DURHAM, NH – The spring ended in disappointment for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer team. Their season was cut short and filled with what ifs, but the Wildcats aren’t focusing on the spring. They’re locked and loaded for fall 2021.  

Head coach Steve Welham is entering his eighth year with the Wildcats and said the team feels it has unfinished business after withdrawing from the last three games of the spring season due to coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols within the UNH program.  

“We were really disappointed about having the spring season being cut short due to COVID, we’re really excited to get back at it,” said Welham.  

Due to COVID-19, however, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes impacted by the pandemic. For the Wildcats, that means the return of fifth-year starters and co-captains Casey Peterson and Francesca Picicci. The return of their two leaders will be a massive boost for the Wildcats according to Welham.  

“They lead by example. They’re veterans. They understand what we do, what we need, what we expect of the young player,” said Welham. “They set the tone for what happens on the soccer field and in the locker room. We are ecstatic that they’re back.” 

Continuity seems to be a theme for the Wildcats who will be returning 19 players from last season, 10 of which were first-year athletes a season ago. Welham described their return as a large part of what runs the machine for the Wildcats.  

“This sophomore group will be huge cogs in the engine,” Welham said. “I think these young guys are ready to take the next step together. It’s one thing to be young, but it’s another thing to be young and talented, and we think we are. Obviously, we’ll find out a lot on Thursday night” 

One player from last year who will not be back with the Wildcats is junior midfielder Whitney Wiley. The midfielder recorded three goals, one assist and finished second on the team in points last season before suffering a torn ACL. The setback is expected to sideline her for most of the season according to Welham.  

“It’s obviously a big loss for us,” expressed Welham. “But you know in the game of soccer it’s about the next guy up, and who’s going to step up and take care of this. We’re excited about the group and team we’re putting on the field [Thursday] night.”  

The team can also expect to see fans back in Wildcat Stadium this year. The university announced on Aug. 5 that in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state of New Hampshire guidelines, the 2021-22 sports season will begin with no mask mandate, no physical distance requirements and no limit on gathering size for spectators at Wildcat Stadium.  

“It means everything to have fans back,” said Welham, likening them to the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man, a source of energy and inspiration. “We always have a strong group of support. We know our fans will be there at every game.”  

The Wildcats will open their season with a pair of home games against Merrimack College on Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. and then Sacred Heart University on Sunday, Aug. 22. 

Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics.