FORT MYERS, Fla. – The reigning Atlantic Sun Conference regular season and tournament champion FGCU women’s soccer team is ready to defend its conference titles as it begins the 2013 campaign Friday on the road at No. 9 Florida at 7 p.m., and Sunday at the FGCU Soccer Complex against Albany at 1 p.m.
The Eagles return 14 players, including eight starters, and usher in 10 newcomers this year. FGCU finished the 2012 season with a 14-4-3 record, and brought home the program’s second-consecutive A-Sun Tournament Championship. This season’s non-conference slate features four teams which finished in the top-100 of the RPI last year, and three opponents that advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles begin the 2013 regular season exactly where their 2011 and 2012 seasons ended – Gainesville. The Gators have claimed 3-0 and 2-0 wins, respectively, in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament over FGCU each of the past two years. Last season, the triumph snapped the Green and Blue’s six-game unbeaten streak and five-game shutout run. The Gators went on to beat UCF, 1-0, last year before falling in the Third Round to Notre Dame, finishing their season 19-5-1.
UF begins the season ranked No. 9 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Preseason Poll. Florida returns six starters from a 2012 team which won both the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles. Juniors Havana Solaun and Annie Speese lead the Gators into 2013 after tallying 22 points off seven goals and eight assists, and 16 points off six goals and four assists last season, respectively. In its only match of the preseason, Florida fell to No. 21 UCF, 2-0.
Albany commences the 2013 campaign under the direction of new head coach Caitlin Colfer. After graduating 83 percent of their offensive production – including their top three goal scorers – the Great Danes only return five upperclassmen, including three starting defenders and starting goalkeeper Alana Brennan with her .711 save percentage. Leading the Great Danes offense is Allison Carhart, who tallied four goals and one assist last year. Albany finished the 2012 season 6-10-3 after making its third appearance in the America East Conference Tournament. The matchup between the Eagles and the Great Danes will be the first meeting of the two programs, and concludes a season-opening roadtrip which starts at FAU on Friday.
FGCU won both of its exhibition matches leading up the regular-season opener, defeating USF, 2-1, and FAU, 4-1. In both games the Eagles started slow, falling behind to the Bulls and not scoring until the second half versus the Owls, but turned the offense on later in the contest. Shannen Wacker (Parker Colo./Ponderosa HS) scored in both outings for the Green and Blue.
After earning the A-Sun’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament last season for the second consecutive year, the Eagles were tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the 2013 title, as voted on by the league coaches. Additionally, head coach Jim Blankenship was predicted to retain his A-Sun Coach of the Year crown, while sophomore Ally Kasun (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield HS) was named 2013 A-Sun Preseason Player of the Year. Joining in the preseason recognition were defender Emma Blackwell (Jenks, Okla./Jenks HS), defender Melissa Arnold (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek Regional HS) and forward Wacker who, along with Kasun, were named to the 2013 Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team.
The Green and Blue earned additional preseason recognition from TopDrawerSoccer.com as six players were named on a list of the A-Sun’s Top-20 Players. Kasun led the pack at No. 1, followed by Brittany Brown (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena HS) at No. 8, Wacker at No. 11, Shea Rhoney (Lithia, Fla./Newsome HS) at No. 15, freshman Tessa Berger (Auckland, New Zealand/ Epsom Girls Grammar School) at No. 18 and Blackwell at No. 19.
The returning leading scorer for the Eagles is Wacker, who tallied 25 points on 11 goals, including a single-season record five game-winners during the 2012 season. Kasen finished her rookie season with 21 points on seven goals, including the game-winner during the 2012 A-Sun Tournament Final, while Rhoney capped her first year with 17 points on six goals, racking up five assists.
2013-14 women’s soccer season tickets are now available by visiting the Alico Arena Ticket Office, calling 239-590-7145 or logging on to FGCUAthletics.com/Tickets. Season tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for youth (ages 3-12). Single-game tickets can also be purchased for $6 per adult and $3 for youth. Groups of 10+ can receive a discounted rate of $3 per person. FGCU students and faculty/staff are admitted for free with a valid University ID.