The nation’s most anonymous conference, the Great West has shrunk down to an unfathomable four teams as Houston Baptist and Utah Valley have found homes in the Southland and WAC respectively. Some might wonder if it’s time for the league to call it a day, but for 2013 at least, it’ll rumble on. The conference is using a double round-robin format for obvious reasons this year, and parity should rule the day. Three of the four teams have changed head coaches in the offseason, adding even more uncertainty to the mix. It really might be a matter of drawing a name out of a hat this year, and it might be an accomplishment if any of these four teams crack the Top 300 of the RPI when all is said and done.
Always a source of terminal chaos as of late, Delaware State will be hoping their latest change at the top leads to some long awaited success. The Hornets have been historically awful on the pitch and have been quite dysfunctional off of it in recent years as well. DSU didn’t have much of a chance when they sacked Nitam Soni last June and promoted Peter Hulem to the post in an interim position for 2012. Truthfully, Hulem didn’t pull up any trees with a rather anonymous league showing and early exit in the postseason. In comes Salve Regina head coach Kerri Scroope as the team’s new full-time manager, and she figures to have her hands full going into 2013. A young defense was battered a bit last year, giving up nine goals in five, but they should be improved with a little more continuity this year, including the return of Katelyn Koslosky, once a highly touted recruit at this level, in goal. She might not get much scoring support, though the club does bring back the promising Taylor Addison, who scored four last year, including a brace against South Carolina State and has room to improve after starting just seven games. Beyond her, only reserve Chelsea Boursiquot scored multiple goals, meaning Scroope will need to find a formula for more scoring if DSU is to contend for honors this year. The Hornets might be able to do just that if they can finally embrace some stability at the top. The club looks like returning the most starters in the league and could have a solid defense if everyone takes a step forward. Finding some offense is key though, but if the Hornets do find some goals, they have as good a chance as anyone at winning this league in 2013.
Howard may have continuity on their side as the league’s only club that looks like returning their head coach from last year, but that may count for little considering how poor the program has been historically. The club pulled off a major shock in non-conference play by drawing with Loyola (MD) but were otherwise outclassed before getting to Great West play. The Lady Bison finished rock bottom in the league but then stunned NJIT and Houston Baptist on their way to the Great West Tournament finals. They’d go down rather tamely, but it was still a great run to take the edge off another nondescript season. Howard needs to find more of a cutting edge in front of goal this year though, as the club loses top offensive weapons from last year’s somewhat goal shy squad. Jordan Brown scored in every round of the Great West Tournament but departs, as does seven goal scorer Retha Koefoed. Much may rest with senior Owyn Manson, though she only netted three goals last year, with no returnees having taken more than fourteen shots in 2012. The Lady Bison fare a bit better on defense including returning Canadian junior keeper Kyra Dickinson, who made a ridiculous one hundred sixty-three saves last year. Her supporting cast needs to up their game though, and Howard will be depending on another Canadian, Treschelle Gibson-Serrette, to help lead and fortify last year’s lax unit. Brent Leiba’s side has the potential to be a trophy winner if he can find an outlet for goals this year. The defense should be able to hold their own against league foes, meaning all that stands between the Washington D.C. club and silverware could be finding a consistent source of scoring.
Beleaguered NJIT are welcoming yet another new boss after Sergio Gonzalez’s underwhelming two-year tenure came to a close with his move to take a job as an assistant at Indiana. Last year, Gonzalez did manage to claw their way into third in the final Great West table, though they were well off the leaders and stumbled against Howard in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Highlander administration chose to promote from within, tabbing assistant Mandi Risden as the club’s new boss after numerous stints as an interim head coach. While most of last year’s starting crew returns, the Highlanders must still deal with the loss of star midfielder Meryl Hershfield and leading offensive threat Gechi Ukaegbu, whose late season slump really torpedoed the offense here. The returning offense is questionable to say the least, as Megan Dellavalle and Erin Williams-Weir don’t inspire much confidence after inconsistent 2012s. Watch out for sophomore Alex Adam, not a threat to score but who is a threat to set up goals. Defensively, NJIT was plagued by youth and serious injuries but still was better than most rivals. Hopefully both of those issues clear up, while in goal, the club should be a bit more solid with netminder Samantha Bersett no longer a rookie. Risden has a fair shot at success relatively speaking in her first season at the helm of NJIT. The defense should keep them in every league game, and if she can find a source of offense, the Highlanders might just find their hands on some silverware come season’s end.
South Carolina State got a brief glimpse of some of their potential as a winning club in 2010 when they won thirteen games but have backslid ever since. Last year was hardly a vintage one, with the club knocking back a lot of SWAC sides in the non-conference season but finished in fifth in the Great West after a dismal league season. They’d reach the Great West Tournament semi-finals but were handled easily by Utah Valley. Head coach Glad Bugariu, who had grappled with the task of getting SCSU competitive left late in the offseason to start Texas-Pan American’s program, While he couldn’t turn the Lady Bulldogs into world beaters, he still brought the club up from no-hoper status and will be missed. Assistant Sandy Burris has stepped into the head coaching role and loses eight starters, meaning SCSU will likely be the youngest team in the league. SCSU loses their brightest prospect for the future too in Bianca Barrio, who scored seven goals as a rookie last year but who left the club in the offseason. She also led the club in assists, and returning options Brooke Contreras and Dominique Brown hardly inspire much confidence with just five goals combined last year. The team’s shaky offense is a bad omen considering the defense looks equally worrisome. Both starting goalkeepers, as well as Sara Harris and Morgan Roesler, who impressed in the Great West Tournament, depart, along with much of the depth, meaning SCSU could have severe problems. Breia Pierce does return though, and the team’s best defender last year will have to be on her game to keep SCSU in games more than likely. With just fifteen players on this year’s preliminary roster and a late coaching change, it’s difficult envisioning these Lady Bulldogs avoiding a fight for last place.
Projected Order of Finish
1. Delaware State
4. South Carolina State
Note: The Great West does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.