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Women's Conference Preview: AAC, Big 12

Article Written by Will Parchman
Published: August 13, 2015

American Athletic Conference

2014 Conference Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Tatiana Coleman (UCF), Rachel Hill (Connecticut)
Defensive Player of the Year: Carleigh Williams, UCF
Midfielder of the Year: Kylie Davis, Memphis
Goalkeeper of the Year: Connie Organ, UCF
Rookie of the Year: Claire Oates (SMU), Rachel Thun (Tulsa)
Coach of the Year: Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, UCF

Teams (2014 overall, conference record)

UCF (18-5-0, 8-1-0)
Memphis (9-6-4, 6-1-2)
South Florida (13-7-2, 6-3-0)
Connecticut (14-5-5, 4-2-3)
Tulsa (11-8-2, 4-4-1)
East Carolina (12-8-1, 4-5-1)
Cincinnati (10-8-2, 4-5-0)
Temple (11-8-1, 3-5-1)
SMU (7-14-0, 2-7-0)
Houston (1-11-5, 0-8-1)

In hindsight, the AAC tourney semifinal between UConn and UCF marked a near-term changing of the guard. It greased the Huskies’ track to their first NCAA appearance since 2010 and a tourney win to boot. The fact that UConn finished fourth in the regular season almost seemed like an afterthought. Based on what the Huskies have back, it certainly does now.

Coach Len Tsantiris has three of his top four scorers back from a 14-win team: Danielle Gottwik (6g, 4a), Samantha McGuire (6g, 3a) and the inimitable Rachel Hill, who’s the de facto player of record in the AAC this year. Hill dropped in 16 goals last year as one of the nation’s most prolific goal threats, and she returns for her junior year a more polished player. If anyone in the AAC hopes to slow down UConn on its favored run to the conference title and a second straight NCAA bid, they’ll have to truck through Hill.

UCF starts the season with some added motivation. Despite earning two more votes in the preseason poll, the Knights found themselves at No. 2 in the AAC, looking up at UConn. UCF engineered a terrific run to the third round of the dance in 2014, which marked the team’s eighth straight appearance in the NCAA tourney. Part of the slight probably revolved around the graduation of Tatiana Coleman, who poured in 14 goals and 11 assists last year. The Knights lost 30 of their 47 goals from last year, not to mention Carleigh Williams, the league’s best defender. They’ll still be in the hunt with prolific goalscorer Ashley Spivey, but can they keep pace with so many new faces?

Elsewhere, Memphis and South Florida look loaded up to make a run at the top. Memphis was arguably the surprise of the conference last year after a one-loss league campaign, and they’ll have to find a replacement for Kylie Davis from somewhere. The good news is Diamond Simpson, the conference’s preseason DPOY, returns to anchor one of the league’s best defenses. South Florida could push in-state rival UCF with the return of one of the league’s best spines anchored by Olivia Chance and Jackie Simpson.

Elsewhere, Cincinnati returns enough pieces to be competitive with the big dogs in 2015, while Tulsa and East Carolina, which brings back the very good Kendall Frey up top, should also be in the mix once the tourney rolls around.

Big 12

2014 Conference Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Janine Beckie, Texas Tech
Defensive Player of the Year: Kadeisha Buchanan, West Virginia
Newcomer of the Year: Michaela Abam, West Virginia
Coach of the Year: Nikki Izzo-Brown, West Virginia

Teams (2014 overall, conference record)

West Virginia (16-2-4, 7-0-1)
Oklahoma State (10-10-1, 5-2-1)
Kansas (15-6-0, 5-3-0)
Texas Tech (16-4-2, 4-3-1)
Texas (11-8-4, 4-4-0)
Oklahoma (10-9-4, 3-4-1)
Baylor (9-8-3, 2-5-1)
TCU (8-8-3, 1-4-3)
Iowa State (7-11-0, 1-7-0)

Since it joined the Big 12 a few years ago, West Virginia’s largely been the league’s program of record. But the last two years have been especially dominant. The Mountaineers swept the regular season and tourney titles in each of the last two seasons, and the amount of returning talent almost isn’t fair. Thats starts with Kadeisha Buchanan, who’s probably the best defender in all of college soccer. She earned the Young Player Award at the Women’s World Cup for Canada in the summer, and she’s still just a junior.

In all, the Mountaineers return a staggering eight starters from a 16-win team. The conference is theirs for the taking. Texas Tech appears to be the closest challenger, and the Red Raiders will try to squeeze as much out of Janine Beckie’s final season as they can. Beckie is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in Big 12 history, and Tech will go as far as she’ll carry them.

Oklahoma State, dormant after a prolonged period of success, appears to be slowly righting the ship. A decent .500 season last year should yield better things in 2015, especially with 95 percent of its scoring back. Madison Mercado has swiftly developed into one of the conference’s best forwards, and Allie Stephenson is arguably the best returning midfielder.

Kansas’ party-crashing 2014 doesn’t look to be a one-off trend. The Jayhawks aren’t known historically as a women’s soccer power, but Liana Salazar is helping to shift the perception. The TDS Best XI First Teamer is a bonafide Hermann Trophy candidate, and she should carry the Jayhawks to another respectable season in the Big 12’s upper third, even if the loss of Caroline Van Slambrouck and Jamie Fletcher will have to be dealt with.

Below Kansas, the league’s bottom half is an unpredictable jumble. Oklahoma doesn’t have one superstar, but a solid front-to-back lineup should put the Sooners in the mix. Baylor will be looking for better things in 2015 behind midfielder Bri Campos, who anchors the midfield of one of the country’s best year-in, year-out defensive units. But the Bears need to find a way to score more timely goals to creep into the league’s upper half again.

Texas, meanwhile, boasts the country’s best returning goalkeeper in senior Abby Smith. Texas is young in a lot of places, and sophomore forward Olivia Brook will be asked to pick up more slack this year, so Smith could have a lot of saves to make. Lucky for the Longhorns, there’s no better keeper to put in that position.

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