and sophomore Jadyn Matthews to lead its scoring attack.
Yearby has four goals in three seasons with Cornell, and played in multiple positions last year. Cornell hopes depth at other positions allows Yearby, along with Matthews, who also played different positions last year, to lead a reinvigorated attack.
One of Cornell’s few bright spots during its dismal 2018 season was Kennedy, its senior goalie. Kennedy earned All-Ivy honorable mention twice and was named the team’s most valuable player in both 2017 and 2018, leading the Ivy League in saves.
But Hornibrook said he’s confident in his three options in net. Senior Chrissy Mayer — one of three captains, along with junior defender Naomi Jaffe and senior midfielder Karli Berry (who will miss the season with an injury) — is the most experienced of the returners, with a 0.61 goals against average over seven appearances and four starts. Sophomore Mirando Iannone made one start last season. Freshman Nicole Shulman rounds out the trio of goalies.
“We have three very good goalkeepers,” Hornibrook said. “It’s both really good and a really difficult situation.”
Picked to finish last in the Ivy League preseason media poll (Princeton was picked to finish first, followed by Penn and Harvard), Cornell will play a handful of non-Ivy games before starting an intense stretch of Ancient Eight play in late September.
After Friday’s game against Iona, the Red hosts Siena in a Labor Day match. Bucknell, St. Bonaventure, Albany and St. John’s round out Cornell’s pre-Ivy slate.
Cornell’s Ivy League season begins September 28 when the Red hosts Columbia, looking to avenge an overtime loss to the Lions last season. Cornell then takes on Penn and Harvard before taking on Colgate in its final nonleague game. The Red’s last four games will include three away from Ithaca: at Yale, home against Brown, at Princeton and at Dartmouth.
Cornell’s season opener is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Berman Field.