Systemized League Projection
*1. West Virginia – 45
*2. Texas Tech – 31
*3. Oklahoma State – 28
*4. Texas – 27
5. Kansas – 17
6. TCU – 16
7. Oklahoma – 11
8. Baylor – 10
9. Iowa State – 6
* = Projected NCAA Tournament Qualifiers
Well, so much for that. There was a sense that the Big XII may well have been a league ready for a breakout season in 2013, but in the end, flagship programs West Virginia and Texas Tech were done well before the end of the business portion of the NCAA Tournament, while the rest of the league largely floundered in mediocrity. Nobody’s expecting the Big XII to suddenly morph into the ACC, but league supporters probably would hope for a little better than scrapping to stay in the top five strongest conferences perennially.
You doubt that it’s going to get markedly better overnight, but there is some hope for positive movement forward. West Virginia’s a contender to make it to the College Cup but has to improve on some disappointing postseason performances in recent years. Texas Tech’s window may close a bit this season, but they are good enough to win a few NCAA Tournament matches, as are a reloaded Oklahoma State team. Additionally, Texas may finally be an NCAA Tournament team again after some rebuilding seasons and a close call in 2013.
The rest of the league is largely a mass of rebuilding programs. TCU’s effort looks promising, while Oklahoma surely can’t be as hopeless as last season. Iowa State’s logic on a new start was sound, but perhaps not this new start. The doom and gloom is perhaps only prevalent in Kansas, where head coach Mark Francis looks like a dead man walking, and Baylor, where the seldom loved Bears’ reputation has made them few friends, making their slide backward last season make few lose sleep.
The gulf between the creme de la creme and the rest is pretty stark in this league, but the gap between mid-table and the basement isn’t, so the Big XII could again see a team or two make a late charge to steal an NCAA Tournament bid in 2014.
West Virginia’s hopes of a College Cup appearance essentially ended when Kate Schwindel’s season ended late in 2013 with an ACL injury. The Mountaineers still ended up a very good team, winning the Big XII double, but they didn’t end up as a special team, a fact made very evident in the NCAA Tournament when they needed penalties to dispatch an overachieving Rutgers team before falling rather meekly to Virginia Tech in the second round. It ended up being just the third loss for the club all season, the other two coming against North Carolina and Texas Tech, the latter with the title already decided. It almost feels like WVU’s window may have gone with the likes of Frances Silva and Sara Keane gone, but when you recruit as well as head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown does, the window never truly closes.
So it goes in 2014, with more big name recruits coming in. Ironically, the club that has made it a habit of reeling in top flight Canadian talent, has their top incoming freshman being an American in the form of Michaela Abam, a U18 international who adds to an already packed backline that features Canadian international Kadeisha Buchanan. Of course, the club also brings in a star Canadian in midfielder Carla Portillo. There are more in the pipeline as well. Supporters may be hoping for more of that young star power in defense. Despite winning the league, WVU actually finished with the league’s second worst defense in Big XII play, shipping ten goals in eight matches, an oddity considering they had the league’s best keeper in Keane and a stud in Buchanan.
They were also a very young defense, which meant that they took their lumps last season but could benefit this year, as all four starters look set to return for 2014. Buchanan is, of course, the shining star on this team and will be vital for the club’s hopes of making it to the College Cup. A physical (sometimes brutally so) center-back who has not looked out of place as a full international, Buchanan has the potential to be one of the best Canadian players of this generation if she keeps developing. She’s already one of the best defenders in the college game and should again be a dominant force on defense.
Her center-back partner Carly Black didn’t capture as many headlines but is also a very talented defender and established herself as one of the league’s most promising prospects as a rookie. Full-backs Jessica Crowder and Leah Emaus aren’t as gifted but got valuable experience last season and should be in contention for starting spots again, making this a very cohesive group. Abam should battle for major minutes sooner rather than later as well.
The biggest question on the team is probably in goal, where Sara Keane started almost every minute last season. Keane caught on as an undrafted rookie free agent with FC Kansas City of the NWSL and was a stable presence in goal for many seasons with the Mountaineers. Katie Osterman got a quarter of an hour of action as a junior last season but hasn’t played otherwise in two prior seasons. Junior transfer Hannah Steadman saw sparing action with Tennessee but might be the favorite to start here, with redshirt freshman Michelle Newhouse also a contender. This is clearly the weak point with the Mountaineers and could be a worry as the season goes on.
There should be plenty of muscle in midfield for the Montaineers, who survived a litany f injuries last season. Sophomore Bryce Banuelos was lost to a season ending knee injury after just three matches but started all three before the injury and will contend for a starting spot if healthy. Ashley Lawrence is the big threat offensively in midfield, the Canadian having made a huge impression as a rookie with four goals and four assists. She’ll be working to try and get in the Canadian WNT team for next year’s Women’s World Cup, with big things expected this season. Junior Amanda Hill’s less an offensive threat but no less important after starting every match last season, while Cari Price stepped in well with four goals and four assists after Kara Blosser got injured. Canadian fireplug Carla Portillo will fight for playing time as a rookie, while Abam could also feature in midfield. This group could be sneaky good and a secret strength for WVU this season.
Up top WVU, will be worried about replacing Frances Silva, who was a stud and a half after Kate Schwindel’s late season injury. Silva’s fifteen goals and thirteen assists will be hard to replace, and doing so will be key for the club this season. Schwindel is now the offensive leader, and she was also a big time performer before getting hurt. Eleven goals and six assists were a fine return, and Schwindel will need likewise in 2014 if the Mountaineers are to contend for honors. Who else provides offense is a big question. Kelsie Maloney had a breakout season as a sophomore with six goals and four assists but will need to take up more of the scoring load with Silva gone. Tessa Broadwater saw starting time when Schwindel went down, but she struggled in front of goal, with just two goals. Canadian U20 international Amandine Pierre-Louis could be the crucial player on the frontline this season. She missed last season but has serious scoring potential and could be a big hitter this year for WVU.
This seems obvious by now, but West Virginia will be formidable. The backline should be much improved with a year’s experience together, while the midfield could quietly be one of the nation’s most effective units. Losing Silva hurts, but Schwindel, if healthy, should be almost as dangerous, while Maloney should also provide punch in the attack. The recruiting class could also be a big boost, especially considering Banuelos barely played last season and Pierre-Louis didn’t at all. The big question is in goal. If Nikki Izzo-Brown can get anything passable out of the new netminders, WVU could go a long way in the NCAA Tournament. As it stands, WVU should know where they stand quickly with Penn State, Missouri, and Duke right off the bat before the schedule lightens up considerably. With title rivals Texas Tech and Oklahoma State coming to Morgantown, WVU will likely be confident of another league title…and perhaps much more.
Oh for the want of a few successful penalty kicks. For Texas Tech, it basically spell the difference between breaking through to a new level and being seemingly stuck in a holding pattern as a good but not great program. Granted, given the Red Raiders’ terrible beginning to life as a DI program, good but not great isn’t so bad, but the club is still waiting for a piece of silverware after the gains made by Tom Stone the past decade. TTU got close last season, being denied a league title by draws with Oklahoma State and Baylor despite beating champions West Virginia in their regular season meeting. The Red Raiders would fall in the Big XII Tournament semi-finals to OSU before frustratingly losing to Texas A&M in a shootout in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It might be seen as something of an opportunity lost, as the club’s window at winning a major trophy may be shutting for the moment. There’s still some great talent here, but it’s hard to argue that the club isn’t a bit weaker given the graduations of some key players from last season’s squad. The defense is hit hardest, with the likes of Victoria Esson gone in goal, along with Kansas Bayly and Haley Haagsma on the backline. TTU gave up just two goals in the league last year and seven through the Big XII Tournament, though you could also argue they hardly pushed themselves in non-conference play.
The situation in goal bears particular attention considering the departure of the erratic but occasionally brilliant Esson. The New Zealand native had her best season as a senior, and given the lack of experience returning, it’s a loss that could be keenly felt. The incumbent is sophomore Lauren Watson, who logged some garbage time minutes in a few games last season but is otherwise untested. Rookie Carissa Christensen comes in highly touted and could easily dislodge Watson from the starting spot if she lives up to her billing.
Defensively, the loss of Bayly and Haagsma, the latter an NWSL draft pick for Sky Blue FC, could really hurt the club. Most eyes though will be on returning senior left-back Jaelene Hinkle, one of the nation’s very best full-backs. Tipped for stardom before her college career even began, Hinkle has largely lived up to the hype and might be a early round draft pick come January’s NWSL Draft. It’s who surrounds her on the backline that could be a big worry. Junior Jade Dapaah was a contributor in her first season since transferring from Oklahoma, including in almost all the club’s games down the stretch as a starter. The only other player with recent starting experience though is senior Bridgett Jenkins, the senior likely to be a key figure on the backline, while Stone tries to figure out if some of the key reserves of the past few seasons like redshirt junior Taylor Narvaiz and sophomore Meagan McCullough can fit the bill.
With the glaring questions in defense, this group better be able to score in 2014. With the presence of Canadian youth international and all-around star Janine Beckie, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Beckie didn’t suffer from any sophomore slump last year, netting twelve goals, more than double that of any of her teammates. Three of those were in the NCAA Tournament, with another coming against West Virginia in the league, underlining her flair for the big occasion. At this point, it’s largely a matter of whether the Red Raiders can supplement her offense to keep Beckie from feeling the wrath of constant double and triple-teams.
Briana Rohmer scored five goals last season despite starting just give games and could feature extensively this season if she keeps developing, while Caity Heap is another young player with potential in front of goal, netting four goals and four assists herself last year. Add in sophomore Maddy Crabtree, who was very impressive as a key reserve, as well as rookie hotshots Natalie Schmutz and Sara Summers, and you’ve got a supporting cast brimming with potential. Now, it’s just a matter of coalescing that group into something productive for Stone and the other TTU coaches.
Jessica Disabella departs in midfield, but the club can still call upon some talented and experienced vets in the center of the park. Paige Strahan’s scoring output declined markedly as a junior from her eight goals of 2012, but she still impressed and will need to provide some output again this year to keep the pressure off the frontline. Alli Murphy and Hannah Devine both pack a scoring punch as well and figure to be in the mix for major minutes, while utility player Erin Inman could start in midfield if she’s not needed in defense. There aren’t any real stars here, but Strahan’s a good focal point, and this group has plenty of experience.
With Hinkle and Strahan as seniors though, the time to strike is now for TTU. I’m not sure the defense will hold up enough for a run at the Big XII title, but the Red Raiders still have enough weapons to at least have a puncher’s chance and will be a threat in the Big XII Tournament. The non-conference schedule isn’t exactly packed with challenges outside of Cal and Notre Dame, meaning TTU probably won’t want to go into league play without a lot of wins under their belt. Getting WVU on the road isn’t great, but the backend of the schedule sets up nicely for them. Given the right NCAA Tournament draw, you wouldn’t put it past the Red Raiders to finally get to the last sixteen either.
If you want an example of how fast the college soccer world moves, just look at the arc of Oklahoma State the past half decade. One time contenders for a spot in the College Cup, OSU was instead bowing out in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013 at the hands of Arkansas, who had been little more than flotsam for an age. Still it was a positive sign that the Cowgirls even made it back into the Big Dance after a brief downward spell following the graduation of their Golden Generation. With the maturation of some promising young players, OSU should again be near the top of the Big XII.
Defense has long been Oklahoma State’s calling card, and so it was again in 2013, with the club shipping just six goals in the league, tied for second best in the Big XII. Like title rivals West Virginia, OSU should bring back an unchanged starting backline from last season. Center-back Natalie Calhoun was one of the league’s most promising defenders and should again form an imposing central defense duo with junior Delaney Kiely. Out wide, Kelsey Bass and Mexican youth international Lauren Reyes will be back again, though neither are really big threats offensively at full-back. This group should be one of the league’s best and could be one of the nation’s best by next season with none of the four being seniors. Add in some depth from promising newcomer Lana Duke, and you’ve got the club’s strength.
As is the case with WVU though, the question is in goal, though the club does return the two players who started last season between the pipes. Unfortunately for the Cowgirls, the keeper starting most of the minutes, Michela Ongaro, is out for the season with a knee injury, meaning goalkeeping duties will fall to senior Rosa Medina, a Mexican youth international. Medina has solid starting experience but lost out to Ongaro at midseason last year, and she’ll firmly be in the crosshairs this season as the only healthy keeper with experience. She’ll be playing behind a very strong backline though, which certainly won’t hurt.
Getting the offense rolling is going to be key for a title bid though. They netted just six goals in the league last year, which probably explains why they finished sixth ultimately. There’s the potential for so much more though considering the club brings back Nigerian youth international forward Courtney Dike, who netted thirteen goals last season as a rookie. Dike started her career on fire, with six goals in her first five matches. She’d cool down in the league, but still offered up big, big goals in the Big XII Tournament run to the final. Her youth international experience at the U20 WWC with Nigeria should also be a big boost, and Dike could end up being a star this season for the Cowgirls. The other starting forwards, Madison Mercado and Krissi Killion combined for nine goals and ten assists and pack a fair amount of punch as well. Rookie Anna Beffer also comes in highly touted and could add even more scoring potential.
In the midfield, Allie Stephenson returns as the club’s big hitter offensive from the middle of the park, netting six goals last season, second most on the club. She’ll be needed again to provide a spark going forward in midfield. Kristen Kelley didn’t provide offense last season but was a valuable font of experience on a young team and will be missed dearly. Miriam Rhinehart is likely the only senior to be starting in the field this season for OSU and should again be in contention for major minutes. Filling Kelley’s vacant spot is likely to be either of two highly touted freshmen, Beryl Smith and Frenchwoman Laurene Tresfield, adding a little continental class to the equation.
OSU probably arrived back at the NCAA Tournament a season ahead of schedule in 2013, which only portends good things for 2014. Losing Ongaro before the season is a blow, but considering Medina has starting experience, it may be a slight won. OSU is still a reasonably young team and could take their knocks in a trying non-conference slate, but it’s not out of the question that they could upset the likes of Florida State or Florida in Stillwater. They have a reasonable shot at silverware this season and perhaps a few wins in the NCAA Tournament. The reality is though that the Cowgirls may be building towards next season, where they could again contend for a spot in the College Cup.
Angela Kelly will likely be sweating a bit in the Texas heat this Fall, as she faces a critical season in charge of the Longhorns. Her appointment after the 2011 season to the head coaching position was met with no small degree of skepticism, and failing to reach the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons certainly won’t help in that regard. The Horns got close last season but paid the price for losses to Oregon and Oregon State while not managing results against the rare big club that appeared on their schedule. Entering into year three, Kelly has to know that the Horns aren’t paying for mediocrity, meaning a return to the Big Dance is a must in 2014.
Fortunately for Kelly, this squad looks every bit like one that should be able to do just that. For all the hand wringing about the team’s non-conference slate, UT actually finished third in the Big XII, scoring the second most goals in league play while conceding the second fewest. Ten starters return as well, including all of the defense and starting goalkeeper Abby Smith. Smith will undoubtedly be the household name on this Texas squad after starting here the past two seasons. The keeper’s positioning is still sometimes suspect, but she has a big leg and big shot stopping ability and is well entrenched in the U.S. youth international system, featuring at every level up to U23. There’s a dearth of experience behind her, so any injury or slump in form could be a big blow to Texas hopes.
On the backline, Brooke Gilbert will be the anchor, having been one of the league’s best defenders her first three seasons in Austin. The senior is also no soft touch in front of goal either, tying for the team lead with four goals a season ago. Fellow senior Julie Arnold should also be involved after featuring at center-back for three seasons. Some combination of Ali Schmalz, Emilie Campbell, and Isabelle Kerr should fill the other spots, with all three gaining valuable starting experience last year. It might not get any widespread plaudits, but the Texas back four should be a big asset for the club this season.
The offense scored goals by committee in large part last year. On one hand, it made sure that the Horns weren’t too one-dimensional in the attack, but on the other, they didn’t have a consistent outlet for goals last year. Midfielder Sharis Lachappelle may be the club’s biggest offensive threat going into 2014 after leading the club in shots last year and tying for the club lead in goals. Lachappelle’s not going to be netting double digits in goals, but she’s still a driving force in the attack and will be critical for UT this season. Starting senior Gabby Zarnegar departs, but junior Lindsey Meyer, another who finished on four goals last season returns. Expect rookie Quinn Zulkowski to battle for playing time as well in midfield.
More than anything though, Texas needs players to step up on the frontline. The young duo of Kelsey Shimmick and Chantale Campbell combined for eight goals and nine assists, but that’s not going to cut it if the Horns are going to trouble the top teams this season. Rookie Mikayla Flores is arguably this class’ gem on paper, while fellow newcomer Olivia Brook was a terror in the club’s exhibition mauling of Incarnate Word, possibly hinting at a big role this season. No matter who’s doing the scoring though, Texas needs more punch from the attack.
Given all the returnees, there’s no reason Texas shouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament this season, though there isn’t enough star power here for a sustained league title challenge in all likelihood. The Horns have matches against Arizona State, Arkansas, UCF, and UCLA among others in non-conference play, so there’s no excuse for going into league play without a quality result. The league’s top clubs come to Austin this season, meaning UT stands a good chance at an upset or two in the league as well. All things considered, a return to the Big Dance would be job well done in 2014, but if Kelly doesn’t deliver, she’ll probably be on one of the nation’s hottest seats come next season.
You’d forgive Kansas supporters for feeling that head coach Mark Francis is a dead man walking going into 2014. Going into the final season of a bumper deal negotiated by the last AD that reeks of largesse instead of apt reward for on-field performance, the Jayhawks will still be stinging after their third year in four out of the RPI Top 75 and second in that same span out of the RPI Top 100. Eighth in the league marked a truly dismal season that saw the club go over like a lead balloon in the league. With the club christening a beautiful new ground for the 2014 season, the pressure for a fresh start may be too much to overcome if Francis can’t resurrect the KU program in short order.
A road back up the Big XII table likely depends on finding a source of goals. Last year’s leading scorer, Caroline Kastor, departs, though she netted just six goals in leading KU last season. Nobody else had more than three, so correcting those ills will be paramount to Jayhawk hopes in 2014. Returnees Ashley Williams, Courtney Dickerson, and Ashley Pankey all got their fair share of starting time last season but didn’t really light it up in front of goal. Some of the newcomers may need to step in immediately, and the fact that Scot Lois Heuchan and German Eli Mayr both started the exhibition against South Dakota State indicates that the frontline might have a continental look this season.
It’ll match the international feel of the midfield, which boasts the likes of Colombian international Liana Salazar and Germany’s Hanna Kallmaier. Salazar actually had three goals and three assists last season, though she does most of her best work in a withdrawn role and shouldn’t be looked upon to light up the scoreboard. Kallmaier fit the lineup like a glove as a rookie and will be looking to continue in that vein this season. Senior Jamie Fletcher and sophomore Tayler Estrada, if she isn’t featuring on defense, should also be right in the thick of things for major minutes along with a new comer or two. Salazar is likely the club’s best player, but this group on the whole needs to be more dynamic.
The Jayhawk defense wasn’t awful last season, giving up just a goal a game in the league, but that was still behind the top teams in the Big XII. Most of the attention will naturally be focused on France’s Aurelie Gagnet, a member of her country’s U20 WWC squad and a player with star potential for the Jayhawks going forward. With Madi Hillis the only starter on the backline departing, this group could see better production as well this year. Estrada, along with Haley Yearout and Caroline Van Slambrouck return after starting most of last season, the latter two providing a wealth of experience. Long-term injury victim Kaley Smith and rookie Kayla Morrison also could be in line for major minutes. The situation in goal is steady, with Kaitlyn Stroud having played every minute as a junior. She provides size and experience though not game changing ability.
Kansas has a pretty soft schedule to open up and needs to be 3-0-0 after a week and a half, because the next three are brutal before things ease up a bit before league play starts with a tough trip to Baylor. If anything, the schedule is on KU’s side in league play, with the toughest teams forced to come to Lawrence. If the Jayhawks can take care of business in games they should win and notch an upset or two, they may just have an outside shot at an NCAA Tournament berth. But predictability has not been KU’s strong suit the past half-decade, and that erratic form may ultimately spell the end for Francis’ tenure come season’s close.
Second season syndrome hit TCU hard last season, as the club dipped to a 6-10-3 record and more than sixty spots in the RPI. That and a seventh place finish in the league was certainly not what head coach Eric Bell was hoping for in his second season in charge. There were positives, like a win over Arkansas and a draw against Denver, but the Horned Frogs showed little in the league and went out rather tamely in the Big XII Tournament to Texas Tech, when they had reached the tournament final just a season earlier. Third seasons are almost always telling at this level, meaning Bell and TCU face a big 2014.
The Horned Frogs enter with a couple of nice building blocks despite losing four starters from last season’s squad. Defense is probably TCU’s strong suit, though that probably speaks more to the Horned Frogs’ lack of spark in attack more than anything else. The club can hang its hat on the talent of Bobbi Clemmer though, the youngster already one of the Big XII’s outstanding defenders. An ironwoman on defense, Clemmer is perhaps the one drop of true class on the Horned Frogs and will need to be better than ever considering some of the defensive losses around her. Converted midfielder Lauren Sajewich returns after playing much of 2013 as a defender, but the other two starters, Morgan Lane and Rebekah Foreman, both depart, leaving a sizable hole on the backline.
Fifth-year senior Vittoria Arnold has struggled with concussions and injuries throughout her career after coming in as a highly touted rookie at Arizona State. She started thirteen matches last season and looks the likeliest netminder for TCU this season if healthy. When in the lineup, Arnold’s a solid netminder, and her experience could be crucial this season. Sophomore Shannon Cofer was thrown into the fire last season and started six games with some strong performances in lieu of Arnold and could contend for a starting spot again this year, while rookie Courtney Hofer is 5’11″ and comes highly touted.
TCU’s attack was largely a dud last season, scoring just four goals in the league last season, tied for worst in the Big XII. The club had just two players that netted more than two goals last season, indicating a worrying lack of firepower up top. Leading the line this season will probably be sophomore Michelle Prokof, who made a promising start to her college career with eight goals last season. That number was inflated by three against Central Arkansas though, and Prokof also didn’t put a shot on goal in half the club’s games. Where the goals are going to come from if she doesn’t keep progressing is anyone’s guess though.
Brittany Slyman and Kelly Johnson, both senior utility players, depart. Neither made much of a dent on the score sheet, though both leave TCU with a lot of experience under their belt. Junior Makenzie Koch does return though, being the second best offensive threat last year with four goals and seven assists. Madeline Hamm and Meghan Murphy also return with a wealth of starting experience, though Bell will probably be banking on some newcomers to inject some life in midfield and up front. Getting more production out of the attack will likely make or break TCU’s season.
There are some big tests early in the schedule, with the likes of Washington State, Missouri, UCF, and LSU in the opening few weeks of the season. An upset or two could change the course of TCU’s 2014. Most of the league’s best teams have to come to Fort Worth as well, meaning a jump into mid-table isn’t out of the question. But besides Clemmer and Prokof, there’s not much star power here, meaning TCU is likely to slip into morass of the the vortex that is the Big XII outside of the top few teams. Still, a bounce back season and a journey into mid-table would be a positive sign of progress for Bell and TCU in 2014.
It’s all gone a bit sour in Norman after the early optimism of Matt Potter’s reign as head coach began with Big XII wins over Kansas, TCU, and Iowa State in his first year in charge. It led some to believe that the Sooners could stay in mid-table in the league last year, but instead, second season syndrome bit hard, with the club taking some serious lumps in a grueling non-conference slate before winning just one game in the league and finishing rock bottom of the league. It goes without saying that 2014′s a big year for the Sooners and Potter in particular.
Step one for a revival has to be shoring up a defense that was by far the league’s worst last year, with OU giving up fourteen goals in eight league matches in 2013. The one saving grace may be the fact that the club was reasonably young on the backline last season, with only Kathryn Watson departing from last year’s first choice defense. That means the club needs a new center-back partner for Madison Kinzer this season. Fullbacks Rachel Ressler and Molly Richey both return as well, with the latter a fifth-year senior who’ll need to lead by example on a still young backline. Newcomers should have every chance to make an impact. Grayson Byrd is a reasonably touted freshman, while transfers Ayana O’Neal and Laura Rayfield will also have a shot at major minutes, the latter having a lot of starting experience in two seasons with Oregon State.
OU were unbelievably young in goal last season as well, with rookie Kassidie Stade getting the bulk of last year’s starting minutes. Stade’s still a sophomore, so there’s room to grow, but you wonder how htigh her ceiling is if the backline doesn’t improve. Sophomore Miranda Larkin also started a few games and might be another option if Stade struggles, though this group is far from a strength going into 2014.
The midfield was not boosted by the news that one of the club’s brightest talents, Paige Jacobs, was transferring to SMU in the offseason. The loss of Jacobs and veteran Zoe Dickson won’t help rebuilding efforts, but the club can at least count on another young talent in the form of sophomore Jemma Cota, arguably the team’s best returning talent. Cota’s not going to provide much offensive punch though, and neither will senior Abby Hodgen, the other returning starter, who delivered three goals for OU last season, which was amazingly second highest on the club. Fortunately, the club also reinforced itself with some solid freshman talent in midfield, notably Tori Bowman, sister of senior Emily. She, and Elizabeth Luallin and Claire Salazar, will be expected to be big contributors early on.
Up top, there’s not much in the way of returning firepower either. The leading returning goalscorer is senior Daisy Cardona, a nice JUCO find, but one that started just eight games and did most of her damage last season out of the league. She still scored against BYU, West Virginia, and Utah though, so potential is there. Devin Barrett also returns, but she netted just once last season. Among others, rookie Chelsea Jackson will be looking to make a mark, but overall, it doesn’t look like the Sooners have really fortified the frontline this offseason.
OU’s in deep again in their non-conference schedule, starting out with Oklahoma State (in a non-league game), Utah, Florida, Florida State, and Nebraska. They could be in a serious hole by the time the schedule eases up, and even then, it’s not that forgiving. All of the top teams host OU also, meaning the Sooners aren’t likely to find much respite in Big XII play, though getting teams around them in the table at home could help their cause. Still, there’s little here to indicate a big turnaround unless the rookies and transfers come up big right away. Simply getting back to the Big XII Tournament might be a sign of progress.
The fall by Baylor last season was a pretty steep one. The Bears had been a contender for silverware in the league for two straight seasons before 2013 and a thorn in the side of many a top team but crashed back to Earth last year. A nothing non-conference slate preceded the unsavory scenes with Texas A&M in College Station, a game that seemed to linger with the club, which somehow drew with minnows McNeese State before winning just one of their first five league games. They’d win their last two and reach the Big XII Tournament semi-finals, but they were still some way short of the NCAA Tournament in the end.
Hope isn’t necessarily right over the horizon either. The Bears lose six starters, the most in the league, while their recruiting class is hardly the league’s strongest on paper. Despite finishing fifth in the league last year, the club’s offense lagged, not scoring a goal a game in the league, which hurt considering the defense wasn’t exactly top notch either. At the very least, the club will be experienced between the pipes, with fifth-year senior Michelle Kloss returning. Kloss played all the significant minutes over the past two seasons and is a steady but unspectacular set of hands for Marci Jobson and co.
The backline has to rebuild a bit, with the loss of seniors Selby Polley and Taylor Heatherly. Neither was particularly a big threat offensively, but replacing two well experienced seniors is never an easy task. Add in the unexpected loss of Anjadai Seals, and you’ve got a defense that’s been gutted by losses going into the new season. Junior Katie Daigle’s been a starter here both seasons, and Jobson’s going to have to be counting on the one sure thing she has in defense to be a big factor on the backline this season. Rookie Precious Akanyirige is the best of this recruiting class and may need to be a major factor right away if BU is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
The midfield is hit by the losses of Kat Ludlow and Karlee Summey, though the club does retain heavy hitter Ashley York, who tied for the team lead in goals scored last year with six. The problem was that those goals came in spurts, with York scoring four of those six in the club’s first four matches, which weren’t exactly against top notch competition. Senior Alexa Wilde is really the only other sure thing returning, and she was mostly used as a reserve last year. Needless to say, Jobson’s really going to need some of the club’s newcomers to step up this season in the middle of the park.
The frontline is probably best off, returning most of last year’s heavy hitters, including junior Bri Campos, the club’s best player. Last season, Campos doubled her goal total from her freshman season, netting six times for the Bears. With the exception of a burst against West Virginia and BYU, Campos did most of her damage against lesser teams though, and Baylor will need for her to hit double digits in all likelihood if they’re to improve. Senior Natalie Huggins is the veteran presence here, having started all three seasons but has limited upside offensively, with just nine goals in three seasons. Vic Hoffman departs, though she netted just once last season, meaning the shoes aren’t too tough to fill. Jacksonville transfer Sarah Moghadas is just one of many trying to break into the starting lineup, and she netted five goals and five assists last year with JU, so she’s got as good a shot as any of breaking through here.
Baylor’s schedule looks particularly set on delivering a cache of wins before Big XII play begins. While BYU and Notre Dame on the road look daunting, the club can’t overlook the opener against Rice or a later fixture against Illinois State, both games the club could lose if they aren’t on form. The draw in the league has not been kind to them. The schedule is backloaded with the likely top four teams in the Big XII this season, with three of those four and four of the last five on the road. Their gritty style should enable them to stay in many matches, but there’s too much upheaval on defense and questions about offensive production to believe the Bears will claw their way back to the Big Dance this season.
Get to mid-table for the first time in ages, sack the coach. Whinge about a lack of progress despite immediate evidence to the contrary and appoint the assistant to the head job? People were left scratching their heads when the club abruptly terminated previous head coach Wendy Dillinger before the Big XII Tournament last season despite a fourth place finish. Perhaps more people were wondering what in the world ISU was doing when they decided to elevate assistant Tony Minatta to the head coaching position at season’s end. He’ll be aiming to prove the Cyclones brass made the right decision.
It won’t be easy. The club loses five starters from the squad that finished in the top half of the Big XII last season. ISU was middle of the road in both offense and defense last season in the league, though they actually were closer to the top than the bottom in the attack in the league in 2013. It’ll be hard to replicate that this season considering the club loses it’s two top scorers in Jennifer Dominguez and Emily Goldstein. The two combined for eleven goals and nine assists, though considering the former netted fourteen goals a season earlier, it had to be seen as a disappointment.
The top returnee up front is sophomore Koree Willer, who is the leading returning scorer with four goals and six assists as a rookie. Willer did almost all of her scoring damage against weaker teams though, and she’ll have to prove that she can both lead the attack, as well as score against the big teams. There’s little else of note here. Haley Womack, a key reserve last year, will get a chance to shine, as will the rookies, but the lack of outright proven scoring ability is a big worry.
In midfield, youngsters Haley Albert and Lauren Roeling both return after starting much of last season and will be vital considering some of the lack of experience elsewhere in the lineup. Neither’s a big offensive threat though, combining for just three goals last season. Long-term injury victims Margaret Powers and Lindsay Frank could also be back in the starting lineup this season after missing all or most of last season through injury. Frank could be needed in the center of defense as well.
Frank would be displacing the stable center-back pairing of Kourtney Camy and Madi Ott, which gives the Cyclones some rare but much needed continuity in defense after both started almost all of their rookie season at the heart of the defense. The questions come at full-back. Maggie Bruckman, a senior reserve last season, returns and could be elevated to the starting lineup, while the coaching staff also has high hopes with the addition of Sasha Stinson, one of this class’ best additions for the Cyclones.
Andrea Swanson’s laborious road began at ISU for two seasons before a transfer to Drake before last season and a transfer back to the Cyclones after 2013. She has thirteen starts here from 2011-2012 and played most of the minutes last year with Drake, so the transition back to the starting job in replacing the departed Maddie Jobe shouldn’t be too rough. Keep an eye though on rookie Emily O’Grady, arguably the gem in ISU’s class, and a player who could see major minutes sooner rather than later.
ISU’s non-conference schedule is well balanced, with a few games they have no business in winning along with some low hanging fruit and a couple in between. It should ensure the Cyclones’ confidence isn’t totally shot by league play, where the club looks to have been dealt one of the league’s most balanced schedules. Still, ISU is well short on talent compared to the big clubs in the Big XII, as well as in experience as well given the losses from last year. Finishing off bottom and qualifying for the Big XII Tournament again may well be seen as a sign of consolidation in Ames.