Siloam Springs, Ark. (August 20, 2008) - After being ranked 20th in the 2008 NAIA preseason rankings, the John Brown University women’s soccer team is gearing up to open the new season with a huge bull’s-eye on their back.
Last season, which was termed a “rebuilding year” by head coach Joe Thoma, exceeded everyone’s expectations as the young Lady Golden Eagle squad finished the regular conference season a perfect 9-0 while capturing the regular season Sooner Athletic Conference title. However, with great success comes greater responsibility, and with that said, Coach Thoma knows everyone will be gunning to take down his team.
“Number twenty isn’t a bad place to start, but we definitely want to move up,” said Thoma. “We just have to be prepared to have a huge target on our backs.”
With the loss of seniors Natalie Wall, Alison Boster, and Jaclyn Raymond, Thoma said that he used the off-season to help prepare his team to sustain the test every match and give the team the best chance to win.
“Off season practices have gone well so far,” said Thoma. “Although we lost three really great seniors last year, we should be deep with the return of key starters, and the new players just make us that much stronger across the board.”
After losing four year starter Natalie Wall, Thoma plans to have goalkeeping duties split between senior Megan Rouse and sophomore Brittany Henderson.
“There’s not one set starter until we see if someone settles out into it,” said Thoma. “But right now we’ll split and see what happens.”
DEFENDER Thoma said that he plans to start All-region player senior Rachel Gerdin on the defense, but look for her to switch roles constantly.
“She’s going to be a key player for us,” said Thoma. “And we are probably going to move her around a lot this year because of her versatility.”
Also in the back will be All-region player sophomore Natiel Bauer who had an outstanding campaign as a freshman last year.
Thoma added that another player to watch out for this year will be Ashleigh Noble whom he expects to have a great season.
This trio will be supported by a talented group of players including sophomore Ashley Cecil and incoming freshmen Cam Martin and Emily Anderson.
Expect sophomore all conference players Alex McMichael and Camille Malkiewicz to start at the center mid and outside right positions respectively. Malkiewicz, the conference’s leading shot taker last season led the team in assist (10) and was third overall in total points (16).
Junior Mikey Brannan will take over the other midfielder spot but will share time at the defender position.
Thoma also added to keep an eye on incoming freshman Kathryn Rehner from Mississippi.
“Kathryn’s stepping in and she’s just a physical specimen out there at five-eleven and really dominating,” said Thoma.
During the first round of the conference tournament, Siloam Springs native Sarah Kidd had a season ending ACL injury. However, she still finished the season leading the team in points (30) with 13 goals and four assist on the year. After a tough summer of training and rehab, Thoma said that Kidd looks to return this fall at full strength.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at her progress,” said Thoma. “She worked really hard to get her strength back, and she hasn’t changed her style a bit. She’s still going right at people.”
Vying for the other forward positions will be junior Staci Burley, sophomore Robyn Cluka, and freshman Anne Stringfield.
With a crop of new faces on this year’s roster, Thoma mentioned that there is also something new coming to the 2008 season. In the past teams would have to qualify for Regionals to have a shot at nationals, but due to rule changes, Regionals no longer exist.
“Now teams must win the conference tournament to have a shot at going straight to nationals,” said Thoma. “That puts a lot more emphasis on how teams compete during the conference. So I expect it to be an exciting season.”