In the celebratory aftermath of The Citadel's 2-1 victory at Western Carolina last week, senior forward Nicole Martinoli turned to one of her coaches.

"When I was a knob," Martinoli told the coach, "I never thought I'd see the program get this far."

The women's soccer program at The Citadel has indeed come a long way since its inception in 2001.

To appreciate the magnitude of a 2-1 win at Western Carolina -- followed up by a 2-1 victory in double overtime at Appalachian State last Sunday -- consider the history of the Bulldogs' 10-year-old program.

The Citadel went winless in the Southern Conference for its first seven seasons, going 0-74-2 in 76 matches, the landmark first victory a 2-1 triumph over Georgia Southern on Oct. 10, 2008.

The Bulldogs’ 6-3-1 record this season already has set a school mark for overall wins, and their 2-0 start in the SoCon equals the mark for conference victories, set last year when The Citadel was 2-7-2 in the league.

As coach Bob Winch's team prepares for home matches this weekend against Chattanooga (today, 4 p.m.) and Samford (Sunday, 2 p.m.), the Bulldogs are tied for first place in the Southern Conference with UNC Greensboro and College of Charleston.

And for the first time, the Bulldogs have a realistic shot at making the SoCon tournament in November.

"They've set some pretty high goals this year, and they are off to a good start," Winch said. "I congratulated them at practice (Thursday), and then I told them -- it's just two wins, there's a long way to go."

Still, it's heady stuff for seniors such as Martinoli, who played on teams that went 1-21 in the SoCon their first two seasons.

"The program has grown tremendously, and it's not just because of this year's team," said Martinoli, from Orlando, Fla. "It's because of all the effort of the girls on past teams."

Winch, in his sixth season at The Citadel, began his career as an assistant at Clemson and coached the men's team at Central Florida before coming to the Bulldogs as the program's third coach.

Winch spreads his recruiting net far and wide, with two players from South Carolina and five from Florida, joining recruits from Colombia, Canada, Germany and Utah on the roster.

"Every school has its recruiting challenges," Winch said. "We just try to offer them a chance to play soccer and get a quality education."

Martinoli, whose father played semi-pro soccer in Argentina, is a typical case. She had never heard of The Citadel before she was recruited.

"I didn't know what The Citadel was until my senior year in high school," she said. "I was hurt my junior year, so it was hard for me to play and get recruited. But in my last tournament, (assistant coach Jamie Stewart) came to see me play and started recruiting me."

Mariana Garcia, a freshman from Bogota, Colombia, and junior Amy Loughran from Ontario lead the team with five goals each. Juniors Hannah Warne, Shanna Couch and Leah Hawkins have anchored the defense in front of junior keeper Laura Serafino.

"Our back four has been very good, and our keeper has been very good," Winch said. "If you can defend, you are always in the game, and this year we've had some players who can help us offensively."

--The Citadel plays its home matches on Washington Light Infantry Field on the campus.

GROWING PAINS

The Citadel began women's soccer in 2001:

Year Record SoCon

2001 3-18 0-10

2002 5-11-2 0-10

2003 2-14-1 0-11

2004 2-15-1 0-10-1

2005 2-17 0-10

2006* 1-17-2 0-9-1

2007* 3-16 0-10

2008* 3-14-1 1-10

2009* 5-12-2 2-7-2

2010* 6-3-1 2-0

*Under current coach Bob Winch