LANCASTER, PA -- Franklin & Marshall College, who will look to capture its first Centennial Conference Women's Soccer Championship, is picked to finish fifth according to the head coaches in the Centennial Conference.
Leading the charge will be 2003 Franklin & Marshall Co-Defensive Players of the Year and All-CC defenders Emily Knapp (Sr., Ellicott City, MD/Notre Dame) and Kate Gardner (Sr., Pawley's Island, SC/Monsignor Donovan).
A 2003 All-Centennial Conference first team selection following second team honors in 2002, Knapp tallied four goals, including a pair of scores in Centennial Conference games, last season to raise her career total to nine goals for 18 points.
Gardner starred for Franklin & Marshall last season tallying one goal and five assists in 17 games to earn All-CC honorable mention honors. She concluded the year ranked eighth in assists per game (0.29 apg) in the final CC statistics.
Overall, the Diplomats concluded the season ranked fifth in scoring defense (1.04, 19 goals in 17 games) and shutouts (six) through 1,650 minutes of play.
In goal, Melissa Ruff (Sr., East Brunswick, NJ/East Brunswick) returns after finishing among the Centennial Conference leaders in save percentage (second, .833), shutouts (fifth, three), goals against average (sixth, 1.17 average, 14 goals in 1074 minutes) and saves (70, eighth) as she made 70 saves with 14 goals allowed in 14 games last season.
A 2002 All-CC honorable mention selection, Ruff has 248 saves for a .827 save percentage with 52 goals allowed in 3,607 minutes for a 1.30 goals against average in her career.
On offense, 2003 All-CC second team forward Amanda Zambrano (Jr., Pittsburgh, PA/Fox Chapel) guides an attack that will look to improve on last season's fourth place ranking in scoring offense (1.88 gpg, 32 goals in 17 games).
The 2003 F&M Women's Soccer Offensive Player of the Year, Zambrano finished second in the Centennial Conference in goals per game (.71 gpg) and third in points per game (1.53 ppg) last season as she finished with 12 goals and two assists for 26 points.
A 2002 All-CC honorable mention selection, she finished eighth in the conference in scoring with ten goals and three assists for 23 points as a freshman. The Most Valuable Player of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Mid-Atlantic Women's Soccer tournament for scoring three goals in two games, she led the Diplomats to their first ECAC title in school history in 2002.
For her career, she now has 22 goals and five assists for 49 points to rank 13th in program history in goals scored and 14th in points.
Midfielder Jamie Pirko (So., Lancaster, PA/Manheim Township) is also expected to add some scoring punch this season as she finished her freshman campaign with three goals and two assists for eight points. In her first intercollegiate game, she registered both scores in a 2-0 victory over Cabrini in the opening game of the 2003 F&M Invitational Tournament.
Muhlenberg, the defending champion, is favored to repeat and add a fourth trophy to its case after receiving four first-place ballots and 92 points in the annual preseason poll of coaches. The Mules finished 16-4-2 overall and 9-1 in the CC last season and were bounced by Scranton in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Gettysburg also received four first-place votes but was second in the poll with 91 points. The Bullets, who lost in the CC final to Muhlenberg last season, finished 12-5-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the Conference. Johns Hopkins was a point behind Gettysburg with three firsts and 90 points. The Blue Jays ended the 2003 campaign at 13-6-2 overall and 7-3 in the CC.
Dickinson was fourth with 58 points, while Franklin & Marshall was fifth with 55 points. Ursinus and McDaniel follow in sixth and seventh place with 53 and 50 points, respectively.
Haverford (47), Swarthmore (40), Washington (18) and Bryn Mawr (11) rounded out the poll.
The 2004 season kicks off Wednesday, September 1, with five games: Eastern Mennonite at Dickinson; Eastern at Haverford; Johns Hopkins at The College of New Jersey; Neumann at Swarthmore; and Washington at Notre Dame (MD).
Franklin & Marshall will open the season on September 3 at 5:00 p.m. versus Wilkes University in the first game of the 2004 F&M Tournament hosted at Baker Campus. The tournament will continue on September 4 as the Diplomats face Goucher College at 2:00 p.m.
2004 Centennial Conference Preseason Women's Soccer Poll
1. Muhlenberg (4) 92
2. Gettysburg (4) 91
3. Johns Hopkins (3) 90
4. Dickinson 58
5. Franklin & Marshall 55
6. Ursinus 53
7. McDaniel 50
8. Haverford 47
9. Swarthmore 40
10. Washington 18
11. Bryn Mawr 11