2011 NCAA Soccer Preview – Summit League – Chaos Theory

Kayla Braffet

South Dakota State's Kayla Braffet Will Be Hoping To Fire Her Team To The Top in 2011

Changing names, changing teams, changing…everything really. The Artist Formerly Known as The Mid-Continent Conference will be celebrating year thirty of its existence this year, the fifth season since changing its name to the Summit League. In its wake have been eighteen, eighteen former members. The league has survived mass defections to the Horizon League, members’ athletic departments going belly up (see Northeastern Illinois University), dumping unwanted flotsam (Chicago State), and most recently, having a member drop all the way down to Division III (Centenary).

While you probably needed a scorecard just to keep up with who was in the league in the turbulent nineties, the league seemed to have roared back in the new millennium, adding IPFW, North Dakota State, and South Dakota State to their ranks in 2007. The league looked to be further boosted by the news that Nebraska-Omaha, a capable DII team, was making the upgrade to DI (but not before gutting many sports) and would join up for DI in 2012, one year after the conference adds South Dakota to their ranks. But because there can never really be a moment of peace in the Summit League, Southern Utah announced before the season that they were jumping ship to the Big Sky after the 2011 season, mainly for practical geographic reasons. There was of course paranoia that South Dakota would make a hasty retreat to join North Dakota in the Big Sky, but those rumors died down when the program joined the MVFC conference for football.

Of course, all of the political conference wrangling off the pitch has taken some of the focus off of on the pitch developments which have generally been positive. South Dakota State was the first Summit League team to win an NCAA Tournament match in 2008, while North Dakota State nearly stunned Texas A&M last year. It’s all enough to almost make you forget that the league could seismically shift yet again at a moment’s notice. Almost.

(Teams listed in order of 2010 final RPI ranking.)

There can be little debate about who the queens of the Summit League have been in the conference’s history of just over a decade. With seven league titles and six conference tournament titles, OAKLAND has carved out a space on top of the league’s mountain for themselves over the course of the past decade with trophies galore and three doubles to their name. Nick O’Shea has been the man in charge through it all, and the Golden Grizzlies have failed to come home with at least one piece of Summit League silverware in only two of twelve conference seasons up to this point.

One of those trophyless seasons was in 2009, arguably one of the worst in club history. Granted, sixth place in a ten team league wouldn’t be seen as a catastrophe in most parts, but for a program that had made its name on winning things, mid-table anonymity and missing out on the postseason was quite disheartening to say the very least. It meant that O’Shea’s side entered 2010 with a renewed sense of purpose and a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as the Golden Grizzlies sought to prove they weren’t a program on the decline in the Summit League.

The early weeks of the new campaign were not kind to Oakland though as they opened the season winless in their first five, including losses to Western Michigan and Pittsburgh in addition to a draw with Detroit. The slow start turned out to be the right formula to kick Oakland into gear as they promptly won five in a row and were unbeaten in seven, the streak only broken against Big Ten side Michigan State back at home. By that time though, Oakland was 3-0-1 in league play and had their sights set on another league title. The last five Summit League matches were in the end little more than an extended victory lap for Oakland as they swept all challengers aside, finishing the regular season with a 8-0-1 league record and winning their seventh league title by six points.

The Golden Grizzlies entered the conference tournament as overwhelming favorites to do the double but were stymied at the first hurdle by a Western Illinois side who gave as good as they got and forced Oakland into a shootout after a 1-1 draw through one hundred and ten minutes. There, the Golden Grizzlies would feel the cruel hand of fate smashing their NCAA Tournament hopes as they fell to WIU, 5-4 on spot kicks. Oakland may have done their heritage proud with another trophy, but after such league domination, to go home without the conference tournament title must have been a bitter blow.

The Golden Grizzlies will be desperate to break their NCAA Tournament duck and reach the Big Dance for the first time since 2007 this year. With just about all of their key players back for another go of it, Oakland stands a pretty good chance of doing just that. Despite all the returnees, the Golden Grizzlies do lose a massive piece of their offense with the departure of midfielder and last year’s Summit League points leader, Dani Haelewyn. After being mostly silent for her previous two seasons with Oakland (and a season at Central Michigan), Haelewyn exploded for eight goals and seven assists in her senior season.

While the loss of Haelewyn will certainly be felt, the Golden Grizzlies should have more than enough offense coming back to trouble opposing defenses. The league’s second leading scorer, Nicole DeLuca, returns after nine goals and four assists in her sophomore season with the team. DeLuca’s outburst may have been as unexpected as Haelewyn’s having only tallied a single point in her freshman season. The Golden Grizzlies will be hoping for a repeat of last year instead of her freshman campaign.

Fellow midfielder Sarah Lynch, one of many Canadians on the squad, was also an offensive spark plug in midfield with seven goals and four assists. She should also be one of the team’s leaders this year as a senior after starting for much of her three seasons with OU. Also back for OU are Marlen Knoph, a Norwegian junior who had five goals and three assists last year, senior Shannon Doyle, and youngsters Julianne Boyle and Jordan Penz who both impressed as freshmen last year.

O’Shea seems to have a pretty good spearhead for his team up front as well, with Canadian sophomore Serena San Cartier showing real potential in her first season with Oakland. San Cartier didn’t really tap that potential until league play, but her four goals and two assists in Summit League action were an encouraging return. Senior Amy Trandell and Canadian sophomore Meghan Reynolds could also be among those seeing action up top for Oakland this year.

If OU’s offense wasn’t enough for their title rivals to worry about, then the league’s stingiest defense last season will also be enough to make opposing coaches sweat come the new season. This group returns intact and with plenty of strong talent that will aim to dominate opposing offenses. Big Canadian junior Kara Weber was a rock at the back for the Golden Grizzlies last season and can easily lay claim to being one of the best defenders in the league. Flanking her should be juniors Brianna Bowery and Alyssa Fulton and senior Alissa Beeman, in addition to a handful of other experienced reserves. The Golden Grizzlies already had the league’s best defense, and they stand to be better with another year of experience under their belt.

O’Shea’s biggest decisions as coach this season could be in juggling two keepers of starting quality in sophomore Payj O’Shea and senior Shannon Coley. Both saw significant time in goal last season, with O’Shea seeing more action come league play. O’Shea was also named to the Summit League All-Newcomer Team for her troubles and is clearly the keeper of the future, even if she loses the spot back to Coley this year. It’s a luxury many O’Shea’s Summit League rival coaches would surely like to have going into this season.

The Golden Grizzlies’ boss also has the luxury of having a deep, experienced, and talented squad at his command for the season ahead. Oakland will likely open up as strong favorites to capture a second straight league title and could realistically aim for the double in 2011. Watch for them if they qualify for the NCAA Tournament as well. Given the right matchup they could be trouble for a big program thinking a little too far in advance.

Most casual fans of college soccer remember SOUTH DAKOTA STATE, if they remember them at all, for their giant killing act in the 2008 NCAA Tournament when they became the last team to defeat a seeded team in the first round when they topped Colorado. It was an altogether perfect moment for the Jackrabbits to announce their arrival on the scene as a consistent threat for honors in the Summit League.

SDSU, like most schools making a move upwards in the divisions in the NCAA, struggled at first with the elevation in class but came good when the time came to move out of the nomadic realm of independent schools and to join a conference. Immediately viable in the title picture in the Summit League, SDSU went on to win the double in 2008 and capped the season off with the aforementioned upset of Colorado, finishing the season at a glittering #85 in the final RPI. 2009 wasn’t quite as glamorous, but the Jackrabbits still closed out the season as league champs before being dismantled in the Summit League Tournament final by IUPUI.

Coming into 2010 wanting to complete a hat trick of league titles while getting back to the Big Dance, South Dakota State got off to a slightly rocky start with a loss to Drake at home that came after a draw with Creighton on the road that would look more impressive at season’s end than it likely did at the time. SDSU would get on a roll after the Drake loss though, going unbeaten in their next eight matches, which included a win over Iowa State and a draw with Wisconsin on the road. A draw with Northern Iowa was less impressive, but the Jackrabbits still had to like their chances entering Summit League play.

Only two wins in their first four wasn’t title winning form though, and SDSU was still on the fringes of the title discussion after wins over Southern Utah and UMKC. A loss to North Dakota State ended their remaining title hopes, and the Jackrabbits finished as runners-up in the league after closing out the regular season with two wins. Their seasonal nemesis, North Dakota State, would crop up in the Summit League Tournament though and eliminated SDSU after penalties after a 1-1 draw.

For South Dakota State to venture back to the apex of the league, they’re going to have to overcome some big losses, specifically, the team’s top two players, in forward Danni Healy and midfielder Kaitlin Justice. Healy was crowned Summit League Offensive Player of the Year after a seven goal, four assist season with ten points in league play. Justice was a little midfield playmaker who rounded into one of the league’s top distributors and led the team with six assists last season while also chipping in with four goals. Also departing from the offense are Tory Schiltgen from the midfield and utility player Emily Quigley.

If goals are going to come this season, they’ll probably come from senior Kayla Braffet, who took a bit of a back seat last season after impressing with six goals and eight assists in 2009. Braffet’s output fell to five goals and three assists, but she’ll have every chance to get back to her numbers as a sophomore with the offense likely flowing through her in 2011. Additionally, senior Kelsey Ferguson has starting experience in her first two seasons on campus, including five match winning goals in the fabulous 2008 season. She turned into a key reserve last year but could make the step back up to a starting role this season.

Cori Bonte chipped in with the odd goal from midfield in 2010 and will likely be counted on to do the same this season, while promising sophomore Darci Miller will be expected to make the step up from her role as a super sub last season. Also back is Christa Nyblom who started sixteen matches and finished with a pair of goals and four assists. The midfield adds Nebraska-Omaha transfer Megan Kingston, who had four goals and seven assists as a freshman with UNO and could provide some much needed offense to this SDSU team.

With the offense in flux, the Jackrabbits will likely be depending on defense to lead them to victory this year. Luckily for them, they’ve got everyone from last year’s strong unit set to return. Senior Steph Peterson looks likely to assume the role of defensive general for the Jackrabbits after three strong years for SDSU thus far and will have a talented group surrounding her. Returnees Stephanie Berube, Courtney Higgins, and Megan Huegli all have significant starting experience, and this could be one of the best defenses in the conference.

The situation in goal looks good for South Dakota State as well, as Canadian sophomore Elisa Stamatakis hardly looked inexperienced as she stepped right in to play almost every minute in goal for SDSU and did very well. There’s no reason to think she’ll hit a sophomore slump, although Hawaii transfer Tina Ehrett could keep her on her toes.

Head Coach Lang Wedemeyer is the only supremo South Dakota State has ever known, and the Jackrabbits have been all the better for it, as Wedemeyer has crafted his side into a perennial threat in the Summit League. The defense should be among the best in the league, which should keep them in just about every match come time for Summit League action. If Wedemeyer can coax enough goals out of his offense to make up for the losses of Healy and Justice, the Jackrabbits might just have a chance to run back to the NCAA Tournament.

If you’re a fan of pluck, courage, and a never-say-die attitude, it was hard not to be captivated by NORTH DAKOTA STATE in their first round NCAA Tournament match against Texas A&M in freezing St. Paul, Minnesota last November. A conference already with a history of giant killing in the Big Dance after South Dakota State’s 2008 toppling of Colorado, the Summit League watched intently as the Bison stood toe-to-toe with the mighty Aggies.

After going down to a penalty early, North Dakota State sent shockwaves through the college soccer world with Quin Ryan’s equalizer a quarter of an hour until time. Despite a valiant battle through extra time, NDSU would fall cruelly in penalties to A&M, robbing the college soccer world of one of the biggest upsets in recent times. Still, there was no doubt that North Dakota State could walk away with their heads raised high after their first trip to the NCAA Tournament as a member of Division I.

Not bad for a program that was among the worst in the country just a few years earlier. Pete Curdrado has been the architect of North Dakota State’s Division I adventure and has done a fine job of guiding the Bison up the Summit League table in recent seasons. After the aforementioned disaster in 2008, NDSU rebounded in style, lifting a share of the Summit League trophy one year later.

That helped raise expectations for 2010 for the Bison, expectations that stayed high after a five match unbeaten run to open the season including draws against Iowa State and Creighton away from home. The Bison would face a stark gut check soon after though after winning only one in their next six, including horrid losses to Northern Iowa and IPFW. NDSU’s title hopes were all but buried after two losses to open up the conference season, but they at least kept their postseason hopes alive going unbeaten in four, even if that run did include an unfathomable draw against UMKC.

Three wins to close out the year gave NDSU second place in the league and a spot in the conference tournament. The Bison would hold their nerve in a shootout against South Dakota State before thumping Western Illinois in the final to lift the Summit League Tournament trophy and go dancing. North Dakota State would be unlucky in St. Paul but headed back home having earned the respect of the college soccer world.

The challenge now is providing an encore for Bison supporters now a little more used to some success after silverware in the past two seasons. Perhaps the biggest task facing Curdrado is replacing Ryan, who leaves North Dakota State as one of the most beloved players in program history after her goal against Texas A&M and scoring the winner in the Summit League title match against Western Illinois. Besides Ryan’s seven goals and four assists, the Bison also lose the offense of Candice D’Arcangeli, who tallied three goals and assists in her senior year.

The cupboard is far from bare however. Returnees Brooklyn Dyce and Holly Christian each had five goals despite not starting full-time last season, while midfielder Michelle Gaffaney was impressive as well and should step up into a leadership role for the Bison this year as a three-year starter and a senior. Additionally, the team reloads with some intriguing newcomers to get amongst the goals. Transfer Kaylee McDonald enjoyed a few good seasons at Northern State in Division II, while Janae Dabill was widely thought of as one of the state’s top prospects for this class. Most promising of all could be Canadian Anisha Kinnarath, a U17 international who could be an immediate factor up front for the Bison in 2011.

The defense, which was among the league’s best last season, takes a few hits though, with Marissa Wolfgram and Danielle DeMent both departing for the Bison. Despite those losses, North Dakota State will boast one of the very best defenders in the conference this season in senior Abbey Moenkedick (nee Stratton). Moenkedick was a two way threat for the Bison last season, leading the team with seven assists and figures to be just as dangerous going forward this year. Also coming back for the Bison are Megan Dean, who recovered well from a season-ending knee injury suffered in 2009, and fellow senior Laura Wagner. It’s a veteran group on the backline, which certainly bodes well for the season ahead.

In goal, NDSU enjoys the luxury of having a pair of keepers who saw major minutes in goal last year. Senior Kalani Bertsch will likely be the starter going into camp, having started the bulk of games at NDSU in her three year career. The team’s keeper of the future, Canadian Kathy Kelsey, could also figure in the Bison’s 2011 plans after starting six matches as a redshirt freshman last season.

Losing such an influential player like Ryan has to hurt NDSU, but the team should cope well enough with a legion of talented newcomers in attack waiting in the wings to supplement the talented attackers already on campus. With that significant talent returning to Fargo, you’ve got a recipe for another title challenge and perhaps another upset bid in the first round of the NCAA Tournament should NDSU play their cards right.

It was not third time lucky for a WESTERN ILLINOIS side that struck out again in the Summit League Tournament final with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. At least last year WIU didn’t suffer penalty heartbreak in the final ala 2006 or come up short after winning the league’s regular season title as they had in 2007. The Leathernecks have cooled off somewhat since Head Coach Tony Guinn’s amazing 2007 debut that saw WIU go 16-3-1, go 8-0-0 in Summit League play to win the regular season title, and finish at #69 in the final RPI.

That in of itself had been a minor miracle considering the program had just lost miracle worker Kevin Sherry to Louisiana Tech after Sherry was lured away by better funding and more support down in Ruston. It’s been something of a backwards crawl for Western Illinois since Guinn’s debut though. The Leathernecks missed the postseason for the first season since 2004 the year after, while it was a #4 finish and first round conference tournament exit in 2009.

Going winless in their first five matches against DI opposition probably wasn’t what Guinn had in mind coming into the season, although the last game of that stretch, a 0-0 draw against SIU-Edwardsville, was also the beginning of a six match unbeaten run against DI opponents. It was difficult to make sense of WIU going into league play though seeing as how they played one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country. 5-1-1 to open up league play answered most of those questions with four clean sheets thrown in there for good measure.

A loss to Oakland essentially gave the Golden Grizzlies the league title though, but you’d have to say that the Leathernecks were a bit unfortunate to finish as #4 seeds after losing tiebreakers in a three-way tie to South Dakota State and North Dakota State. Perhaps underrated going into the league tournament, they got their revenge on fierce rivals Oakland, downing the regular season champs on penalties after a 1-1 draw. North Dakota State would prove too much though and the Leathernecks fell in the final, 3-1.

If Western Illinois are to make it back to the Summit League Tournament for another crack at an NCAA Tournament bid, they’re going to have to overcome some critical losses all across the pitch. None bigger than Jenny Green, a defender who turned into one of the best Summit League defenders in recent memory after transferring from Minnesota following her freshman season. The 2010 Summit League Defender of the Year wasn’t just a defensive force though, she was also the team’s second leading scorer, finishing with three goals and four assists.

Besides Green, the team also loses starting defender Caitlin Barrett from the starting backline. The Leathernecks do return promising sophomore defender Kristin Becker who will likely be looking at an upgrade in minutes after being a valuable super sub last season. Laura Lins and Katie Condon also both return and will likely once again be key cogs from a defense that may struggle to live up to the performance of last year’s unit.

The Leathernecks face a massive blow though with junior Laura Atkinson, the best keeper in the conference, listed as redshirting this year. Freshman Victoria Kappel comes in highly touted, but she’s likely to be thrown right into the deep end this year and might not have a steely backline to bail her out this year. Given the turnover in defense, Atkinson’s leadership and organization would have been critical, and now WIU faces some serious uncertainty between the pipes.

Given those losses on defense, you’d think the Leathernecks would hang their hat on offense, but that’s hardly a given considering the team also takes hits up front. Leading scorer from 2010 Kelly Diershow may have only started half of WIU’s games but was still a major force with four goals in league play. Ali Smyth also had two goals and three assists and also departs. The onus of the attack for 2011 figures to be Jordan Spaciel who may have only started ten matches but delivered a promising return with four goals and one assist. Amber Davis also showed flashes as a freshman and could be asked to improve upon her three goals, mostly as a key reserve last year.

Guinn also will be able to call on Indiana native Sarah Hall in attack, the newcomer a 2010 NSCAA High School All-American. Hall comes in as one of WIU’s most highly rated recruits ever and could be asked to deliver the goods right away up front. The team also added transfer Sloane Levin from College of Charleston, but the legendary Shattuck-St. Mary’s forward must sit this year out as it’s her third school.

Plenty of experience returns in the midfield with junior Kellie Julius among the retunees. The third-year player will be looking to do much better this season after being held pointless last year after four goals and three assists as a freshman. Another junior Miranda Graham also returns to the midfield after two goals and two assists last season and will be asked to contribute to an offense that needs every last point they can get.

WIU were already facing an uphill climb with Atkinson in her ranks, but with the star keeper redshirting, they face an even tougher go of it. With an improving conference around them, WIU probably won’t get another chance at the Summit League title this season. They might not get a bid to the postseason either, as a spot in the Top Four of the league with this group is far from assured.

ORAL ROBERTS‘ August 29th derby against Tulsa resulted in two players from each side being sent off towards the end of the match for the usual derby shenanigans. What might have been lost in that fiasco was the fact that ORU were crushed 4-0 by the Golden Hurricane. Sadly, that was about as interesting as it got for the Golden Eagles in 2010, as they continued to flounder about in mid-table after dominating the then Mid-Continent Conference in the beginning of the decade.

Winners of three regular season titles and a pair of conference tournament titles from 1999-2004, it’s been all snake eyes since for Oral Roberts. Actually, bringing up Tulsa is probably a sore subject considering the Golden Hurricane poached ORU’s architect of its success, Kyle Cussen, to be their new head coach in early 2008. Replacement Ryan Bush hasn’t found life easy with the Golden Eagles thus far. The team had missed the postseason in both of his first two seasons with the club and the pressure was rising to show improvement and get a success craving program back on track.

The Tulsa debacle had come right after two wins to open the season, and another 4-0 loss, this time to Missouri State, followed the derby defeat. Still, the Golden Eagles held their own in tight defeats to Mississippi State and Texas Tech, giving many hope that the program would be in the upper tier of the Summit League in 2010. Starting out 2-0-1 in conference action was good, but a damaging road trip where ORU lost to Western Illinois and IUPUI was most definitely not good.

Two wins over cellar dwellers Southern Utah and UMKC meant it was likely going to come down to the wire for a spot in the postseason. Bush’s team would fail to cure their road woes in time though as the Golden Eagles went down by a goal to both South Dakota State and North Dakota State, leaving them a full six points short of the Top Four and a spot in the Summit League Tournament.

In his fourth season at the helm, the heat is really on Bush to break through the middle tier of the Summit League and finish in the playoff places to send the team into the postseason for the first time under his reign. He might just have the tools to get it done though. The Golden Eagles will be able to call on last year’s Freshman of the Year, midfielder Jennifer Abernathy. Abernathy stepped onto campus and promptly took over as the club’s leading scorer despite starting only twelve of eighteen matches for ORU. The fantastic freshman scored six goals, four of them in league play, and also had two assists to pace the team.

Abernathy will likely have to be the main goalgetter for the Golden Eagles in 2011 as well since her teammates did very little offensively in league play. Second leading scorers Mary-Kate Halsmer (five goals) and Whitney Brannan (four goals) both showed a goalscoring touch in non-conference action, but both struggled to put the ball in the back of the net in Summit League play. The depth up front is tenuous to say the least with no listed forwards coming back with too much experience, meaning ORU will be depending on its midfield for offense. All of the above are listed as midfielders and will be joined by returning starters Lexie Salas, Whitney Booth, and Maria Grados, one of only three seniors on this year’s roster. Collectively, the offense has potential but was still a tick behind the leading teams of the league last year.

At any rate, the offense will likely have to be firing, because the school takes its lumps in graduation in its defense. Starting defenders Tiffany Heward and Jordan Miller both depart, though starting goalkeeper Amanda Wheeler was boosted with the news of getting a fifth year of eligibility. At least big junior Lauren Parks returns to the backline after earning Summit League honors in both of her first seasons in the college ranks. She’ll be one of the veterans now on a backline that will be shuffled around a bit with the losses. Sisters Leah and Anna Bickers should be among the favorites to nail down starting jobs after seeing major time last year, while the same could be said of junior Allison Hall. Considering towering sophomore Bree Williams only saw forty-five minutes in goal last season, Wheeler’s return has to be a big relief after the senior has been a constant between the pipes for the last two seasons in Tulsa.

The shakiness on offense beyond Abernathy and the shuffle on defense should temper any expectations about a title run in 2011. Despite returning a reasonably talented and experienced team, ORU certainly isn’t guaranteed to return to the postseason, as none of the current squad have really shown a true ability to perform in the clutch in league play. Abernathy will have to avoid a sophomore slump, and her offensive teammates will have to improve markedly in the league if ORU is to get back to the postseason this year.

IPFW probably would rather you forget those first few years as a member of the Summit League. Truthfully, those early seasons in their new conference home were as forgettable as much of the Mastodons’ existence as a DI team up to that point. Toiling away as an independent and then as a member of the fledgling and doomed United Soccer Conference, IPFW were finally thrown a lifeline when the Summit League came calling in 2007.

Back-to-back seasons of one and zero wins in 2007 and 2008 probably had Irishwoman Margaret Saurin feeling the heat as the newly installed head coach felt the pressure of some epically bad campaigns in IPFW’s new home. But Saurin, a playing legend at Division II Christian Brothers, has responded by having her Mastodons slowly climb the ladder, with first four wins in 2009, followed by last season’s breakthrough to a record of 7-9-1. It may sound relatively unimpressive at first, but considering the torturous existence this program has gone through in recent years, a mark just under .500 might sound blissful to long-suffering IPFW fans.

One win in their first five had Mastodon fans expecting the worst in 2010, but the squad promptly won four out of their next six to show signs of real progress including an impressive 3-0 crushing of eventual Summit League Tournament winners North Dakota State. 2-3-1 over the final six league matches wasn’t quite good enough to ensure that the Mastodons would be taking part in postseason play for the first time since they joined the Summit League, but it put them into a tie for fifth overall in the league, six points off the Top Four and a spot in the conference tournament. Dare IPFW dream about the postseason in 2011? The Mastodons have slowly climbed their way back to respectability, and the next logical step would seem to be clinching a berth in the league’s Top Four.

With the sheer numbers of players returning, you’d have to figure that the Mastodons will at least make a valiant charge at the postseason. The only player that saw major minutes last year set to depart is defender Ali Okihiro. IPFW look to be strongest up front where the dynamic duo of Lisa Underwood and Tara O’Toole will threaten to set the league alight. Underwood couldn’t quite match 2009’s devastating eleven goal freshman season but did manage to knock in six goals and two assists despite the increased attention from defenses. O’Toole broke out for four goals and three assists in 2010 and will be looking to improve on that total to take some of the heat off Underwood in 2011.

Canadians Arianne Mason and Felicia Jones also could make an impact up front for IPFW after scoring three and four goals respectively in 2010. With a litany of weapons, the Mastodons look to have one of the most potent attacks in the Summit League. Some of those forward weapons may play in midfield to take advantage of the bulk of firepower available to Saurin. They’ll join returning starters Rhea Proctor and Elise Mamanu-Gray in midfield. The latter was impressive as a freshman in Fort Wayne after taking part in the 2010 U20 World Cup with New Zealand. The Mastodons also add another with youth international experience in Trinidad and Tobago U17 international Sydney Hoareau, a creative, attacking type in midfield.

All of that’s to go with a defense that was more than good enough to keep pace with the rearguards of the top teams in the league. Replacing Okihiro will be a concern, as the departed stalwart started every match in her IPFW career, but with Canadian youth international Amber Lawrence making her way south of the border to Fort Wayne, it’s safe to say that the Mastodons may cope just fine. A tough-tackling, aerially refined center-back, Lawrence should immediately contend for a starting spot. She joins returning starters Justine LeBlanc, Lauren McCracken, and Caroline Castelli in forming a group that has the potential to be one of the league’s top defenses.

The Mastodons should be strong in goal as well with two keepers with starting experience returning. The lead job likely belongs to sophomore Erin Nayler, who enjoyed an excellent freshman season and also spent the summer as one of the reserve keepers for New Zealand at the Women’s World Cup. Backup Kristen McFadden is a senior with thirty starts in three seasons and should be plenty prepared to step in at a moment’s notice if need be.

Like many coaches of small schools in D1, Saurin has done her best to look outside of the box and raid a couple of other countries for talent, with a wide swath of Canadians to go along with a couple of Kiwis, and a Brazilian. Judging by the steady progress being made by the Mastodons, it’s safe to say the strategy is working. With a productive offense and a potentially solid defense at their disposal, IPFW has a real chance of cracking the Top Four of the Summit League and making it into the postseason for the first time since they joined the conference.

After two years in the sun as a Summit League power, IUPUI reverted back to the form that has typified most of their existence: mid-table obscurity. The Jaguars had starred with two shared league titles and a Summit League Tournament crown in 2009 but sunk back towards the pack in 2010.

It was a decided step in the wrong direction for Head Coach Chris Johnson who had inherited a program that had done very little under the thumb of former coach Jean Delaski through the early part of the decade. It took a whole lot of patience from the IUPUI brass to stick with the Jags’ boss through disappointing season after disappointing season, but their faith was rewarded with back-to-back league titles in 2008 and 2009 and a first trip to the NCAA Tournament in the latter season.

Losing six of their first eight in 2010 perhaps revealed that these Jags weren’t possessing as much bite as their predecessors. But IUPUI would then ride a roller coaster of form for the rest of the season, winning four in a row, including one over Horizon League champs Butler and then their first two league matches. Two more wins followed two losses to some of the league’s better teams, leaving the Jags in need of a good run over their final three matches to stand a chance of getting back to the postseason for the third straight year and in the process, getting a chance to defend their tournament title.

It didn’t happen. IUPUI were shutout over all three matches and finished rooted in mid-table, away from the basement but well short of the Top Four and a spot in the Summit League Tournament. Now it’s time for Johnson to show which was the fluke: the team’s disappointing 2010 season or the program’s fairy tale 2008-2009 run. The Jaguars weren’t exactly a force in the Summit League before that two year run, and 2011 is important to show that IUPUI wasn’t just a flash in the pan for that short span.

Fortunately, Johnson can call upon some nice talent to get the Jaguars back into the postseason. First and foremost is senior forward Megan Hock, who figures to graduate as one of the best to have ever donned the shirt for IUPUI. Hock couldn’t quite match 2009’s torrid run of twelve goals and six assists, but she still managed seven goals and an assist to lead the Jaguars. Hock figures to be aiming for double digits for her senior season. If she succeeds, the Jaguars will likely be in prime position for a return to the postseason. Hock also needs six goals and thirteen points to top the school’s all-time charts in both categories. Both are certainly within her reach this year.

The Jags also return another senior, Alicia Brock, who could be the key to the team’s hopes. Brock, the 2008 Summit League Newcomer of the Year and 2009 Offensive Player of the Year, saw her output diminish considerably last season, dropping to three goals and five assists. A return to form would clearly leave IUPUI in a better position come the end of the season. Sophomore Sarah Colby also returns and is a tantalizing prospect after four goals and three assists in her rookie season.

Sarah Wong was a mainstay in midfield as a freshman, the Canadian starting thirteen matches and chipping in with a pair of assists. Also returning are sophomore Sarah Carlisle, another impressive freshman from last season, and senior Chelsi McHenry, who had four assists, good for second on the squad last year. Senior Lauren Gallets will hope to see more lineup time after two injury hit seasons, while sophomore Ashley Doreski will also be hoping for increased time after eight starts last season in midfield.

At the back, senior center-back Margaret Allgeier also will be looking to leave her mark on the program with another strong season. Allgeier, a three-year starter and one of the conference’s premier defenders, will need to step up to help lead the defense with the loss of Anna Pigg, the team’s only departing senior that played major minutes in 2010. Pigg’s minutes could be picked up by sophomore Sammi Deer who was one of the league’s best reserves in her freshman season. Starters Alexandria Baer and Kelli Parks also return, giving IUPUI one of the most experienced backlines in the conference.

Settling the situation in goal would help the Jaguars this year though. True freshmen Kristin Haseley and Giselle Guzman juggled the job in 2010 with Haseley perhaps having a nose ahead in the race for the starting spot going into 2011. If either can show a fair degree of improvement and stake a claim to the job, the Jags could show great defensive improvement this season.

After two trophy-laden seasons, 2010 was a letdown for IUPUI. But with a solid core of players returning for 2011, the dark skies don’t figure to linger over the Jaguars for too long. Expect IUPUI to return to the postseason in 2011, where the Jags will only be two wins away from a trip back to the Big Dance.

Unfortunately for SOUTHERN UTAH, the 2009 season wasn’t just a one off, and the Thunderbirds (seriously, how great a nickname is that?) slumped to another very poor season at the bottom of the Summit League. After a pitiful 2-14-2 season in 2009, SUU crashed to an equally dismal 3-11-1 record in 2010 against D1 opponents that was manipulated upwards with a pair of wins against lower division opponents that didn’t help out their RPI a bit.

Then again, Southern Utah really could use all the help they can get after a whole lot of futility over the past decade. The side from Cedar City has endured eight losing seasons in the past ten campaigns, including three in a row counting last season. SUU also hasn’t won more than seven matches in a single season over that decade and haven’t won a match in the postseason. Additionally, SUU was coming off a ninth place finish in the Summit League, only finishing a point above basement side UMKC, and the Roos were in their first season of existence.

It made for some certain anxiety as the Thunderbirds entered the 2010 season. Against Division I opponents, SUU went winless in their first five matches, although they did manage a creditable draw against Northern Colorado. They did get a win over Utah Valley before slipping back into their losing ways. The other two wins for the Thunderbirds came against lowly UMKC and Centenary, the former still struggling with existence as a DI program, the latter preparing to drop into Division III following the 2010 season. It was the latest setback in a prolonged slide that has seen SUU fall into the netherlands of Division I. Head Coach Brian Stock has overseen the program since its very beginning a decade ago but must be worrying about his job security after the struggles of the past few seasons.

A little rub of the green might help as SUU were on the losing end of five of their Summit League matches by a single goal. Stock won’t have the excuse of inexperience for any struggles in 2011, as his Thunderbirds only lose a pair of seniors, although both Allison Thompson and Erin Wright saw significant minutes as starters last year. The Thunderbirds also lose the services of starters McKenzie Hadley and Michelle Judd as well though, which has the potential to create problems for an offense already with question marks surrounding it.

By and large, SUU’s most glaring weakness was in front of goal, the team only scoring ten goals in nine league matches. The number becomes more worrisome when considering half those goals came in wins against the two bottom sides in the league. Riley Bassett, a towering midfielder, was the overall points leader for the team, but most of her goals should be taken with a grain of salt, as five of her seven tallies were against non-D1 opponents. Instead, scoring will likely fall to the junior duo of Shelby Ostler and Missy Lacazno, who combined for nine goals in 2010. Neither were full-time starters in 2010 but could be thrust into the team’s first XI as Stock pursues more goals from his team. Ostler’s an especially intriguing player for Stock as she moved into the starting lineup in league play and rewarded the decision with four Summit League goals. Stacey Brinkman, coming back from a 2009 injury, also showed flashes of getting back to form with three goals and could improve further this season.

Bassett returns in midfield as a senior this year and looks like the best offensive option returning in midfield for SUU. Also back in the midfield are Elyse Alexander and Morgan Bridge who both started every match for the Thunderbirds last season. The loss of Judd, who herself started every match last season, hurts, but there’s enough experience here not to expect too much of a drop off.

SUU’s defense gets whacked pretty hard by losses, losing a pair of starters and a lot of depth from last year. The new leader looks to be junior Rachel Krenzer who has started every match for the team in her two years in Cedar City thus far. Senior Allyson Duda also returns after moving into a starting role for the team last year. The goalkeeping situation should be just fine for SUU as well, with starter Charly Booth returning after winning the starting role full-time last season. Breana Fitzgerald didn’t play at all last season, but the junior has starting experience from 2009 and should be a decent backup option for Stock.

The Thunderbird brass has shown enough patience with Stock thus far despite diminishing returns, but Southern Utah doesn’t really have a lot more room to fall in the conference, especially with Centenary dropping a few divisions. With a senior laden team in 2011, improvement has to be in the cards for Southern Utah to let Stock breathe easier, but on last year’s evidence, a major jump in the table doesn’t look likely.

Slow progress was the order of the day for SOUTH DAKOTA in their second season of D1 competition. USD had been a reasonably successful program at DII level under Jessica Maddox and then Becky Heiberger before the latter left for St. Cloud State after the 2007 season. The two year reign of Marcia Oliveira was a decided flop and an odd hire considering the former Sam Houston State coach hadn’t exactly set the Southland Conference on fire in her previous post.

Xavier assistant Mandy Green was tabbed to try and get USD back on track as they set their eyes onto bigger and better things in DI. The Coyotes may have posted a nearly identical record to their inaugural campaign at this level, but did manage to jump almost twenty places in the final RPI. Granted, most of USD’s wins came against the lowest of the very low in D1, but the win over a somewhat decent Western Illinois team showed that the Coyotes were making slow but steady progress in their formative years as a DI program.

It was a little obvious though that USD ran out of gas towards the end of 2010 though. The squad only managed to win one of its last ten matches and were absolutely beaten black and blue in their final five league matches, scoring six and conceding twenty-two as they lost all of those affairs by at least three goals, including a 4-1 loss to South Carolina State in the Great West Tournament.

Mandy Green can be happy with the slight improvement her side showed in her first season on the job but will be expecting more come 2011. The Coyotes will have a new home for the new campaign having escaped the Great West Conference for the Summit League and the potential NCAA Tournament bid that their new home has at the end of the metaphorical rainbow. Of course with the new home comes much improved competition.

Upward mobility might be challenging if not impossible in Green’s second season. The Coyotes are hit with severe attrition, losing eight seniors, including midfield stalwarts Katie Quinones and Michelle Marshall, defender Erika Menning, and keeper Jen Ogren who was in goal for every minute of USD’s 2010 season. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the team also loses three starters early and three other reserves as well. In fact, there are really only four players with any real experience returning to the fold for USD this year.

The lack of a recognized and experienced keeper returning for 2011 is the biggest problem facing the young Coyotes program and likely means that freshman Mackenze Viktor will be in goal from the first minute of 2011. Viktor is just one of four incoming keepers but looks more qualified for this level than the others at the moment, meaning South Dakota does stand a chance of not missing a beat or perhaps improving upon a defense which was far too leaky for much of 2010. The bad news is that it might not get any better this year with no experienced defenders returning, meaning a freshman keeper will likely be playing behind a freshman backline, a recipe for a potential disaster.

Green will be happy that she doesn’t have to replace Jenny Teslow for the next three seasons. The sophomore forward made a massive impact in her first season of collegiate ball, scoring eight goals while also tossing in a few assists for good measure. Teslow looks like becoming one of the Summit League’s best forwards by the time she’s graduated and will be looked upon for goals once again in 2011. The other returning forward with any experience is fellow sophomore Afton Keiser, who started every match last season and had two goals and four assists and will be counted on for more production this season as well.

Green also will be hoping for increased output from Erin Bello, the junior having hit three goals and two assists in 2010. Bello is the most experienced player on the team and also had three goals in 2009 as a redshirt freshman. She’ll definitely be counted on for leadership this year with such a young side. The other midfielder with any experience that returns is junior Rachel Greene, who has started the past two seasons but isn’t as much of a threat offensively as some of the other “veterans”. Greene’s experience, like Bello’s, will be vital with such a young squad though.

With so few players from 2010’s team set to return, South Dakota will be depending on its amazingly large recruiting class to come in and make a discernible impact right away. Teslow and Bello are nice building blocks, but the team around them is embryonic and could struggle mightily with the step up in class. USD can take heart in knowing that there are many other young programs around them and progress isn’t that far off, but the Coyotes are likely destined for a finish near the bottom of the league this year.

It isn’t easy trying to build a Division I program from the ground up. Just ask the UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY (UMKC). After a patience testing first year with a 1-16-1 record, the Roos’ second year of existence was equally painful. A 1-15-2 season in 2010 was likely enough to give coach Anita Rodriguez a few more headaches as winter took hold. Rodriguez had been a bit of an odd choice to start the program in the first place after her only previous head coaching experience had been an unsuccessful stint at Washington & Jefferson College nearly a decade prior.

Rodriguez had later been associate head coach at Kent State before coming over to UMKC but entered 2010 having struggled mightily as the Roos had struggled mightily with taking the first steps in their journey as a DI program in 2009. After taking their lumps early on, UMKC managed to top a rather poor Eastern Illinois squad, giving the side some hopes that a season of improvement could be at hand. But a 5-0 mauling at Drake followed that up, setting the tone for another season of struggle. The Roos did manage a creditable draw with league tournament champs North Dakota State, but would end the season with only that solitary win against EIU to show for their troubles.

Rodriguez would end up throwing the towel in early 2011, resigning and leaving the program looking for new blood. That new blood comes in the form of Chris Cissell, who signed on for the job in April. Cissell certainly has an impressive resume on paper having coached both the men’s and women’s sides at William Jewell to great success in NAIA play and compiled a 165-43-11 record for the women’s side in eleven seasons. He’ll need to draw on every bit of that experience to craft some success in what looks like a very tough situation to walk into.

The good news is that UMKC was never meant to be title challengers right out of the gate, the program opting to build mostly through youth rather than a quick fix through JUCO talent or transfers. There weren’t any seniors in last season’s squad, meaning there should at least be some sense of continuity within the team. Of course, the team still lost a few starters as you might expect after such a season of futility.

First and foremost, it’s a matter of finding someone that can hit the target on a consistent basis. Taylor Bare was the top scorer on the team, coming through with thirty percent of the team’s goals. That’s a little less impressive when you learn that the Roos only scored ten goals all year. Bare also happens to be the only player on the roster currently listed as a true forward, meaning she’s likely to get every chance to build on her freshman season in 2011. Meagan Malloy also tallied three goals for UMKC and will also be looked upon to contribute offensively, despite being listed as a defender on the roster.

In the midfield, UMKC also returns a few starters, with Laura Creason, Amanda Casalinuovo and Zaina Mayer all heavily involved last season, though they weren’t terribly prolific in front of goal. The Roos do lose starter Alyssa D’Egidio and key reserve Audrey Barnard from the midfield though. Like at just about every other position, UMKC will be depending heavily on newcomers for extra oomph in the midfield.

The defense, while not exemplary, wasn’t a complete nightmare considering the Roos’ overall terrible record. Part of that can be attributed to the solid play of Sarah Shaughnessy, who already looks like a key part of the future for UMKC after a nice freshman season in 2010. Despite the loss of starter Amber Hull, UMKC also returns starters Britta Alpen and Ashley Gann, while Abby Shimota saw major starting minutes as well last year. In goal, junior Jami Finnell has started every match in UMKC’s history and will probably do the same this year. There’s really no depth behind her, with the de facto backup, Meagan Shipley, being used as a field player the last two seasons.

Cissell and crew probably won’t be contending for a league title in the next few years but will probably make a few more small strides towards respectability in 2011. There’s a lot of experience returning which should help with the growing process, though the new coach clearly has a challenge on his hand. Look for them to possibly double the program’s win total over the past two years in their third year of existence.

Projected Order of Finish

* = Projected NCAA Tournament Automatic Bid Winner

*1. Oakland
2. North Dakota State
3. IUPUI
4. South Dakota State

5. IPFW
6. Oral Roberts
7. Western Illinois
8. Southern Utah
9. South Dakota
10. UMKC

Non-Conference Strength of Schedule Rankings (Most to Least Difficult)

1. Oral Roberts
2. Oakland
3. South Dakota State
T4. IPFW
T4. IUPUI
6. Southern Utah
7. UMKC
8. South Dakota
9. North Dakota State
10. Western Illinois

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