There will be a lot of newness this season in SEC Soccer.
As always, there are new players, with a talented group of freshmen indicating that the SEC is an increasingly attractive destination for the nation’s top soccer prospects.
There are new coaches at Tennessee and Arkansas. This year, there are even new teams as Missouri and Texas A&M enter from the Big 12. The football-induced move means the league will play a 13-game round robin conference schedule, with every team in the conference facing the others once each, also a new format.
Brief Bio: SEC
2011 League Champions: South Carolina (East); LSU (West)
2011 Tournament Champions: Auburn
Player of the Year: Kayla Grimsley, South Carolina
Rookie of the Year: Sabrina D’Angelo, South Carolina
Coach of the Year: Shelley Smith, South Carolina
Teams (Overall/Conference Record)
South Carolina (16-7-0/9-2-0)
Smith acknowledged the loss of Grimsley and the others is a blow, but is confident the Gamecocks’ squad can rise to the challenge.
“They meant a lot to the team, but just like every year you have to replace players,” Smith said. “We might look a little different. We won’t have a Kayla-type player per se. There won’t be a focal point that everyone is keyed in on, but our scoring might come from a variety of places where everyone is involved in finding the back of the net.”
Smith added that personnel changes could also mean tactical revisions, but said the team will continue to be possession-oriented.
Becky Burleigh’s Gators suffered a surprise early exit from the NCAA Tournament, something she said is a major motivation for the team this year.
“We underachieved with the talent we had last year,” she said. “The good news is our team is really motivated. We had a great spring and are getting a lot accomplished. The team has bought into the things we are emphasizing. We want to continue playing the way we play, but at the same time be mentally tough. That toughness was lacking last year.”
Leading returnees for the Gators include top scorer Erika Tymrak, defensive leaders Kathryn Williamson and Jo Dragotta, and super sophomores Annie Speese and Havana Solaun. Notre Dame transfer Adrianna Leon will bolster the attack.
Starting goalkeeper Taylor Burke spent part of her summer at the World Track & Field Junior Championships as a high jumper.
Angela Kelly is gone and Brian Pensky has arrived from Maryland. Pensky said he is inheriting a good situation and hopes to build on it.
“I think we can be good. We return a decent core from last year,” he said. “It’s a team that won 15 games last year. It’s a group that had a good year but feels like it has something to prove. This is a group that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game. They are talented and determined to prove something, That can be a recipe for some good things.”
Much of Pensky’s preseason lineup deliberation revolves around two players, Caroline Brown and Tori Bailey.
“Caroline had 11 goals and 8 assists last year. We used her in a wide midfield role this spring, but I’m not convinced she doesn’t need to be closer to goal,” he said. “She might be our best players inside the 18-yard box. I want to give her lots of looks at goal.
“Tori played attacking center mid her first year and then outside back last year,” he continued. “I want to get her back more into an attacking role. She has a great change of pace and her passing ability is pretty useful in the final third. She might stay at wide back, but if she does I want her to spend two-thirds of her time in the final third of the field.”
Speedy forwards Alexis Owens and Iyana Moore will challenge opposition back lines, while Miami transfer Ashley Burt will bolster the back line. Newcomer Hannah Wilkinson just finished an Olympic Games run with New Zealand, and now goes to the FIFA U20 World Cup. She will be a boost to the Volunteers’ fortunes, but Pensky stressed he would only use her when she is properly recovered from a very busy period of soccer around the world.
Steve Holeman is building something good at Georgia. Only three starters depart but Jamie Pollock, Jenna Buckley and Bailey Powell were both mainstays for the Bulldogs.
Midfielder Alexa Newfield is a force in the attack, scoring 16 goals in 2011. Other key returnees include Nicole Locandro, Susannah Dennis, Jenna Owens, Carli Shultis, Nikki Hill, Rebekah Perry and goalkeeper Ashley Baker. Laura Eddy also returns to action after a season out with injury.
Jon Lipsitz returns nine starters to the Lexington campus. Including Arin Gilliland, Danielle Krohn, Caitlin Landis, goalkeeper Kayla Price, Alyssa Telang, Stuart Pope, Natalie Horner, Kacie Kumar and Ashley Vanlandingham.
Leading scorer Kelsey Hunyadi is gone however, and a talented incoming class includes several players who will vie for considerable playing time.
Derek Greene’s Commodores bring in nine new players in an effort to turn things around. They will be joining leading returnees such as Kate Goldin, Dana Schwartz, Cherrelle Jarrett, Gena Inbusch and CJ Rhoades.
Bryan Blitz’s Tigers enter SEC play with some top players back including Kaysie Clark, Alyssa Diggs, Danielle Nottingham, Dominique Richardson and goalkeeper McKenzie Sauerwein.
Brian Lee’s Tigers won the SEC West and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
Goalkeeper Mo Isom and leading scorers Taryne Boudreau and Natalie Martineau are gone from that squad, but returnees include Jodi Calloway, Addie Eggleston, Alex Ramsey and Carlie Banks.
Karen Hoppa’s Tigers lose Katy Frierson and Julie King, which will require some serious void-filling for last season’s SEC Tournament champions.
Among leading scorers returning are Ana Cate, Tatiana Coleman and Mary Coffed. Other starters back include goalkeeper Amy Howard and defenders Bianca Sierra and Mary Nicholson.
Todd Bramble’s Crimson Tide returns Theresa Diederich, Kendall Khanna, Pia Rijsdijk and Molly Atherton from a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
Matt Mott’s Rebels return some talented starters including Alix Hildal, Mandy McCalla, Rafaelle Souza and Erin Souza. Top newcomers include Sarah Coleman, Maddie Friedmann and Jennifer Miller.
Mississippi State 6-10-3/3-7-1
Neil Macondal’s Bulldogs returning starters include Elisabeth Sullivan, Jasmine Simmons, Amy Hoover and Madison McKee.
Colby Hale takes over in charge of the Razorbacks, who were outscored 47-11 last season.
Texas A&M 16-6-2/8-1-2 (in Big 12)
G Guerrieri leads the Aggies into the SEC knowing he has a team that may be on the verge of great things.
Playing a starting lineup of majority freshmen, the Aggies started last season at 4-4 and ended up winning the Big 12 in the team’s farewell tour of the conference. Now the group has another year of experience under its belt.
“We knew we were getting an infusion of talent (last season) but that there would need to be a lot of learning on the job,” the 20th year head coach said. “They responded well and we’ve also had a good spring of learning and experience. So we’re really optimistic that the players will have an even greater feel for the college game.”
Defensively the Aggie will return 4 of 5 starters including goalkeeper Jordan Day, who was the team’s most improved player in 2011. Rachel Lenz, Meghan Streight and speedster Lyndsey Gnatzig return to the back line, and Guerrieri said Lindsey Witz and freshman Karli Mueller will battle for the right back job.
Bri Young and Megan Majewski depart College Station and the midfield, but Jayne Eadie returns from injury at holding midfield, while dynamic attackers Beth West and Kate Perry will be employed in attacking roles. Guerrieri singled out Perry as a creating attacker with exceptional finishing ability.
Up front, Kelley Monogue was our top-ranked freshman in the country and led the team with 19 goals. Shea Groom was on a similar pace before suffering a season-ending injury, and Annie Kunz completes a trio of dangerous front-running players.
*Denotes Big 12 conference record