West Windsor, N.J. - Fall classes at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) have yet to begin, but the women’s soccer team has been hard at work this month in preparation for the 2019 season.
Despite regularly being a powerhouse in National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 19 play, the Lady Vikings endured a pair of losing seasons in 2017 (4-10-1) and 2018 (4-11-1). In 2016, Head Coach Elyse Diamond’s first season at the helm, the Vikings made the Region 19 championship game, which marked the team’s second consecutive appearance in the title contest.
“The team this year is extremely motivated and soccer-minded,” said Diamond. “Every one of these ladies has a passion for the game. There have been times when practice ran long, but no one has ever complained.”
Diamond credits the team’s composure to co-captains and returning sophomores Samantha Uriostegui and Jamie Ervin. The pair synchronized for their best game last year against Ocean County College; Uriostegui posted a season-high seven saves, while Ervin notched her own season-high five of goals in the 5-1 victory.
“We started talking about them being captains in Spring 2018, and ever since they’ve been very welcoming young women,” Diamond said. Over the summer, Uriostegui and Ervin organized team events so that the first practice of the year wasn’t the first time the players met.
Ervin’s radiant positivity is complimented by her talent on the field. As a freshman at Mercer, Ervin ranked 23rd in the country in goals (22), four of which were game-winners.
“She could be the best player in the conference this season,” Diamond said. “She is a one of a kind athlete and an incredible teammate.”
Though Ervin’s contributions will be greatly appreciated this season, the Lady Vikings will also turn to their incoming freshman for support. Gabby DeLisa, from Hamilton, joins Mercer as a key defender. At Steinert High School she helped the Spartans to 6 shutout victories while contributing three goals and four assists.
“DeLisa and [Katharyn] Lemanski will be the foundation of a strong defense,” Diamond said. “Lemanski is very versatile. We’re looking to play her on defense, but I think she could succeed anywhere on the field.”
On the sidelines, Diamond will be assisted by Karissa Estelle and Taylor Nelson. Estelle (midfield/defense) and Nelson (midfield/forward) both suited up for Mercer in 2018, and will provide the team a diverse group of coaches.
Diamond noted that having former players as coaches helps translate her expectations to the players. “Karissa and Taylor know what’s expected on this team. During practice they are able to jump right into drills and tell where players should be,” she said.
The Lady Vikings will open the 2019 season at home on Saturday, Aug. 24 at noon against Howard Community College. The team will return to their home field on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at 4 p.m. against Region 19 competitor Camden County College.
“Team chemistry is huge at this level,” Diamond said. “Everyone comes from such different backgrounds. This season, I really want to take advantage of everything we have to offer.”