AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Great West

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General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings

Big Sky | DI Independents | SWAC

Big XII – Oklahoma
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Nebraska | Purdue
Mid-Majors – Florida Gulf Coast | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Utah State
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah | Washington
SEC – Arkansas | Mississippi State | Ole Miss
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco

For Utah Valley and head coach Brent Anderson, the trophies keep piling up as the rest of the conference begins to crumble around them. The Wolverines captured another league title in 2011 and then avenged 2010’s Great West Tournament defeat to Houston Baptist, sealing a double with an extra time win over the Huskies in the final. These Wolverines have been the class of their embryonic conference and of the defunct United Soccer Conference before it but have undoubtedly been itching for a move up the conference ladder and a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament.

UVU has been battling for such a chance but have been stifled so far, most recently being turned away by the WAC last summer, with some saying that potential conference rival Utah State has helped put the kibosh on any such move. With that black cloud hanging over the program at the beginning of the season, things started out a bit rough in Orem, with the club losing four of their first five, the lone win in that stretch coming over Big Sky side Portland State. The Wolverines would heat up a bit as they got closer to Great West play, with four wins in their next six, including a pair over Big Sky Tournament champs Montana.

The Wolverines breezed right through the first half of Great West play, going 3-0-0 in their first three conference matches before getting hammered in their final non-conference match of the season against Princeton. That heavy defeat may have stuck with UVU longer than Anderson would’ve liked, as they promptly lost to woeful Delaware State the next time out, breaking their perfect league record. To their credit, the Wolverines did win their last two Great West matches in commanding fashion to lock up another league crown.

There’d be no mistake in the conference tournament this year. North Dakota was felled under a barrage of goals in the semi-final before the 2-1 extra time triumph over Houston Baptist. But with the Wolverines having not found a seat at a bigger table after the latest round of musical chairs, one wonders how long it’ll be before this Utah Valley program can truly test itself at a higher level.

It’s a question that likely has to be gnawing at Anderson and his charges as they prepare for 2012 in a conference whose numbers continue to dwindle yearly. As members leave for greener pastures, the level of competition inevitably dips, meaning the Wolverines may find their growth as a program stunted by their inability to find a new conference home. With little in his hands, Anderson will keep plugging away in the Great West for the time being. He passed one of his biggest tests as head coach of the program with flying colors last year after taking a squad that had suffered heavy losses after 2010 and leading it to the double.

The losses are only slightly less severe this season, with five players who had started double digit games last season departing. The good news is that the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Lauren Sack, and Offensive Player of the Year, Natalie Young, both return, which won’t be music to the ears of UVU’s rivals this season.

It’s one thing when your starting goalkeeper is the defending Great West Defensive Player of the Year. It’s another when that keeper isn’t even an automatic first choice for the club. That’s the positive dilemma facing Anderson this season, as he tries to juggle two keepers worthy of the starting mantle. Sack was the league’s Newcomer of the Year in 2010 and looked to be right at the top of the heap again going into 2011.

She performed well enough as a sophomore to win that Defensive POTY honor, but, uniquely, she did it while splitting time for a good many games with sophomore Jadeshia Colebrook. Colebrook had redshirted in 2010 but evidently showed enough in practice last season to get her shot in goal. She would make the most of it too, often playing a half for the club, while Sack took the other forty-five minutes. It worked just fine last season, and though Sack won the plaudits last season, there’s no reason to think the time share won’t be in place again this season if both she and Colebrook are fit and on form.

Though the Wolverines may have boasted the league’s Defensive POTY in goal, the club didn’t boast the league’s best defense in Great West games last year and in fact gave up nearly two goals a game overall. While UVU definitely tested itself with some of its out of conference games, there’s still room for improvement on this unit. The club does have to do without one of their top defenders from 2011 though, with the graduation of Brianne Larsen Bastian. A hometown product, Bastian was a key reserve as a rookie before starting sixty games as an anchor on the backline for the next three seasons and earning All-Great West First Team honors last season.

UVU will get to welcome back the talents of talented junior Lexi Dunn though this season. Another All-Great West First Team selection, Dunn made a big breakthrough last season, starting all twenty-one games a season after being a scarcely used reserve. Dunn should be the leader of this group and has a real shot at winning league Defensive Player of the Year honors. Fifth-year senior Kelsey Kimball Cook was another who started every match last season and is capable either up front or in defense. Sophomore Morgan Allen did well as a top option off the bench as a rookie and got eight starts of experience under her belt last year and could easily find herself in the starting backline this year. With proven depth a bit shaky, the club may be depending on some newcomers to fortify the ship.

The biggest worries for UVU this season are arguably in the midfield, where the club loses the likes of Kaitlyn Thomas and Camille Broderick from their ranks. Thomas turned into a senior success story after featuring mostly as a reserve before 2011. The hometown heroine was an All-Great West First Team selection after seven goals as a senior, including braces against Idaho State and NJIT. Broderick has been a big part of the club’s starting unit for much longer, having won a place in the starting lineup right away in 2008 and holding that spot for four seasons. The Lindon native was more of a defensive presence but was still effective, earning All-Great West Second Team honors last season. As an added blow, the club also loses Ashley Burdett, who was a solid contributor to the offense with four goals and three assists, also being named to the Great West All-Tournament Team at the end of the year.

With all those big losses, it might be down to Lexi Robison to hold down the fort in midfield. Robison though is only a sophomore, though she did start nineteen matches as a rookie last year, so she’s not a total neophyte. Fellow sophomores Kim Stratford and McKell Salmon also combined for nine starts last season and could make their presence felt with so many open slots available in the starting lineup in midfield this season. Given the depth and scale of the departures, this unit could be worrisome for Utah Valley this season.

The Wolverines probably aren’t going to be hurting for firepower this season thanks to the return of a good deal of last season’s potent strikeforce. Junior Natalie Young is the leader of the pack, and she was downright devastating for the club last year, setting single season records for UVU in goals (12) and points (30). The Utah transfer took a little time to get into a groove, not scoring in her first seven but then scoring those twelve goals in her next thirteen matches, including braces against Idaho State, North Dakota (twice), and NJIT.

Senior Regan Benson also returns after winning All-Great West First Team honors following seven goals and four assists. It’ll be her last goal which was most memorable though, a forty-yard bomb in extra time against Houston Baptist in the GWC Tournament final that also earned her tournament MVP honors. The club will have to replace departed Jaime Lyons, who had four goals and five assists last season and was a steady producer throughout her tenure in Orem. Hoping to fill some of that void will be senior Shalayne Janis, who started eleven matches and scored three goals following a transfer from Wyoming, and junior Haley Curtis, who netted four goals despite missing most of the last month of the season.

Utah Valley increasingly looks like the proverbial big fish in a continually shrinking pond. Their only real credible rivals at the top of the Great West, Houston Baptist, depart after this season, meaning the heat continues to be on to find a more established conference to call home. In the meantime though, the Wolverines look like they have what it takes to seriously challenge for league supremacy once again. The losses suffered aren’t minor by any means, but this club survived worse and has a solid core returning on both sides of the ball. There’s work to be done in midfield, but if Anderson puts to gather the right combination there, UVU should again be pushing for honors this season.

In a sense, it’s been baby steps for Houston Baptist, who followed up their first major trophy in DI in 2010 with their first winning season at this level last year. Runners-up in both the league and the Great West Tournament, HBU will be taking one of the biggest steps in program history after the 2012 season as they depart for the Southland Conference and a much, much better chance of making it to the NCAA Tournament. All in all, it’s been a pleasant start to life at the top level of college soccer for the young Houston Baptist program.

It’s a bit of a family affair for head coach Misty Jones whose husband Steve coaches the men’s side at Houston Baptist. Jones came in to start the HBU program in 2006 after success as a club coach in the state, including a fair amount of success with the powerhouse Dallas Texans club. Jones came into the 2011 season with heightened expectations for her club after their triumphant shootout win over Utah Valley in the 2010 Great West Tournament. Playing in such a small conference offered plenty of opportunities to play all sorts of competition in non-conference action, and HBU faced opponents of all stripes before Great West play.

Encouragingly, the Huskies were able to polish off the less competitive teams on the docket and even recorded some wins over the likes of Lamar and McNeese State, showing they could compete with their future conference rivals. The only loss in non-conference play to a team that would finish outside of the RPI Top 200 was to New Mexico State, though HBU were also dispatched rather easily by the toughest teams they faced out of conference. The schedule makers were not kind to Jones’ side in league play, as the club opened up with three straight on the road to kick off conference action, going 1-1-1, with a 0-0 draw against Delaware State especially disappointing.

On home ground, the Huskies shined, winning their last three conference matches to finish in second in the league behind Utah Valley. Wins over NJIT and South Carolina State put HBU back into the Great West Tournament final with a chance to retain their crown. The Huskies would go heartbreakingly close, falling in extra time to Utah Valley to cede their crown. The news of the imminent move to the Southland Conference shows that brighter days are ahead though, even as the club plays out a lame duck season in what remains of the Great West.

In the short-term, things look very good for HBU, with all eleven starters from last year’s twice runner-up Huskies set to return for the 2012 campaign. It was certainly not that way entering into last season, with HBU scrambling to fill vacant starting spots from graduation. Improbably, despite all those losses, the Huskies actually made giant strides forward defensively, almost cutting their goals conceded total into half, which was impressive considering how badly HBU defended at times in 2010. The steps taken by the offense were more lateral ones, though the young Huskies certainly showed potential going forward, especially Natalie Hager and Molly Missimer, who each struck seven times for Jones’ club. They’re among the brightest stars in an exciting HBU team, one that has every chance of lifting Great West silverware before their move to the Southland in 2013.

The big hitter for the Huskies is Hager, who made a rollicking debut as a freshman last year with seven goals, including braces against Lamar and Southern. She’d cool down in league play, scoring just once, but that’s less of a concern in the Great West, considering many of the league’s clubs weren’t as strong as the ones HBU faced in non-conference play. Junior Amina Radoncic was a pleasant surprise last season, chipping in with four goals and two assists after not logging a point as a freshman a year earlier.

Senior Brandi Hart is the other player on the frontline that made a good many starts last year with seventeen and has been a three-year starter for the cub up to this point. She couldn’t quite match the four goals of 2010 but still finished second on the team with six assists last year and is another key cog in the offense.

The Huskies return another young and talented group in midfield, with only sparsely used reserve Yuri Santibanez departing. Many eyes will be on junior Molly Missimer, sister of defender Kelsey, who was a defender as a freshman and flashed some offensive talent with two goals and three assists but nothing showing how prominent she’d be in attack in 2011. Seven goals and eight assists was a huge haul for the Texan, with the highlights of her season being two goals and two assists against Southern and a goal and two assists against league rival North Dakota.

A little less prolific but no less important is club captain Arielle Rodriguez, a versatile senior who can play just about anywhere on the pitch and who has three years of starting experience coming into this season. Rodriguez hit a career high for assists last year with five and is usually good for a few goals a year as well. Rodriguez has also won some All-Great West honor in all three seasons of her collegiate career thus far and will be looking to extend that streak in 2012.

Fellow senior Cindy Hedden started every match last season and is a three-year starter also, though not as much the offensive presence in midfield as some of her teammates. Hedden still is a solid contributor though and was the 2010 Great West Tournament MVP, showing the depth of her skill. If everyone stays healthy, this looks like one of the most dangerous units in the league.

The rearguard made some serious strides last season despite having to juggle personnel after some losses to graduation, turning into one of the Great West’s best come the end of the season. The cornerstone for the Huskies is one that should be in place for a while, as sophomore Lindsay Matlock came in as a rookie and already showed she’s one of the league’s top defenders, starting nineteen matches and earning All-Great West First Team and All-Tournament Team honors.

Junior Kelsey Missimer is another likely star on the backline for the Huskies after two years of starting experience thus far for HBU. Missimer had three assists last year, including two in the Great West Tournament and earned All-Great West Second Team and All-Tournament Team honors at the end of 2011. Favorite to fill the other two slots in defense are sophomores Ally Murphy and Rebecca Jardon, who both saw extensive time in the starting lineups as rookies last year. This is a talented and deep group that has every shot at being the best in the league.

Many programs try to juggle minutes between two keepers but doing so with three netminders is nearly unheard of. Yet Houston Baptist made it work for them last season, dividing minutes fairly equally between juniors Stephanie Castellon, Shelby Horn, and Patty Walrath. After not seeing action as a freshman in 2010, Walrath could well be the team’s #1 in 2012 if Jones decides to go with just a single netminder. Walrath was seldom used for much of the early part of the season but ended up getting her shot against North Dakota in the league and didn’t let up, going the distance in the team’s final six matches.

Castellon and Horn often alternated matches for much of the first half of the season, with both often called for some thankless tasks in goal, like when the former was forced into eighteen saves against New Mexico State. Castellon was also on the Guatemala U-20 team for U20 World Cup qualifiers and will be hoping her experience at international level gives her a leg up in the race for the starting job. Horn came into the 2011 season as the favorite for the starting job after starting eighteen matches as a rookie and making the Great West All-Tournament team but couldn’t claim the job for herself last season and was then injured mid-season. The presence of three keepers with significant starting experience only bodes well for the Huskies this year though.

If you couldn’t tell from the above, I’m quite bullish on Houston Baptist this season. The Great West doesn’t exactly look like a wildly competitive league this year, but the Huskies are in a good position to take home silverware nonetheless. HBU looks very strong in every position save goal, and even there, the Huskies have plenty of experience to choose from. Most importantly, Jones looks to be building a solid foundation for the future, meaning the long-term future in the Southland looks bright for the Huskies as well.

Expectations raised after a promising 12-6-1 season in 2010, South Carolina State failed to come of age a year later, sinking back into the mire a season after it had appeared that they had made a big breakthrough in their embryonic history as a collegiate soccer program. Romanian Glad Bugariu has called many places home in his coaching career, including the U.S. Virgin Islands (for both men’s and women’s national teams), as an assistant with Grenada’s men’s team, and turning Belmont Abbey into a powerhouse in Division II’s Conference Carolinas.

But when Bugariu took over SCSU, many saw it a fool’s errand. With a minuscule budget and no history to speak of, other than a history of failure, the Bulldogs looked light years away from respectability. After a 1-10-1 season against D1 competition in his first year at the helm in 2008 after previous seasons of one and two wins at SC State, Bugariu could have been forgiven for thinking he may have bitten off more than he could chew with his new job. But a startling turnaround in 2009 saw the Bulldogs finish over .500 while also managing to record an absurd 17-1 win against Alabama State.

There weren’t any equally ridiculous scorelines in 2010, but there were more wins, the team even creeping above the 250 mark in the RPI while beating the likes of Navy and Winthrop and generally looking competitive while also doing well for themselves in the Great West Conference. The question heading into the new season was whether the Bulldogs could build on the successes of 2010 and continue to push forward as a program.

All things considered, opening on the road against Clemson probably wasn’t the best of ideas, and SCSU got hammered, losing 7-1. There was a further letdown a week later as they only managed to draw Mississippi Valley State. All in all, the Bulldogs would win just one game in non-conference play before league play started. Bugariu’s team just wasn’t able to scratch out results against regional minnows as they had a season before. The team’s Great West form was still solid though, winning three in a row after drawing with North Dakota in the league opener.

Hopes of a title challenge ended after the club lost their final two matches on the road against the two sides that would finish above them in the table, Houston Baptist and Utah Valley. Having finished in third in the league, SCSU hoped for better fortunes in the Great West Tournament and got off to a good start, brushing aside Delaware State in the opening round. Houston Baptist would triumph over the Bulldogs again in the semi-finals though, dealing SCSU their second straight one-goal loss to the Huskies in 2011.

The Bulldogs didn’t quite fall off the map in 2011, but they did lose ten games for the first time since 2008. It wasn’t a total disaster, but it also really wasn’t the consolidation and growth some had expected for the club heading into the year.

Perhaps humbled a bit by the struggles of 2011, South Carolina State enters a new season in an ever shrinking Great West Conference with no small degree of experience, with graduating seniors only accounting for seven lost starts from a season ago. It looks like a far cry from the trials and tribulation of the club’s last offseason, where much of the team’s powerful offense was siphoned away due to graduation and transfers. While SCSU’s dramatic drop in goals output was most noticeable, the club also gave up fourteen more goals in 2011 than they had one season earlier, also accounting for the club’s slide.

With little in the way of reinforcements appearing to be over the horizon this year, Bugariu has to be hoping that the uptick in experience with so many returnees on the 2012 roster helps him raise morale and performances this year as the Bulldogs try to get back on the winning path. Arguably the area of most concern for SCSU in 2012 will be up front, where the club has to replace leading scorer Olivia Moore. Moore came into last season with big expectations after an eight goal outburst in 2010 and big shoes to fill after the loss of the team’s two top scorers from that 2010 season. It ended up being a somewhat disappointing campaign for her though, as her output dipped to just five goals, helped by a stretch of three in four games, with the senior only making six starts on the year. That she was still the team’s leading scorer should speak volumes about the improvement needed.

There are high hopes this year for sophomore Breia Pierce, who started ten games last year but walked away with just one assist to her name. It’s also worth keeping an eye on senior Cassandra Rodriguez, who only started four games, but who also finished second on the team in goals with three.

With just graduated reserve Bahja Peeples to replace, South Carolina State’s midfield also looks like potentially one of the league’s standout groups. The centerpiece of the group is senior Veronica Aguilar who, after being one of the team’s top reserves in 2010, stepped it up a notch last year with five assists and two goals, both of them going down as match winners. Aguilar figures to be an important figure in the midfield again for the club as she sets the table for the group of unproven strikers.

There’s no shortage of options for Bugariu as he tries to formulate a starting unit around Aguilar. Besides utility player Darci Nicole Smith, the club’s top experienced options include sophomore Dominique Brown, who came in as a rookie and started seventeen matches, and Canadian senior Stephanie Searle, who could be used just about anywhere on the pitch and is a capable assister (four in 2010) and goalscorer (a pair last year).

The Bulldogs essentially return intact a group that struggled mightily at times last season in keeping the ball out of the back of the net. A couple of sizable seniors will be leading the charge for SCSU in the form of Californian Sara Harris and Canadian Morgan Roesler. Harris has been an immovable rock at the back for the club for three seasons, starting sixty-seven out of a possible sixty-nine matches in her Bulldog career to this point. Roesler’s been another defender who’s constantly featured for the club and who uses her 5’10” frame as an offensive weapon as well, having scored a pair of goals during the 2011 campaign. Much will depend on both repeating their 2010 form, when they were among the best defenders in the conference. With so much experience and proven past production returning, there’s no excuse for this group not to be one of the league’s top units.

Bugariu has been juggling his goalkeepers like chainsaws for the past two seasons, hoping all will work out for the best. That situation is unlikely to change in 2012, with a pair of experienced seniors returning for their final season with the club. California native Danielle Murphy began the season as first choice after starting fourteen matches in 2010 and keeping five clean sheets in the process.

But by late September, she had ceded her spot at the top of the depth chart to fellow senior Mariah Hebbe, who manned the pipes during the club’s league season and who ended up starting ten matches last year. Hebbe had seen plenty of action in 2010 but only five starts, as Murphy had more than doubled her up in minutes played as sophomores. While you’d guess that Hebbe will enter 2012 as the preferred first choice, Bugariu has already shown a willingness to change course in goal if need be, meaning both senior keepers will likely see significant time this year.

Just as South Carolina State was looking like turning into potential giant killers after a solid 2010 season, they were struck with a cold dose of reality last year. Returning lots of experience in goal, defense, and midfield bodes well, but the team’s overwhelming problems in attack last season do not seem to have been addressed in the offseason. That lack of firepower probably precludes the Bulldogs from competing for a league title this year, but with much of the rest of the conference seemingly withering on the vine, SCSU should fare no worse than mid-table this year.

Beneficiaries of low hanging fruit in recent seasons, Howard‘s win total fell for the first time in half a decade from six to four, but the program’s tendency to only rack up wins against the worst of the very worst didn’t change an iota. What did change was the tenor of some of the team’s (many) losses in 2011. The Lady Bison didn’t exactly push themselves, playing just one team that finished in the RPI Top 100, but still, they were never really shown up, losing by multiple goals just three times on the year, while also losing by more than two just once, a 4-1 defeat to Robert Morris.

Chronically underfunded and short on numbers, Howard have struggled to keep up in the evolving world of DI soccer from the beginning, so the overall competitiveness of last year’s squad must have been encouraging, even if the final W-L record wasn’t. Long-time coach Michelle Street recovered from some horrific early seasons with the Lady Bison to build the program into a team that actually went over the .500 mark in 2001, even scoring a win over MAC side Akron. But the Lady Bison eventually sunk back down the ladder, and Street left after a thirteen loss 2005 season.

Replacement Erinn Garner was a fine player with Howard in previous seasons but struggled through a pair of sixteen loss campaigns and was gone after three years in charge. Current coach Brent Leiba has many local ties to the D.C. area having been a staff coach with the Washington Freedom club and having played with George Mason many years back. But Leiba found just the same struggles as Garner had after taking over though, and his first few seasons in charge had been just as uneventful entering into the 2011 season.

The early part of the season brought its fair share of defeats, the team going 0-4-1 before a rare road win against Mount St. Mary’s. They’d follow it up though with the worst loss of the season against Robert Morris, a result that kicked off a seven game losing streak that saw the Lady Bison 0-3-0 at the midway point of the Great West season. But Leiba rallied the troops, and Howard won their last three matches of the regular season to finish fourth in the league.

In form, Howard seemed dark horses to win a game or two in the Great West Tournament, but would be felled in the opening round by a North Dakota side who got revenge for a loss just two weeks prior. The numbers on paper may not look like much, but the Lady Bison’s late season form and overall competitiveness at least provide a glimmer of hope for 2012.

But anybody who’s been following college athletics closely over the offseason is aware of the textbook voucher scandal that has rocked the university and raised uncertainty over the entire athletic department. While that situation has seemingly been cleared up, there are still many questions hanging over the program heading into 2012. The roster as of press time only contained twelve players, two of whom were seniors, when the club used seventeen players during the 2011 season and had another four rostered. This would appear to indicate some massive defections ahead of the new season, with news of reinforcements not appearing to be in the works.

Howard may have made progress during last year’s campaign, but given the above, it’s hard to be optimistic heading into the new season. One of the few positions on the pitch where there seems to be some semblance of certainty for the Bison is in goal. Canadian sophomore Kyra Dickinson gradually wrested the starting position between the pipes from Chanel Bell and made the spot her own in the second half of her rookie season. Dickinson was called upon to make plenty of saves more often than not last year and will likely be doing so again this season given the depth of the team’s losses. Bell graduates, meaning backup duties are likely to fall to sophomore Natasha Moore, who was used as a field player in a few games last season for the club.

It’s probably not a good thing when your roster at press time has just a single defender on it though. That’s the reality facing Howard at the moment though, as the club returns just one listed defender for the 2012 season. Senior Brittany Peebles has thirty-three starts over the past two seasons, but she’s only one person and can only do so much. The early losses of Treschelle Gibson-Serrette and Selena Mason, who both played extensively as freshmen, is a huge blow and leaves this unit with serious question marks hanging over it ahead of the new campaign.

Up front, the news of junior Jordan Brown’s early departure from the program was a real hammer blow for the Bison, as the forward had been a huge part of the club’s offense in 2011, leading the team with five goals and three assists. Also gone are freshman Ayanna Carter, who started sixteen matches as a rookie, along with fellow rookie Jeseca Hinds, who mainly featured off the bench in 2011.

Junior Owyn Manson looks like one of the best returning options after scoring three times last year. Manson started the season out on a high, scoring twice in the opener against VMI but then netting just once the rest of the year. Also back is senior Cynthia Snyder, who tallied the match winner against NJIT and scored three goals in 2010, but this group decidedly lacks punch.

Compared with the defense and frontline, the midfield for the Bison looks like a strength for the club, relatively speaking anyway. While the club does lose Briana Gamble, who started all but one match for the club last year, the rest of the protagonists should return to action for Howard. The best of the returnees appears to be senior Retha Koefoed, whose offensive exploits may see her called into duty further up the pitch. Koefoed has scored ten goals in three years, including four match winning strikes, and hit for four last season, with three in a span of five games in the middle of the season. Junior Sydney Ross and sophomore Nia Walcott would appear to be favored to fill the other midfield spots after combining for thirty-one starts last season, though neither packed the scoring touch in front of goal that Koefoed had.

With what looks like a threadbare side racked by defections of key players and little news of replacements, Howard could be in for a world of hurt in 2012. In particular, the complete lack of numbers in defense has to be frightening for the Bison brass coming into the new season. Dickinson has potential in goal, and Koefoed should be good for a handful of goals, but ultimately, that might not be enough to keep Howard off the basement in the Great West this year.

The success that the men’s side has seen over the years has not transferred well to the women at NJIT with the Highlander ladies still waiting for it’s first winning season in the ranks of Division I. In all honesty, the Highlanders were never really that much of a Division II team either, though former coach Alyssa Radu led a laudable charge in 2005, driving the team to an 8-6-3 record and participation in the postseason ECAC Tournament. But NJIT chose that exact moment to make what in retrospect looks like a very poorly thought out move up to Division I status.

Almost all of NJIT’s progress was washed away against much tougher and better funded opponents, and soon, Radu was off to try her hand at another reclamation project at Maryland-Baltimore County. Assistant Kevin Leacock took over and found goings no easier, setting a program worst in losses in his first season in charge in 2008 with sixteen. After 2009’s 7-9-2 campaign, there seemed to be hope that Leacock’s team could perhaps turn the corner in 2010. Instead, the Highlanders regressed back to a 4-13-1 mark, enough to mark another change of the guard in Jersey.

New boss Sergio Gonzalez was hired away from A10 powerhouse Dayton where he served as an assistant for five seasons during a very productive time in the history of the Flyers. But a dismal 2011 season showed that there will be no quick fix in Newark. The Highlanders began the season leaking goals, not keeping a clean sheet until their first match in October. That was a problem since they couldn’t score, being shut out in six straight matches, though you could argue the only real humiliation was a 6-0 reverse to Monmouth. There looked to be hope that the team was getting it together at the right time when they won two of three at one point, beating Saint Peter’s and Delaware State.

But those would be NJIT’s only wins, as the club lost their last eight matches, including a dreadful 8-0 loss at Penn. NJIT would finish the season on just three points in Great West action, another step back for a program that probably believed it was through with such steps going into last season.

If there’s such a thing as good news after such a dreadful season, it’s that NJIT were perilously young last year, with just four seniors on the squad. The Highlanders look like getting nine starters back from last year’s team while adding another big chunk of recruits to try and up the talent level in Newark. Gonzalez looks to be hitting the Canadian circuit for a little international talent infusion and brings in another four players from north of the border this season. Though the offense and defense were both worst in the league as far as goals scored/conceded, they weren’t outlandishly bad, meaning NJIT could be in line for an improvement in the results department with just a moderate uptick in offensive and defensive performance.

The Highlanders could be set for appreciable improvement in the rearguard with a good chunk of last year’s unit coming back. The one starter lost is a big one though, as NJIT loses Canadian-American Cielianna Pasiciel. Returnees include junior Erin Schmitt, who has started every match so far for NJIT in her two-year career with the club, while full-back Jenny Cislo stepped right in and justified her pedigree as a rookie, starting every match last year.

NJIT is pretty young in the goalkeeper department but has appreciable depth for a small club. The incumbent starter is Canadian junior Anna Kornmuller, who started fifteen matches a season ago. Kornmuller did well to step into the starting role for the Highlanders after not playing as a rookie and will be counted upon to keep improving going forward for NJIT, while sophomore Amanda Murray and true freshman Samantha Bersett will battle it out for the understudy role.

In midfield, New Jersey native Jennifer Kalczewski, who started fifteen matches as a senior in 2011, looks to be the only major loss for the club, who returns a lot of starting experience to the middle of the park. There’s no shortage of international talent on display with this group, with Brit Kylie Jones and Canadian Meryl Hershfield shining brightest so far. Jones didn’t take long to adapt to the college game, starting seventeen matches and tying for the team lead in goals with two. Hershfield, a senior, is more of a player for the present and figures to be near the top of the assists chart for the club this year with seven in three years.

Up front, Gonzalez has a fair number of options at his disposal but no prolific ones at first glance. Front and center will be sophomore Megan Dellavalle and senior Gechi Ukaegbu. Dellavalle got a lot of experience in her freshman season last year but struggled for production, finishing the season sixth in shots and scoring just once, though it was the game winner against Saint Peter’s. Ukaegbu brings plenty of starting experience to the Highlanders but hasn’t three goals in a season so far in Newark. Two goals was good enough for a tie for the team lead for what it’s worth, though both goals came in defeat.

Nobody said NJIT was anything other than a long-term rebuilding project, and nothing that happened in Sergio Martinez’s rookie season in charge would cause any sane person to think otherwise about those prospects going into 2012. But this group isn’t totally without talent or experience, with the defense and midfield in particular looking solid, if wholly unspectacular, going into the new season. The lack of punch going forward is a big problem though, and Martinez needs someone to step up in front of goal if the Highlanders are to make anything of the new season. If someone does, NJIT might be able to crawl into mid-table in the Great West.

That the most interesting thing (in a macabre kind of way) that happened to Delaware State in 2011 was their crazy 3-1 loss to Fordham in which each side had two players sent off is telling for a program that is still looking for respectability after years of suffering in the nether regions of Division I. Although more favorable than life as an independent, the Hornets have still been consistently near the bottom of the transient Great West Conference over the past six years. A 7-11-0 mark in 2006, built mainly on the backs of non-DI opponents offered some hope for progress, especially considering then head coach Matt Okoh had performed similar miracles at Grambling a few years prior.

Okoh left after the 2007 season though, and his replacement, Nitan Soni, found it extremely tough going in four seasons with the Hornets. Delaware State came into 2011 on the back of a 1-18-0 season after a long string of unsuccessful years. To be fair, the Hornets would keep it close for much of the non-conference season after an opening day loss to Campbell, 5-0. They managed to draw Saint Peter’s, while also nearly netting a shock result against Towson, only falling to the much more fancied Tigers in extra time.

But despite a game effort from the Hornets in most of their matches, they still entered Great West play without a DI win to their name. It didn’t get much better at that point either despite the drop in level of competition, with it being a continued case of close but no cigar. The team fell in extra time to North Dakota before drawing with Houston Baptist. DSU would get their just reward with a stunning win over Utah Valley in the penultimate game of the regular season. It’d be the only DI win they’d finish with though, as they lost their final Great West game against Howard before falling to South Carolina State in the Great West Tournament.

Despite the ghastly 2-15-2 record, it’s not like the Hornets were being humiliated in defeat. Nine of the team’s fifteen defeats were by just a single goal, and they never lost by more than two goals after the season opener. It was a far cry from 2010, when DSU was losing and losing badly, having been beaten by multiple goals on eleven occasions.

Most figured that Soni was likely under some pressure going into 2012, but the Delaware State boss was ludicrously sacked in early June, a little more than two months before the start of the season. With a replacement not seemingly lined up, the Hornets look to be in shambles, more so than usual, going into the new year. On the pitch last year, the Hornets’ defense wasn’t that bad when compared to other Great West clubs, but the offense suffered greatly. DSU scored just ten goals all season against DI opponents while scoring just four in six league games, second worst in the seven team Great West.

Improvement could be over the horizon for the club though, as they only lose one senior ahead of 2012, starting midfielder Michelle Giorgilli. Many eyes could be focused on senior midfielder Jeanette Salgado, who led the team in goals for the second straight season with three. With those goals coming against the likes of Canisius and Rider, Salgado has shown a capability of scoring against more than token opposition and may be counted on as one of the club’s top scoring options.

More offense could come from fellow senior Theresa Wappett, who led the team in points last season with eight. That number was a little misleading though, with the attacker having scored six of those points against Lincoln (PA). Sophomore Chelsea Boursiquot looks to be the top option up front in a very green attacking corps, but the group may be relying on the midfield to carry the mail this season.

Defensively it all starts in goal, with sophomore Katelyn Koslosky stepped onto campus last season as one of the program’s most decorated recruits ever having played with the Albertson Fury in her club days while also featuring at ODP level. She was thrown right into the fire as a rookie and took her lumps, but the experience gained will likely pay dividends down the line.

The backline could be an area of relative strength for the Hornets with everyone looking set to return for the 2012 campaign. The leader of DSU’s defense and the club in general looks to be senior Randall Marshall, arguably the club’s best player. Marshall’s seen a gradually increasing role with the club since joining up in 2009 and will be counted upon to marshal the backline in her final year with the club. Whoever takes the hot seat joins a side that returns ten starters and what looks like a decent defense to a league that seems to be diminishing in strength by the season.

Nobody’s expecting anything approaching a title run or DSU even getting to .500 this season, but it’s got to get better than 2-15-2. DSU looked like a team ready to take some baby steps forward, but that was largely before the club so abruptly changed coaches. The Hornets could still make some improvements this year, but the switch at the top could also unsettle the program just as easily.

Projected Order of Finish

(Note: The Great West does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.)

1. Houston Baptist
2. Utah Valley
3. South Carolina State
4. NJIT
5. Howard
6. Delaware State

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