Women's Soccer 2008 Season Outlook
STATESBORO, Ga. - The 2008 Georgia Southern women’s soccer team has its sights set on the Southern Conference tournament. Though finishing 2007 just one win shy of advancing to the league tournament with the hopes of bettering their 2006 semifinals appearance, the Eagles are optimistic.
“Our big goal is to make sure we are competing in the conference tournament at the end of the year,” said head coach Ashley Hart. “Then we want to make sure we establish a system of play and a role for each player on our team, to make sure everybody understands their role, and accepts that role. So, if we can make sure everybody accepts that role and does what they are supposed to do, we will be successful.”
But like any sport, especially at the intercollegiate level, competition is sure to bring its tough challenges... and tough challengers.
The 2008 slate will feature three teams that either won their 2007 conference regular season slate, or their conference tournament (Furman, High Point, UNC Greensboro). Furthermore, last year’s at-large bid for Samford brings the number of 2007 NCAA tournament contenders to four as part of the Eagles’ 2008 schedule.
But the Eagles don’t expect to worry solely about their competition. They have their own challenges to face. Gone from last year’s team are seven letterwinners and three starters. Incoming is a group of eight newcomers.
Hart says that its senior leadership will be one of the keys to the team’s success.
“I think our big challenge is leadership,” said Hart. “As long as our seniors continue what they started this spring, then we will be in good shape. Our other challenge is we’re going to be a little bit young in the back.”
Unique to this year’s team is its sense of humor, a characteristic that can prove to be useful when the challenges come. And when they do come, Hart knows where the team can turn to for a style of leadership all their own: the seniors.
“They are the ones that are always ready for a good laugh,” said Hart. “But they have also been the players that have played a lot of time for us. So it’s a good balance. They know how to have fun but they know how to compete as well.”
If spring camp is an indication of the role that this unique senior leadership will play throughout the 2008 campaign, then the Eagles are in good hands.
“I was really proud of them this spring that all of them stepped up in a leadership role,” said Hart. “They learned how to have fun but they also learned how to earn the respect of the rest of the players and direct and guide the team, both vocally and by example on the field.”
The Eagles hope that their combined talents in each position mixed with a unique style of leadership and experience will translate into success throughout the regular and post-season.
Leading the Georgia Southern attack is two-time All-Southern Conference player and forward Ashley Toussaint (Warner Robins, Ga.). The lone upperclassmen up front, Toussaint will be looked upon for her experience and leadership abilities.
“Ashley has the ability to be one of the top players in our conference,” said Hart. “She is coming off a good spring and I think our team learned how to play off her. She’s learned to play balls off to other players in order to get the ball back, which is going to make her even more dangerous. She comes in healthy and ready to play and she can be very dangerous for us.”
Last year, Toussaint led the team for the third straight year in goals (5) and points (12) while also leading the team in assists (2-tied) and shots (48).
The next two players up front with the most experience are sophomores Elissa Botts (Grovetown, Ga.) and returning starter Jenny Anderson (Birmingham, Ala.). Anderson was among the team leaders as she tied for second in goals (3), tallied the third-most points (6), and tied for second on the team in shots (14).
“Jenny had a great freshman season,” said Hart. “We’re expecting her to come back and be even more of an impact player. I think she has a good chemistry with Ashley, and as she continues to play with her I think that’s going to be important. She’s a much different player than Ashley and so that benefits her and Ashley as well. It’s tough for defenders to mark both of them because they are so different in how they play.”
Elissa came off the bench last year, adding depth in 13 games, and will bring added experience up front.
“Elissa is coming off a good spring season,” added Hart. “She’s coming back healthy, probably for the first time in her career. So I think if she can stay healthy then she is going to be another dangerous player.”
“Danae has played at a really high level,” said Hart. “She’s a fun, creative player to watch. She’s going to be a great addition to us up top. And then, Candace and Sara are going to bring a lot of speed to our forwards up front. We have different types of forwards that can hopefully cause a lot of problems for defenses in our conference and all over our schedule.”
Hart is confident that the speed at the forward position will counterbalance the youth up front.
“They’re definitely young,” said Hart. “It will be interesting to see how they all work together. We have some depth which will be nice, too. And I think we are going to be a lot faster up top which will be a good plus for us as well.”
Perhaps the greatest depth and experience comes at midfield which returns three starters in seniors Holli Finneren (Lake Orion, Mich.), Susanne Rogers (Augusta, Ga.) and junior Niki Lepper (Carmel, Ind.). Added experience off the bench are senior Audrey Brown (Fort Worth, Texas) and sophomores Michelle Berard (Kennesaw, Ga.) and Molly Nepote (Mendota Heights, Minn.).
“Michelle (Berard), Niki, and Holli are our three center midfielders,” said Hart. “Niki has really stepped up as a leader for us in the center midfield so we are expecting a lot from her, not only playing-wise but leadership-wise to direct and keep our team organized and direct our attack.”
Lepper started in 15 of 16 appearances for the Eagles and tallied six shots while her teammate, Finneren, started in 15 of 17 appearances, finishing fourth on the team in points (5) and second in goals (2), which both came from penalty kicks.
“Holli returns as a senior and has always been a very consistent player for us,” said Hart. “This, and her experience, will be very valuable for us this year.”
Berard was a solid player off the bench last year, making three starts in 17 appearances, finishing with one goal and one assist.
“I think she had a good freshman year as well,” said Hart. “Now she has that confidence that she knows our system. I'm expecting her to get her name in the box score this year.”
“We return both of our outside midfielders, Audrey and Susanne, and expecting a lot from them, too,” added Hart. “Both seniors have played in almost every game throughout their career. So consistency from both of them is important.”
Though she made only four starts in 17 appearances, Brown’s boost off the bench translated into three goals (tied for second on the team), one assist and seven points (second on the team). Rogers started in 13 of 16 appearances last year, tallying one assist and providing the much needed experience at midfield.
Nepote gained experience as a freshman by coming off the bench for six games and will be expected to make a solid contribution.
“The spring was very good for her,” said Hart. “She found a role as a holding midfielder for us. She found her niche on the team and has done a very good job of distributing balls from the midfield, being that calming factor for us.”
Returning from a medical redshirt is junior Kate Boardman (Hilton Head, S.C.) who in 2006 made 14 starts in 19 appearances, tallying two goals.
“She can be a big time player for us on the outside with her speed and her ability to serve a ball,” said Hart. “So we are hoping that as she returns she stays healthy and she will be able to play the whole season this year.”
Hart welcome’s freshman Chelsea Kephart (Cumming, Ga.) to round out the deep midfield presence.
“Chelsea will definitely be battling for that holding midfield role for us this year,” said Hart. “She’s a great ball winner and will be a different type of player to add to our team, which will help us be even stronger in the midfield.”
Georgia Southern lost valuable experience in the back after losing Colleen Deignan, Katie Gosnell and Heather Smith. The Eagles will rely heavily upon returning starters Michelle Carlson (Melbourne, Fla.) and Laura Smith (Buford, Ga.) to head the defense.
Carlson, a senior who started in all 17 appearances, and Smith, a junior who also logged 17 starts in as many games, will be joined in experience by senior Abby Wheeler (Bozeman, Mont.) and sophomore Jennifer Godfrey (Melbourne, Fla.).
“Michelle (Carlson) has been our starting back for the last two years and has done a great job being a consistent leader for us,” said Hart. “She’s not afraid to go into tackles hard and she keeps our defense very organized back there.”
Hart is expecting the upperclassmen to play leadership roles to help keep things organized on defense.
“Laura is probably our most consistent player, our most dependable player, and a good leader in the back, and Abby has been a great vocal leader for us,” said Hart. “So we’re expecting both of them to step up really big for us and kind of help direct our young outside backs.”
“Jennifer has found her spot this spring as an outside back and has done a great job for us this spring playing out there.
“They both played at a high level on their club teams and I expect them to be able to step in and play right away. It will be a little bit of an adjustment for them but they both are very competitive, they know what it takes to win and understand playing at a high level.”
The Eagles have plenty depth, though youthful, in the cage to help steer the defensive effort and thwart the opposition. Junior Lauren Santos (Berwyn, Ill.) returns as the only one with college experience and has been the starting goalkeeper for the Eagles in 30 out of 33 career appearances in front of the net. Last year she ranked fifth in the conference in saves per game (5.08) and was named to the Samford all-tournament team (Sep. 2).
“I think she has the opportunity to be one of the best goalkeepers in our conference if she continues to train and improve like she has been,” said Hart. “She’s a great leader for us and does a good job organizing in the back, but also keeping our team calm in situations. She’s going to be vital for us leadership-wise and goalkeeper-wise.”
“We are going to have probably the most depth we have had in a while at the goalkeeper position,” said Hart. “If one player is not playing well, then I have confidence that whoever is the second string goalkeeper will be able to step in and we won’t lose anything in that area.”
- Category: Women's Soccer
- Published on Thursday, 21 August 2008 00:04