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Conf. previews: Ohio Valley, MVC, Sun Belt

Article Written by J.R. Eskilson
Published: July 26, 2013

Ohio Valley

2012 Offensive Player of the Year: Tatiana Ariza, Austin Peay
Defensive Player of the Year: Hayley Abbott, Southeast Missouri State
Freshman of the Year: Saphyra Coombs-James, UT Martin
Coach of the Year: Phil McNamara, UT Martin
Conference Tournament/Regular Season Champion: UT Martin

Teams:
Austin Peay (12-8-1/7-2-1)
Belmont (8-9-2/4-4-2)
Eastern Illinois (6-12-1/4-5-1)
Eastern Kentucky (10-7-3/6-3-1)
Jacksonville State (10-8-2/3-6-1)
Morehead State (2-12-4/2-5-3)
Murray State (4-13-0/2-8-0)
SIUE (7-8-4/4-4-2)
Southeast Missouri State (7-10-4/5-3-2)
Tennessee Tech (5-12-1/3-7-0)
UT Martin (13-6-3/8-1-1)

Tatiana Ariza captured a lot of the headlines in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) with her 12 goals and eight assists in 19 games on way to winning the OVC Offensive Player of the Year – a first for Austin Peay. But, UT Martin really dominated the competition in the conference.

Tatiana Ariza college soccer austin peayAustin Peay's Tatiana Ariza

The Tennessee program rolled to an eight-win year in conference play and an NCAA Tournament berth with the conference tournament title in hand. Skyhawk soccer came up just short of topping Kentucky in the first round as an overtime goal sent the OVC champs to the offseason despite a standout performance from goalkeeper Mariah Klenke in the outing.

Phil McNamara’s squad will be looking to make it three-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. UT Martin brings back eight starters and 16 players overall including Klenke and OVC Freshman of the Year Saphyra Coombs-James.

Ariza and Austin Peay appear to be the biggest challengers to the Skyhawk dynasty. The Colombian striker already holds the record for points, goals, and assists in Lady Gov program history, but those would all take a back seat to leading the squad to an OVC Championship in her final season.

Eastern Kentucky is another program to watch this fall, as first year head coach Melissa Barnes has nine of the starters back from last year’s squad. Barnes led UNCW and Furman to NCAA Tournament trips as an assistant coach in the past.

Sun Belt

2012 Offensive Player of the Year: Paige Goeglein, Middle Tennessee
Defensive Player of the Year: Ali Stahlke, Western Kentucky
Freshman of the Year: Kate Loye, Middle Tennessee
Coach of the Year: Aston Rhoden, Middle Tennessee
SBC Champion: North Texas

Teams:
Arkansas State (11-8-1/5-4-1)
Georgia State (4-11-2/1-8-1*)
Louisiana Lafayette(w) (8-10-2/2-6-2)
Louisiana-Monroe (4-15-0/1-9-0)
South Alabama (8-10-3/3-5-2)
Texas State (8-12-1/4-4-0)
Troy University (9-10-2/4-5-1)
Arkansas Little Rock (2-16-0/1-9-0)
Western Kentucky (12-5-3/6-1-3)

The top three finishers from the Sun Belt all left the conference, so the door is as open as it will ever be for one program to take over the role as the bully of the Belt. WKU seems like the most likely candidate to fill the void, as the Hilltoppers finished fourth in the conference last season.

Jason Neidell’s squad will need to replace leading scorer Amanda Buechel and SBC Defensive Player of the Year Ali Stahlke, who were both seniors last fall. The Hilltoppers do return Chrissy Tchoula, SBC First Team All-Conference midfielder, and Nikki Hall, SBC Second Team All-Conference goalkeeper.

Beyond the exodus of the top programs in the conference, there is also a bit of renovation going on with the conference, as two programs brought in new head coaches during the offseason.

Graham Winkworth took over the South Alabama program in November after 10 seasons with North Alabama. Arkansas Little Rock also decided to go in a new direction as the administation hired Adrian Blewitt in December. Blewitt’s most recent success came with Lenoir-Rhyne where he had a 36-5-3 record over the past two seasons.

Among the returning programs, Arkansas State is one to watch, as the Red Wolves displayed a dynamic attack in 2012, which ranked in the top 35 in the nation for scoring offense. ASU also returns Lindsay Johansen who became the first ASU player to appear in a national team camp (Canada U20) in March.

*Denotes 2012 CAA record 

Missouri Valley

2012 Player of the Year: Rachel Tejada, Illinois State
Defensive Player of the Year: Nia Williams, Missouri State
Goalkeeper of the Year: Simone Busby, Evansville
Freshman of the Year: Abby Springer, Evansville
Coaching Staff of the Year: Evansville
Regular season champion: Evansville
MVC Tournament Champion: Illinois State

Teams
Drake (12-5-3/3-1-2)
Evansville (5-8-3/4-1-1)
Illinois State (13-5-2/4-2)
Indiana State (8-10-3/2-3-1)
Loyola-Chicago (8-9-3/2-3-2**)
Missouri State (8-8-2/2-3-1)
Northern Iowa (8-9-2/3-2-1)

People tend to whisper when speaking about Rachel Tejada over a respectful fear she will appear and score a soul-crushing goal if someone mentions her name too loudly.

The MVC Player of the Year has been the bright star of the conference since her arrival in 2011. The striker has 39 goals and 19 assists in two seasons, and it does not look like she will be slowing down anytime soon either.

Yet, despite Tejada’s dominance, Evansville claimed the conference title in the regular season with a 4-1-1 record. The superbly named Purple Aces return eight starters from last season’s team MVC Goalkeeper of the Year Simone Busby and MVC Freshman of the Year Abby Springer. There are also 14 freshmen headed to Indiana to join Krista McKendree’s squad.

There is also a new program in the conference this fall, as the MVC welcomed (with open arms) Loyola to the fold in the offseason. Loyola was not entirely convincing last season in the Horizon League with a 2-3-2 record from conference play. Perhaps, the change of scenery will help jump start the attack that only managed 13 goals in 2012. 

**Denotes 2012 Horizon League record

 
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