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Six small conference teams that could excel

Article Written by Robert Ziegler
Published: July 23, 2012

Today we’ll spotlight some schools from smaller conferences. Last season Wisconsin-Milwaukee of the Horizon League went 19-3-0 including a win in the NCAA Tournament, but goal-scoring giant Sarah Hagen is gone and so is head coach Mike Moynihan (to Northwestern). Here is a look at some programs (six to be exact) that might punch above their apparent weight this season.

  1. Boston University (America East): Nancy Feldman’s team also earned a good record at 19-3-1, winning its 8th conference title and also taking an NCAA Tournament win over Harvard before falling 2-0 in the 2nd round to eventual College Cup qualifier Wake Forest.

    The Terriers had 54 season goals and balanced scoring, and while some top scorers are gone, Madison Clemens and Taylor Krebs lead some experience returnees.
  2. denver women's college soccer player kristen hamiltonKristen Hamilton
    Denver (WAC): Jeff Hooker is one of the best and least-recognized coaches in the women’s game.  He consistently had the Pioneers doing good things in the Sun Belt and there’s no reason to expect anything else as they move to the WAC. Leading returnees include the stellar Kristen Hamilton (16 goals AND 9 assists in 2011), Nicholette DiGiacomo, Karlie Vaughn, defender Katy Van Lieshout and goalkeeper Lara Campbell. Hooker just gets players who want to play good soccer and keeps everyone on the same page.
  3. Samford (Southern): Todd Yelton hasn’t been around for as long as Hooker, but the Samford Bulldogs’ mentor is another who has quietly built a solid an consistently-achieving program. Samford has continued to field conference title challengers in the Southern Conference, as it did before that in the Ohio Valley. This season, Sabbath McKiernan-Allen, and Michelle Moll are returning all-conference selections who will be important to the Bulldogs’ success.
  4. Illinois State (Missouri Valley): Click here to read Travis Clark’s excellent preview of the Missouri Valley Conference to read all about the Cardinals, coach Drew Roff and goal-scoring phenom Rachel Tejada.
  5. Florida Gulf Coast(w) (Atlantic Sun): Coach Jim Blankenship started the FGCU program and in five seasons of existence the team is 57-25-10. The Eagles won the conference title last year. Gina Petracco is a tough loss among leading scorers, as is goalkeeper Stephanie Powers, but key returnees include Ashley Ciesielczyk, Melissa Arnold and Shannon Wacker. Expect more good things from the Eagles.
  6. Toledo (Mid-American Conference): Yes, I’m a proud alum, but coach Brad Evans has won three regular season and four MAC Tournament titles. Key starters returning from last year’s team that lost a heartbreaker to Marquette in the NCAA Tournament include Rachael Kravitz, Megan Blake, Natalia Gaitan and MAC Offensive  Player of the Year Rachel MacLeod.
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