The comfort of playing on their home field will be prevalent for the Hope College women's soccer team when it opens the season Friday (Sept. 1).
Under new coach Leigh Sears, the Flying Dutch will not venture outside Holland for the first three weeks of their season, playing six consecutive home games. Sears' first game as Hope's coach will be against her alma mater.
The homestand begins with three straight home games against non-league opponents -- Ohio Wesleyan (Sept. 1), Aquinas (Sept. 8) and Wheaton, Ill. (Sept. 9). Then there will be three consecutive home games against MIAA foes -- Adrian (Sept. 13), Calvin (Sept. 16), and Albion (Sept. 20).
It won't be until September 23rd that the team will get on a bus for a road game (at Alma). At that point only four of the team's remaining 11 games will be at home.
The Dutch will be seeking to rebound from the program's first losing season in history. The 1999 Flying Dutch won four of their last five games to just miss a .500 season (8-9).
Coach Sears comes to Hope from Marietta College of Ohio where she was the women's soccer coach since 1994. She was an All-American midfielder as an undergraduate at Ohio Wesleyan University.
The team she'll greet includes 15 players who lettered a year ago, including four seniors. Leading the returnees are two All-MIAA players. Junior Emilie Dirkse of Holland, Mich. is a two-time All-MIAA first team honoree. Senior Lindsey O'Dell of Sterling Heights, Mich., who holds the school record for assists in a season and could challenge the career mark, achieved All-MIAA team honors last fall, but her availability remains in doubt as she recovers from an off-season ankle injury.
Other senior veterans are Lindsay Smies of Whitehall, Mich., and Laura Splinter of Libertyville, Ill. Other returning letterwinners are sophomore Mary Ayres of Plainwell, Mich., sophomore Meredith Bulkeley of Galesburg, Ill., junior Amy Dobb of Holland, Mich., sophomore Kate Dornbos and junior Liz Dornbos of Vicksburg, Mich., junior Candace Kool of Kalamazoo, Mich., sophomore Laurie McNamara of Cedar Grove, N.J., junior Sarah Rahmel of Naperville, Ill., junior Beth Stygstra of Holland, Mich., and sophomore Kimiko Sugimoto of Kijabe, Kenya.
The MIAA will return to a home-and-away schedule and eliminate a season-ending conference tournament. The MIAA champion will compete in the NCAA Division III championships.