Skyhawk soccer picked to finish second in OVC preseason poll
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2009 4:07 pm
The Skyhawks earned two first place votes and accumulated 102 points in the polls, tying them with Morehead State, last season’s OVC Tournament champion. Defending regular-season champion Murray State was tabbed to win the conference, collecting 12 first-place votes and 124 total points. The other OVC Tournament semifinalist last season, Eastern Kentucky, also received two first-place votes and rounded out the top four.
The Skyhawks broke or tied 12 school records in 2008, including most victories in a single season (10) and highest winning percentage for a single season (.632). UT Martin head coach Craig Roberts will field a similar team in 2009, as the Skyhawks return 15 letterwinners, including eight of the 11 starters from last season’s OVC championship match. In addition, Roberts and assistant coaches Rachel Napoli and Brenton Saylor worked hard this offseason to add nine prized recruits, as the Skyhawks will look to gear up once again for a deep postseason run.
“This year’s team brings increased athleticism, technical and tactical ability,” said Roberts, who enters his fourth season as UT Martin head coach. “I believe we will see a strong core with added talent this season. Each player has an unbelievable work rate with exceptional character.”
A large ingredient to UT Martin’s potential success in 2009 will rest on the defense, who allowed the lowest goals-against average in program history last season (13 goals allowed in 19 games; 0.65 GAA). The Skyhawks will have to fill the absence of departing seniors and starting lineup stalwarts Caitlin Smith and Kristina Goldstine, but will return All-OVC first team junior Danielle Rogers, who will serve as team captain in 2009.
The defense is the most experienced portion of the 2009 roster, as senior Nuala Deans (21 career matches played) and junior Stephanie Nilica (three assists in 12 matches in 2008) also logged significant playing time last season. Sophomores Kimberley Boldt (three matches played in 2008) and Jessica Hunt (two matches played in 2008) and freshman Kristen Nichols will also push for minutes.
“The tradition of a strong back line will continue,” Roberts said. “The back line will strengthen this year with our incoming freshmen who will increase the overall athleticism.”
On paper, UT Martin might have one of the deepest midfield options in program history. Heading that core will be senior Jamie Furstenberg, who was named to the All-OVC Tournament team for her play over the span of the Skyhawks’ three postseason matches. Also returning is sophomore Kelly Ann Hutchinson (two goals, one assist in 2008), who was named an All-OVC Newcomer in 2008 as a true freshman.
The Skyhawk midfielders will boast plenty of firepower with Brooke Robertson (four game-winning goals as a freshman in 2008), Jenni Duffy (five career assists in two seasons) and Danielle deGuzman (17 matches played in 2008) joining newcomers Alex Windell, Hillary Hitz, Kendyl Wilson and Jordan Warnement. Roberts will also welcome the return of redshirt sophomore Marissa Wood-Sternburgh, who played in 17 matches as a true freshman in 2007 before missing the entire 2008 season with a knee injury.
“I believe we have a variety of personnel in this area,” Roberts said. “This will allow us to apply tactics that we have been unable to do in the past. The collection of strong central players will bring a high level of play and the freshmen will bring a unique dimension to our midfield.”
The Skyhawk offense, which out-shot opponents by almost a two-to-one margin (342 to 179) last season, will be led by senior Sophie Cox (19 points in 57 career games) and 2008 All-OVC Newcomer Melissa Govea, who attempted a team-high 58 shots with three goals and an assist last season as a true freshman. Roberts also expects big things from sophomore returnees Katie Imperiale (four game-winning goals in 2008), Tori Taylor (one goal, one assist in 2008), as well as incoming freshman Amy Iwanicki.
“Speed, strength, skill and courage will all be prevalent across the top line,” Roberts said. “Amy and Sophie have the ability to be strong threats down the middle whereas Tori, Melissa and Katie will bring a contrasting approach on the flanks.”
Perhaps the biggest story line, however, as the 2009 season approaches will be the goalkeeper position. One-third of the incoming recruiting class are goalkeepers, as the Skyhawks were hit hard by the graduation of Johanna Rathbun and Ashley Angerer.
Rathbun left the Skyhawk program holding four records in UT Martin history, including most career shutouts (10) and lowest career GAA (0.78), and Angerer (0.87 career GAA over two seasons) will always be remembered for her clutch performance in the penalty kick shootout victory over Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament semifinals last season.
Heading into the fall practice season, Roberts claims the starting goalkeeper job is up for grabs amongst Megan Buzzeo, Linnsie McMahan and Aubrey Buehler.
“We are delighted with the incoming goalkeeper recruits, as each individual has the ability to compete,” Roberts said. “It will be a very competitive season for the starting position.”
The young Skyhawks (20 of the 26 players are underclassmen) will be tested early and often, as the schedule features matches with four Atlantic Sun Conference opponents, as well as one match each with Division-I members of the Southeastern Conference, Conference USA and the Summit League. UT Martin will also face off against future OVC member SIU Edwardsville before starting out the OVC portion of its schedule, which promises to be one of the most competitive leagues in the country.
“The schedule will bring challenges from a variety of states,” Roberts said. “Each game contains different styles, tactics, conditions and environments. By participating in these different surroundings, we believe it will prepare us for the OVC Tournament.”