FORT MYERS, Fla. – Opening its eighth season in program history, the FGCU women’s soccer team kicks off the 2014 campaign with a pair of challenging games against high caliber opponents at the FGCU Soccer Complex beginning with a Friday evening match opposite nationally ranked UCF before squaring off with Pac-12 foe Arizona on Sunday afternoon.
FGCU concluded the 2013 season with a 13-3-4 record and a 7-0-2 mark in the A-Sun before falling in penalty kicks in the A-Sun Championship game after battling Jacksonville for 110 minutes to a scoreless tie. The numbers last year would suggest that it was the greatest season offensively in FGCU women’s soccer history. The Eagles set program single-season records in points (130), goals (43), shots (384), shots per game (19.20), shots on goal (180) and shots on goal per game (9.00). FGCU returns 84.6 percent of its scoring (110 of 130 points) for the 2014 campaign.
THE KNIGHTS and the WILDCATS
UCF won its conference tournament last season after posting a 16-3-4 record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament where it fell in the opening round to St. John’s. UCF closed the 2013 season with the No. 13 RPI in the nation and come into Friday’s contest ranked No. 23 in the NSCAA Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Eagles are 0-3-1 all-time opposite the Knights and went down by a score of 4-0 on the road last season. The Knights return eight starters from last year's team, notably NSCAA all-region selection Tatiana Coleman and last year's American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, Lena Petermann, who was selected as the league's Preseason Player of the Year this week.
Arizona visits southwest Florida for the first time in program history. The Wildcats finished the 2013 season with a 9-7-4 record, their first winning season since 2005. To conclude 2013, the Cats shutout in-state rival Arizona State, 2-0, to add to their six shutout games on the season. Among the Pac-12 teams, the Wildcats ended the season ranked No. 2 in goals with 38 and No. 4 in shots with a total of 328.
The Eagles finished 2013 with the No. 67 RPI in the nation and the 2014 schedule will feature seven teams that finished ranked inside the top 83, three of which were ranked 15th or better. Those seven team include Arizona (83), Miami (73), La Salle (63), USF (53), Texas A&M (15), South Carolina (14) and UCF (13). Texas A&M and South Carolina begin the season ranked No. 4 and No. 14 respectively in the preseason poll.
FGCU has been selected by the coaches of the Atlantic Sun to earn a fifth-consecutive regular season championship when the Preseason All-Conference awards were announced by the league office. The coaches also went on to choose Tabby Tindell (Ocala, Fla./Trinity Catholic HS) as the Co-Preseason Player of the Year while Emma Blackwell (Jenks, Okla./Jenks HS) earned Preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors and Brittany Brown (Rochester, N.Y./Greece-Athena HS) was picked to repeat as Goalkeeper of the Year.
In addition to their individual awards Tindell, Blackwell and Brown were all named to the Preseason All-Conference Team alongside teammates Ally Kasun (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield HS), Paulina Speckmaier (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep/University of Florida) and Shannen Wacker (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa HS) giving the Eagles six of the 12 players named to the All-Conference Team.
The Eagles received 59 points and four first place votes to lead the preseason poll, just two points shy of 2013 A-Sun Tournament Champion Jacksonville (57) who picked up two first place votes. Kennesaw State with 48 points and one first place vote checked in at third followed by Stetson (40) and Lipscomb (33) who received the final first place vote. North Florida (24), Northern Kentucky (18) and USC Upstate (9) round out the rest of the rankings.
RECORD SETTING TABBY
Tindell put together one of, if not the greatest individual seasons in program history in just her first year suiting up for the Green and Blue. The Ocala, Fla. native established single-season program records in points (34), goals (15), goals per game (0.75), shots (71), shots per game (3.55), shots on goal (44) and shots on goal per game (2.20).
Blackwell earned All-Conference First Team honors at the end of last season for her efforts as the anchor of the FGCU defense. She tallied one goal and an assist from the back line. Brown has been a consistent presence between the pipes for two seasons now. Since her arrival the Eagles are a combined 26-7-6 and 16-1-3 in conference play. Brown’s Goalkeeper of the Year nod in 2013 came after leading the conference in goals against average (0.82) and shutouts (7), five of which came against A-Sun opponents. Collectively, the Eagles only allowed four goals in nine games against A-Sun foes in 2013. She could also boast one A-Sun Defensive Player of the Week distinction in 2013.
WACKER CLOSING IN
Wacker closed her junior campaign just three goals shy of the program record of 24. She is well ahead of the pace to break that record as she has averaged seven goals per season over the course of her career.
BLANKENSHIP AMONG THE BEST
Last month, AllWhiteKit.com, a blog that recognizes and promotes women’s soccer around the world, released its NCAA – CoachRank Adjusted Rankings and listed FGCU head coach Jim Blankenship as the No. 10 coach in the nation. He is the highest ranked of any his peers in the Atlantic Sun and one of three coaches from the state of Florida to appear in the top 10 (2 - Florida State, 9 - Florida).
Only coaches that have been at their current institution three seasons or longer qualify for the list. CoachRank is a data-driven, objective system of measuring coach performance over a long-term period of the time. Blankenship’s sustained success at FGCU played a major role in the ranking he received. For full AllWhiteKit.com rankings click here.
Blankenship has guided FGCU to an 84-32-17 overall record over the first seven seasons of the program's existence, including a 47-9-9 mark in the A-Sun. Since joining the A-Sun in 2007, the Eagles lead the league in conference wins (47) and fewest conference losses (9). In their last four seasons in the A-Sun, FGCU sports a 29-2-6 record. FGCU's 8-0-2 A-Sun record in 2010 and 7-0-2 record in 2013 were the 11th and 12th unblemished seasons in conference history and two of seven since the league left divisional play in 1999.
The Eagles began the season with an exhibition against familiar foe Mercer on Aug. 15 at the FGCU Soccer Complex where they emerged victorious on the strength of a 1-0 result. Tindell scored the lone goal for the Green and Blue.
FGCU hits the road for the first time in 2014 with a trip to Coral Gables, Fla. for a date with the Miami Hurricanes on Aug. 29. Miami closed last season with a 9-8-1 record and did not qualify for the ACC Tournament. These two programs have met three times; most recently in 2011 and FGCU has yet to claim a result.
From Miami the Eagles will travel to Tampa, Fla. to square off with USF for the first time in the regular season on Aug. 31. These two programs have met several times in exhibition fashion but never in the regular season. The Bulls closed out 2013 with a 10-4-7 record and a double-overtime, penalty kick loss to UCF in the semifinals of the American Conference Tournament.
For constant, news, photos, videos and updates you can follow the women’s soccer team on Twitter @FGCU_WSoccer, on Instagram @FGCU_WSoc or on Facebook: Facebook.com/FGCUWSoccer. You can also find FGCU athletics on YouTube by visiting YouTube.com/FGCUEagles.