The top two teams in 2013 return just about everyone ahead of the Southeastern Conference’s latest season of women’s soccer. The talent on rosters across the league continues to improve as programs look in creative places for newcomers.
Along with the intriguing new additions to rosters across the country, a number of the top finishers from last season bring back experienced starters.
Brief Conference Bio:
2013 Conference Tournament Champion: Texas A&M
2013 Offensive Player of the Year: Savannah Jordan, Florida
2013 Defensive Player of the Year: Sabrina D'Angelo, South Carolina
2013 Freshman of the Year: Savannah Jordan, Florida
2013 Coach of the Year: G Guerrieri, Texas A&M
Teams (2013 overall, conference record)
Florida (18-5-1, 9-2-0)
Can the Gators finally push on to postseason success this coming season? All eleven starters return from the 2013 outfit which tied for the SEC regular season title, but fell short in the NCAA tournament against Duke. Forward Savannah Jordan, currently with the U.S. U20 WNT at the World Cup, looks like a star in the making after pouring in 22 goals last season, while other important returnees include defenders Christen Westphal and Krina Gutsche, goalkeeper Taylor Burke and midfield maestro Havana Solaun, who looks to be fit after suffering a knee injury in last fall’s SEC tournament. The Gators test themselves early with a preseason matchup against Florida State, while also making the trip out to California for a meeting with Stanford.
Texas A&M (18-5-2, 9-2-0)
The Aggies bring 10 starters back from last season’s campaign, five of whom earned All-SEC selections, with Shea Groom, Meghan Streight, Jordan Day, Leigh Edwards and Kelley Monogue back after making a significant splash in 2013. A small but quality recruiting class could end up tipping the balance towards Coach G Guerrieri’s squad, however, as attacking midfielder Mikaela Harvey shouldn’t take long to make an impact, while Haley Pounds provides depth to the offense as well.
South Carolina (17-4-2, 8-2-1)
Fresh off a banner year, one of the best in program history, the Gamecocks rode a flawless home record (11-0-0) to a third place finish in the SEC. Eight starters are back from a team that had one of the best defenses in the conference and nation, led by SEC Defensive Player of the Year goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo, who had 12 shutouts and a goals against average of 0.59. Center back Taylor Leach provides experience in front of D'Angelo, while junior Raina Johnson led the team in goals with 10 on the season. If South Carolina is to achieve the same success of 2013, it’ll be a very similar formula, as D'Angelo attempts to win a spot on the Canadian national team for next summer’s World Cup.
Mississippi (16-2-2, 7-3-1)
While nine starters are back for Ole Miss this season, the two players lost to graduation were Mandy McCalla and Rafaelle Souza, who combined to score 37 goals in 2013, a huge factor in the team’s banner season. It’s hard to see the team achieving the same success without the goal scoring exploits of that duo, as they accounted for more than half’s the team offensive output. Junior forward Olivia Harrison and Bethany Bunker are two forwards who will need to step up in a big way, while there is experience at the back, as the lone senior on the roster is goalkeeper Kelly McCormick.
Kentucky (14-7-1, 7-4-0)
Leading the Wildcats into another season of promise is Hermann Trophy sleeper Arin Gilliland, a versatile and talented player who can play either up top or as a center back. Last season she scored 12 and assisted 10, as Kentucky lost in the NCAA tournament to the eventual national champions UCLA. Gilliland is far from the only offensive threat head coach Jon Lipsitz can send out, as Stuart Pope and Zoe Swift offer up significant threats in the final third. Is it enough to help the team climb the standings in the SEC?
Georgia (12-7-1, 5-5-1)
After an up-and-down 2013 that ended without a NCAA tournament appearance, the Bulldogs enter 2014 as a young team looking to shake things up. Just two seniors are listed on the roster ahead of this season, while a recruiting class added 13 newcomers. Five are youth national team products, and that includes U.S. U18 WNT midfielder Rebecca Rasmussen, player of coming in and chipping in right away. One of the returning players is forward Marion Crowder who scored 11 goals as a freshman, and is a critical figure to Georgia's offensive hopes.
LSU (9-9-2, 5-5-1)
The internationally flavored roster in Baton Rouge stocked up with some more intrigue from abroad, as the recruiting class includes English defender Ella Williams, Canadian defender Jordane Carvery and New Zealand goalkeeper Lily Alfeld. Offensively, a lot of pieces return, including midfielders Alex Arlitt, Fernanda Pina, Emma Fletcher and forward Summer Clarke. Transfer Natalia Gomez-Junco, who had to sit out the 2013 season because of her move, is now eligible and could be a big addition, while Top 15 2014 recruit Jorian Baucom also supplied depth up front. It’s now up to head coach Brian Lee and the rest of his staff to figure out how to get the most out of his group.
Arkansas (15-8-1, 5-6-0)
It was a breakout campaign for head coach Colby Hale and the Razorbacks, winning the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game, advancing all the way to the third round before bowing out to Duke on penalty kicks. Forward Ashleigh Ellenwood, whose play in 2013 helped her earn a call-up to a U.S. U23 WNT camp, looks to lead the program’s encore, as they continue to climb the regular season conference standings. In all, eight of the team’s starters from last year’s squad are back, including Jeriann Okoro, Tyler Allen and Claire Kelley.
Missouri (8-9-3, 4-4-3)
A slew of familiar faces are back for the Tigers, including the team’s top two attackers, Kaysie Clark and Taylor Grant, who combined for 11 goals during the 2013 campaign. Clark earned herself a run out with the U.S. U23 WNT during the offseason, as she looks to finish off her collegiate career on top. She’s not the only crucial figure to the Tigers’ hopes this season, as midfielder Melanie Donaldson and defender Candace Johnson provide experience and quality as well.
Auburn (8-9-4, 3-5-3)
Picked to finish 11th in the preseason polling, it’s going to take a significant effort in order to spring a surprise on the rest of the conference. Auburn’s recruiting haul included four players from the 2014 IMG Academy 150 who should be able to make an impact this fall, while key returners include forward Casie Ramsier, midfielder Tori Ball and defender Kala Faulkner.
Alabama (6-12-0, 4-7-0)
Another program that leans on international recruits, Dutch attackers Pia Rijsdijk and Merel Van Dongen enter the season as important pieces for the Crimson Tide in 2014. The latter missed 12 games with a knee injury while playing with the Netherlands national team, knocking her out of the rest of the 2013 season, while a third Dutch defender Maruschka Waldus was added to the roster ahead of this season. It’s far from an all-Dutch team obviously, as returning players like Theresa Diederich and Laura Lee Smith provide plenty of experience.
Tennessee (8-7-4, 3-5-3)
Is this the season that the Volunteers turn the corner under head coach Brian Pensky? His third year in charge sees the team add a recruiting class of 14 players, including U.S. U20 WNT player Carlyn Baldwin and promising transfer additions like Ariel Kupritz and Anna McClung. They should compliment talented returning players like New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson and defender Allie Sirna. Other coaches seem to be buying in to the hype, voting Tennessee to finish fifth in preseason polling.
Vanderbilt (4-12-3, 1-9-1)
Nine starters are back for a Commodore side aiming to improve on a one-win conference campaign last season. Locating a reliable time goal scorer is paramount to any offensive success, as the team lost forward Cheyna Williams and her 16 goals to transfer. Freshmen Cristina De Zeeuw and Colby Ciarrocca could help trigger a quick improvement, while sophomores Simone Charley and Sasha Gray look to build off of promising freshmen campaigns. Regardless, the team must be better defensively after conceding 50 goals in 2013.
Mississippi State (3-15-0, 0-11-0)
Second-year head coach Aaron Gordon continues the rebuilding process at Mississippi State, with the addition of 19 freshmen to the 2014 roster. It’ll likely lead to more growing pains, though returners Shannen Jainudeen and Shelby Jordan will provide some experience.