It’s probably not going to be a vintage year in the Sun Belt, after an exodus of teams that’s left the conference without much of its historical power base. The lone remaining club that could be called a “power” in any way is Western Kentucky, and even they’re a lame duck with a move to Conference USA in the cards. While there’ll be another injection of new clubs next season, this year might make from grim viewing, though many of the league’s historical strugglers will gladly see it as an opportunity for some much desired upward mobility.
You feel a bit for Western Kentucky who probably feel a bit lonely in the Sun Belt this season, with most of its title rivals having scampered off to other more habitable conferences for soccer after the shockwaves of conference realignment spread throughout the college landscape. WKU themselves make the move to Conference USA next season, but for 2013, they’ll enter their final Sun Belt season with massive expectations as overwhelming favorites to win one final league title. Always seemingly amongst the contenders for honors in the Sun Belt, WKU comes into 2013 having been the lesser of the traditional title contenders last year, finishing in fourth in the league and having bowed out in the semi-finals of the conference tournament at the hands of the departed North Texas. From a pure pedigree perspective, WKU appears to be top dogs in the Sun Belt this year, but they do have to replace four starters, including some key players from last year’s squad. The Hilltoppers may be most stung by some of the losses in defense, as the club gave up a league low five goals in ten conference matches last year. The big loss is of last year’s Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, Ali Stahlke. Converted from operating further up the pitch as a rookie, Stahlke excelled in her new role and was the anchor to last year’s dominant defense. The likes of Torrie Lange and Stephanie Lindsey will return, but it’s difficult to see this group match last year’s pace. Add in the loss of grinding midfielder Courtney Rymer, and the Hilltoppers don’t figure to have it easy maintaing their defensive record, even if the league’s gotten weaker. The good news is that the club could have one of the nation’s best goalkeeping situations going into 2013. Sophomore Nikki Hall continued the tradition of fine netminders at the university last year, starring as the club replaced U.S. U23 international Libby Stout. She’ll have competition this year from senior transfer Nora Abolins, who was the Horizon League’s Goalkeeper of the Year at Detroit last season and could be just as good for her one year here. WKU still has more questions going forward though, as the club loses leading scorer Amanda Buechel. Buechel was a deadly threat for the Hilltoppers finding the net ten times a season after scoring just twice. The club will hope that last year’s super sub du jour, sophomore Lauren Moats, can make the transition to lead gun after seven goals in seven starts as a rookie. Another youngster from the pipeline, Iris Dunn, might be this class’ gem for WKU and might immediately find major minutes as a rookie up top. The loss of Rymer in midfield is a tough one, but the club does return senior Chrissy Tchoula, another all action midfielder who has eight assists the past two years and whose leadership will be crucial given all the big losses the team takes. Despite all those losses, WKU probably still has enough to get over the line and lift the Sun Belt title come season’s end. With the team losing its best defensive and offensive player though, the margin could be a little too close for comfort.
Inevitably, the sacking of South Alabama head coach Mike Varga wasn’t exactly entirely unexpected given the historic struggles of the Jaguars program, but it was still a little bit puzzling when all was said and done. USA’s been seemingly stuck in the maw of mid-table in the Sun Belt for ages, but Varga had had one of the club’s best seasons in ages in 2011, winning twelve games and getting the club back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Additionally, Varga had brought the club up a hundred places in the RPI and appeared to be back on sound footing in regards to his job status going into the new season. An awful non-conference season bled into seventh in the league last year and an early end in the postseason. It was a bit of a surprise that Varga got his walking papers soon after though. In the end, it wasn’t too harsh, as the long-time boss had had over a decade to lift USA up but had struggled to build a real contender in Mobile. Into the hot seat steps Graham Winkworth, who won over a hundred games in a decade at the helm of DII North Alabama, a run that included four NCAA Tournament appearances in the past four seasons. It’s certainly an impressive resume, and the Brit will likely be relishing walking into a very good situation in Mobile. For one, the club’s competition has certainly thinned out, with only Western Kentucky remaining of what one thinks of as the Sun Belt’s traditional powers. For another, USA looks loaded with experience this season, appearing to return all eleven starters from last year’s club, a point that should give it a reasonably big leg up on many of the club’s league rivals. The club will be most eagerly leaning on midfielder Clarissa Hernandez, the club’s offensive talisman and an All-Region Third Team selection last year for the Jags. Hernandez took her game to a new level after impressing previously before 2012, netting six goals and assisting with five more, including five strikes in the league. Hernandez should be assisted in midfield by Morgan Motes, a senior who has eight assists the past two years, and Alli Cochran, who started fifteen games as a rookie last year. Winkworth has also gone about using some of his connections abroad to bolster the midfield with winger Nicola Shirtcliffe, who could also end up at full-back, and Emily Farrell, another member of the Blackburn Rovers’ reserves who will add a little more steel to the midfield. It’s a little more unsettled up front, as Hernandez really did a whole lot of the scoring for this group last year. Seniors Tatum Perry and Linsey Snavely both netted four goals last year, but they did a lot of their scoring in the 9-0 blowout win over hapless UALR. The Jags will also be hoping that senior Kristyn Thacker can come back healthy after a miserable, injury hit junior season, though she did net four in four games played. Winkworth also adds England’s Lauren Allison, who’s been smashing them in with regularity for Oxford United and will be another contender for big minutes this season. The Jags weren’t that bad defensively in the league either last year, and their performance could increase again this year considering the departure of some of the league’s top offensive sides. Senior Jess Oram has started at center-back for three years and will likely marshall this group again, with classmate and fellow three-year starter Shelby Owen at her side. Right-back Emi Passini and sophomore Nini Rabsatt-Smith are also frontrunners for starting roles. The club also adds in Florida State transfer Rylee Hart this year who will be looking to overcome injuries that have plagued her thus far collegiately. USA juggled seniors Melissa Drish and Lauren Arnold in goal last season, though Drish finished with the vastly superior raw numbers and may get the nod in goal this year. USA may have floundered for a while in the Sun Belt, but Winkworth’s stepping into a great situation in Mobile. The club has a ton of returning experience, with Hernandez a very good offensive talisman from the midfield. If some of the Brits Winkworth is bringing in pan out, it might just be enough to push the Jags over the top in the Sun Belt. The league’s suddenly become a lot more conducive to the former league underclass with all the defections, and USA might just have what it takes for a sleeper run for a trophy this year.
Georgia State found out much to their chagrin that the grass is not always greener on the other side last year, enduring the worst season in program history in their sendoff from the CAA. It had seemed perhaps a bit karmic for the Panthers who had dumped longtime boss Domenic Martelli after 2011′s ninth place finish despite the head coach’s efforts in getting the club to the CAA Tournament with a fourth place finish just a season prior. Derek Leader took over a side in transition, with the club having to make do with a squad damaged by graduation losses and other unexpected defections before the club’s final CAA season. They also had to deal with the club not being eligible for the CAA Tournament, as the league promptly banned them following the confirmation of their move into the Sun Belt as of 2013. Promising signs in non-conference play gave way to a dismal league season, as the club finished joint bottom of the league with Towson. Leader will be hoping the change of scenery this season can help the Panthers’ fortunes while lending evidence that the club didn’t make a big mistake by hiring him for the hot seat. While GSU looks set to return eight starters from last year’s side, the club has tons of work to do to turn into a contender considering they finished with the CAA’s worst offense in the league while also shipping almost two and a half goals in league games. The offense will likely be hanging on the form of junior Whitney Ravan. Ravan unexpectedly turned into the club’s top scoring option after the form of previous offensive talisman Jewel Evans nosedived in 2012. After Ravan had scored three times in 2011, she would lead the club in scoring last year, though with four goals to her name and just one in the league, she may not be cut out to be a lead gun at this level. Evans had netted seventeen goals in two years before 2012, and her early departure after a fitful junior season had to sting for the relatively toothless Panthers attack. Beyond Ravan, it’s shaky, or shakier anyway. You’d say that offense should be an emphasis in the club’s recruiting class, but it might have to wait for another year, as the club loaded up on defensive newcomers, though the midfield should be boosted by the addition of Concorde Fire midfielder Stephanie Kolwicz, a mainstay on the Region III ODP team for the past three seasons. Despite losing sophomore starter Leah Beasley after the season, GSU still returns a good chunk of its starting rearguard from last year. Alyssa Feronti’s been a three-year starter for the club and has been a steady source of assists, which may be needed considering some of the problems the Panthers could face in scoring this year. Center-back Elizabeth Kinsel and converted senior forward Briana Pitre were also both constants, though neither managed Feronti’s offensive output. GSU makes some massive additions to the rearguard though that could ultimately shape their season. Rookie Amanda Bruemmer is the sister of sophomore midfielder Margaret, and comes into the team having been a star with Atlanta Fire United in ECNL action a few years ago. She should be an immediate factor, as should Ohio State transfer Shelby Soldat. Soldat, previously thought of as an elite recruit, didn’t play last year in Columbus and comes in with much to prove for GSU. Those additions should make a difference, but it might not be enough if the club can’t fill a hole in goal. The Panthers lost starting goalkeeper Becca Toler, a member of the USA Deaf Soccer WNT, after just one season with the club following a transfer from Tennessee Tech. Fifth-year senior Rebecca Ingram began last year as the starter before suffering a serious injury that keep her out the rest of the way and will probably start the season in that role again. At the very least, Georgia State should be a lot more competitive in the Sun Belt this season, as they’ve not exactly jumped into the biggest metaphorical pond. Being eligible again for the postseason should also help with the morale, while the defense could be much improved with the club’s additions if Leader can figure out the goalkeeping situation. It should be enough to drive GSU into mid-table at the very least. If they can find some offense? Further perhaps, though a challenge for silverware doesn’t look likely this season.
You’d forgive Texas State supporters for feeling like they’ve got a bit of whiplash after a whirlwind few years saw them win the Southland Conference tournament in 2011, finish in mid-table in the WAC last year, and seal a move to the Sun Belt for this season (and presumably beyond). The Bobcats’ lone season in the WAC wasn’t really much to shout about though, even if they did finish third in the transient league. TSU’s had pretty high standards as of late, with Kat Conner’s club having finished in the Top 100 of the RPI in three of the last five seasons. Prior to the club’s 2011 triumph, they had also won the double in 2008 and a league title in 2009, validating the faith the brass put in Conner after some stormy times in the middle of the last decade following some great success just a few years prior. After taking their lumps in non-conference play, the Bobcats proved to be the best of the rest in the WAC behind Denver and Utah State but proved little match for the former in WAC Tournament, and the club’s RPI finish wasn’t exactly great either, as TSU dropped out of the Top 200 for the first time in half a decade. Compared to the WAC, TSU’s new home, the Sun Belt, is probably going to feel like a glamour cruise, especially considering the wave of departures the league has suffered through this offseason. The Bobcats aren’t going to be able to take anything for granted though, as they still lose four starters from last year’s side. The big loss for the Bobcats is of defender Emma Staley, arguably the club’s best player last year. Staley made her chops as one of the Southland’s best defenders before coming in and doing well against WAC foes last year. She’s a four-year starter, and her experience will be difficult to replace. Among the returnees, junior Brenna Smith will likely be the group’s new veteran leader after having been a starter here for the past two seasons, though she missed a handful of games last year. Versatile sophomore Kristen Champion also returns and has the ability to play in midfield, though she seems more likely to see time in defense considering the club’s losses in the offseason. In goal, Texas State will be able to count on senior Natalie Gardini, who took over as the club’s starter following two years of being the club’s top backup. Up front, TSU wasn’t exactly explosive last year, netting just over a goal a game in WAC play but gets the two main scoring options back this year. Sophomore Lynsey Curry, sister of club legend Britney Curry, made a nice impact of her own last year, scoring five goals and adding two assists en route to WAC Freshman of the Year honors. She surely has to be licking her lips at the thought of taking on Sun Belt defenses and could be a threat for double digit goals. TCU transfer Tori Hale also had a successful 2012, also netting five goals and adding six assists, though she did a lot of that damage before league play started. The midfield takes a blow with Taylor Person and Taylor Kelley both departing after starting for much of last season. Of the returnees, another of the Curry clan, Sydney, looks like one of the more proven options, though she’s not quite the scorer her sisters are. It’s pretty clear that beyond Hale and Lynsey Curry, the Bobcats don’t have much in proven offense, so the duo’s going to have to be at their best if the club is to contend for honors. On paper, there seems to be little distinguishing Texas State from the mid-table mire of clubs hoping to make their presence felt in the new look Sun Belt. These Bobcats thrived in the Southland though, a league of comparable strength to this incarnation of the Sun Belt, and last year’s experience probably toughened up the returnees to a certain degree. I’d expect TSU to be in upper-mid table at very worst, and they’ve got a very real chance at challenging for a major trophy in the Sun Belt this year.
Arkansas State has largely been an anonymous program in the Sun Belt up to now, known more for their spectacular defeats in the conference tournament than anything else, with the Red Wolves having not won a single game in the postseason heading into 2013. Fourth-year boss Tafadzwa Ziyenge had it all to prove, coming into the club with a modest resume and struggled in his first season with the club, missing out on the postseason but has delivered two straight trips to the Sun Belt Tournament since. Last year was a banner campaign of sorts, as Ziyenge delivered the club’s first ever season over .500, while ASU was nestled safely in mid-table. Postseason success still didn’t come, but opportunity may be knocking this year given the league’s exodus of top programs. At long, long last, ASU may be able to end their long wait for a postseason win. And it may not solely be just because the league’s power structure all but collapsed in the offseason. The Red Wolves look set to return nine starters, one of the best marks in the league, but they also have to replace the assists and influence of team leader Ashley McMurtry. McMurtry ended her career as the club’s all-time assist leader, including setting up seven goals last season. The offense doesn’t figure to shrivel up just because McMurtry’s gone, as the club showed plenty of punch in the league last year, though they didn’t compare to the big guns in the league. The good news is that the Red Wolves should get much of their punch outside of McMurtry back. Leading scorer Christina Fink was a revelation last year, netting nine goals and seven assists to lead the team, though she did much of her scoring against the lower ranked clubs in the league. Since most of those clubs are still the ones left in the conference, she might well approach double digits in goals this year. Sophomores Loren Mitchell and Katey Carmichael also feasted on some of the club’s more feeble opposition, but they as well could improve their combined goal tally of thirteen this year with more seasoning and fewer airtight defenses to face. The club makes a couple of solid gambles via the JUCO route as well, adding in midfielder Crystal Zeledon from City College of San Francisco, along with Brazilian attacker Samhia Pereira Simao from Northwest College, the latter scoring forty-goals in two seasons there. ASU was a bit of a mess defensively though last season, their goal and a half conceded a game in the league a mark that has to improve if the Red Wolves are to contend for honors. The backline, featuring the likes of Ashley Jackson, Lindsay Johansen, and Katie Hosea should return intact for the new season though, meaning this group could actually improve a good deal if they’ve gelled a bit more after being so youthful last year. The big problem might be in goal, as the club loses its top two netminders from last year in starter Aja Aguirre and backup Audrey Baldwin. Sophomore Amanda Lee a smattering of minutes last season as third choice in goal but will have to fight off rookie Michaela Supple. ASU look like a club set to be comfortably poised in mid-table with a little bit of upside. The offense should keep firing at this level with multiple threats, but the defense has to show it can stop someone as well. If they can, ASU might be a dark horse for success in November.
For a program that had to wait twenty-eight matches for its first victory, Troy has come along rather nicely since, turning into a solid if unspectacular mid-table side in the Sun Belt. Sixth-year head coach Chris Bentley is now the club’s most tenured boss, having seemingly stopped the coaching carousel that had so enveloped the Trojans for much of their early history. Bentley was at the helm for the club’s first winning season in nearly a decade in 2010, but hopes were for a bounce back season in 2012 after the club tumbled in the RPI in 2011. Non-conference play revealed little before Troy crept their way into sixth come the end of league play. There was little in postseason action, as the club didn’t show much against Florida International in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Trojans did have a nice rise up the RPI, but otherwise, there was little evidence that the club was back to making forward progress. Instead, Troy now looks like a team that may be spinning its wheels in mid-table obscurity. The odds of the club being able to surge upwards in the table have gone up with the defection of many of the league’s top teams, but you still question whether or not this Trojans side still has enough to trouble the new upper echelon of the league. Considering the relative weakness of the club’s defense last year, Troy will probably again look to an offense that netted a goal and a half a game in the league to carry them. The problem is, the club loses last year’s top scorer, Chelsey Williams, who transferred to Florida State in the offseason and leaves a massive vacuum of scoring in her wake. Williams netted seven times last season and had double the shots of any other Troy player, meaning the Trojans will be scrambling to find an adequate replacement. The only other Trojan with more than three goals was Swede Cecilia Thorngren, whose five goals and eight assists were good enough to tie Williams for the lead in points. Almost all of that production came before league play began, and Thorngren was held without a goal in Sun Belt games and without a point in the team’s last six matches, so you really question if she’s got what it takes to carry an offense by herself. The defense really has to improve given the questions on offense, and there’s certainly potential there, with the club bringing back many players who started major minutes last season. None of those players are seniors, so this should still be a very young group, which means the best could still come a season on. Of the returnees, keep an eye on junior Paige McMillan, who was just one of three players to start every game last year for the Trojans. Rookie Nicole Harris can play anywhere, and the Miami native, this class’ likely best player, might get auditioned in defense to try and tighten things up. There’s a slight shred of continuity in goal as well, with senior Maddie Winter returning. The bad news is she lost her starting job to the since departed Katie Comeno-Lewis mid-season, hardly the best of omens going forward. Troy certainly has some room for improvement after the changes in conference structure this year, but it probably isn’t going to be easy going. The club’s attack takes a big hit with Williams’ departure, while the defense has it all to prove after an underwhelming showing last year. With that in mind, it’s hard to tip the Trojans for more than mid-table this year.
There’s really no sugar coating it: UALR were an utter embarrassment to DI soccer last season. How it ended up going so spectacularly wrong is a massive mystery, as the Trojans had begun 2011 in decent fashion, though the bottom dropped out on the club towards the end of the year. In retrospect, it was probably a warning sign of the horrors to come in 2012. Losing the opener to Missouri State, 5-0, was a bad omen, and things would not get better, as the club lost it’s next four, shipping an insane twenty-four goals in the team’s first five games. The club lost its first two league games by a 5-0 margin and then kept losing, though the margin of defeat was occasionally more respectable. After a weekend that featured a 9-0 defeat to South Alabama and 4-0 to Troy, head coach Freddy Delgado announced his resignation as of the end of the season. For the most part, UALR played like a club fully knowing their coach was a lame duck towards the end of the season, with 8-2 and 7-0 defeats to North Texas and FIU respectively. They did manage to avoid a league 0-fer by beating Florida Atlantic, but it wasn’t enough to keep the club from finishing bottom of the league. It was a far cry from the days of UALR shocking the establishment to reach the 2009 Sun Belt Tournament final. Inheriting this ungodly mess is Adrian Blewitt, once a coaching star at Division II level with Lenoir-Rhyne. After a short stint as an assistant at UNC Greensboro, Blewitt gets a long awaited chance at the top level of collegiate soccer, but he has his work cut out for him at a club that probably doesn’t have nearly as much talent as some of his DII sides had. Task one is sorting out one of the worst defenses in recent memory that didn’t come from an overmatched SWAC side. The UALR defense was beyond abject last season, giving up a mind boggling forty-four goals in ten league games, or nearly four and a half a match in the league! Most of the defenders who saw major minutes last season return, and honestly, they really can’t get much worse. Senior Jenna Brady and junior Ashley Barksdale, both former transfers, saw major minutes last year and will be among the frontrunners for starting spots. More than likely though, UALR will be depending heavily on newcomers to fortify the defense. Many of those newcomers are international players, including England’s Olivia Goddard, Sweden’s Linnea Kogsta, and Germany’s Andrea Letzel. None are too heavily hyped, but if they can bring a little continental class to the defense, it’d be a big help. Sophomore Shantel Wittke was the one being traumatized in goal for much of the year, though she did split time often with senior Natalie Marsh, a former JUCO transfer. Blewitt brings in a trio of new keepers though, including West Florida transfer Kylie Wilson. Where the goals going to come from is another big question after this group scored just thirteen last season, including six in the league. Junior Ariel Galletti’s done most of the scoring in her two seasons here and did net three in the club’s final three games to gain a little momentum at the end of last season and finished with five total goals. Nobody else had more than two goals though, and this area remains a big question mark. Blewitt also has stocked up on international players going forward, including midfielders Hayley Fowle (England) and Malin Westerberg (Sweden), along with striker Mathilda Torstensson (Sweden). Just how far Blewitt can turn things around in a season is the big question here. The club, quite frankly, seemed like it quit on Delgado late last year, and a change in mentality would go a long way in getting the club back on the right track. But given the massive deficiencies in offense and defense, significant progress up the table, even in the weakened Sun Belt, looks unlikely this year.
Trying to haul themselves off rock bottom, Louisiana-Monroe took some baby steps towards that goal in 2012, but the overall tenor of the season proved that there’s still a ways to go before these Warhawks are a contender for honors. The Stacy Lamb regime had come to an end after a dreary 2011 that had been the latest in a series of dismal seasons that had seen the club fail to qualify for the postseason in the Sun Belt. Arkansas-Pine Bluff boss Roberto Mazza was called in to try and turnaround the program, and early signs were encouraging in non-conference play against weaker opposition. The Sun Belt would prove a different matter entirely, with the club finishing on seven straight defeats and a drop in the RPI. Mazza took the job knowing it was going to take some serious retooling to get ULM back on its feet though, so it’s not like the early struggles were any big shock. What is a bit jarring is what Mazza’s done to the roster after the 2012 season. ULM has just seven players returning from last year’s squad. Not seven starters. Seven players, period! It’s safe to say that most expected some kind of clearout given Mazza’s reputation as a wheeler dealer in the recruiting market at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the level of turnover here is something else. Fortunately, five of those returnees were starters last season and should at least help with the transition process going forward. Most of the offense figures to go through sophomore Karlea Fehr, who was quite the rookie for ULM, netting five goals and five assists to lead the club in both categories. Classmate Kelley O’Dwyer came on as a starter late and finished with a creditable two goals and four assists last season, though most of her offense came early in the year. With so many unknowns on offense, Mazza will need O’Dwyer to step it up to keep the Warhawks offense going if the rookies are inconsistent. Junior Cerene Arsenault is the club’s most experienced field player and will likely be one of the club’s veteran leaders as well. The midfielder has twenty-eight starts in two years and had three assists for the club as a sophomore. Monroe’s offense was bad last season, scoring five goals in ten league games, but the defense was worse, shipping nearly three goals a game in Sun Belt play. For better or for worse, most of that group is gone, with the lone survivor looking like sophomore Antonia Land, a towering defender who started eleven matches as a rookie. Senior Karlin Alosio featured only briefly in goal last year after transferring from Florida Atlantic and will likely be in a battle for the starting job this season. She figures to be pushed by rookies Holly Mallinson and Katherine Werther for the job. Mazza’s insistence on recruiting freshmen, twenty-one of them to be precise, indicates that he’s taking the long view on this building job, a little unlike his time at UAPB, where JUCOs and other transfers made the club an instant SWAC contender. That might make for some hard times the next few years, but ULM could reap the dividends down the road. Mazza’s shown himself to be a fine judge of talent at this level, and the ever weakening Sun Belt could be ripe for the picking if he gets his ducks in a row. For now though, ULM will likely mired in a battle to stay off the bottom of the league.
You could probably argue that Scot Wieland avoiding the sack at Louisiana-Lafayette after a poor 2012 was quite fortuitous considering the circumstances. Wieland’s been in charge for eight seasons now and took control of a Ragin’ Cajuns side that was senior laden and expected to make the postseason in the Sun Belt, a league with a rather forgiving handful of teams near the bottom of the league. ULL’s been one of the league’s poorest sides historically, having never won a postseason game and having struggled to even make it into the Sun Belt Tournament as of late. The pressure had to have been mounting going into 2012 with the club having finished in tenth a year before, but the club missed out on the postseason again for the fourth time in five seasons. Given the lack of change in Lafayette, you get the sense that institutional apathy may have gripped the program at large, with Wieland living to see another day in charge of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Part of the reason ULL’s season had to be considered such a disappointment in 2012 was that they seemed set up very well for a run into mid-table at the very least. The club had seven senior starters to throw into battle, and it looks like a very big opportunity lost now, as the club returns just three of last year’s starting XI. On the whole, ULL’s defense wasn’t that bad, keeping it in games and finishing roughly in the middle of the Sun Belt pack in goals allowed, but the offense was putrid, scoring just seven goals in ten league matches. Making matters worse is the loss of two of four leading scorers last year, including leading scorer Hayden Gibson, who transferred to Hawaii in the offseason after five goals last year. Sophomore Elizabeth Manuel will be a big part of the club’s scoring present and future after netting four as a rookie, including a couple in the league. Additionally, senior Shelby Isley endured a frustrating 2012, being limited to just eleven games but made the most of them, scoring four goals, though most were against weaker opposition. Wieland also signed a potential sleeper in German Annika Schmidt, who played briefly in the Frauen Bundesliga with VFL Sindelfingen. It’s not all optimal on the backline though, as the club loses two senior starters in Gayla Foster and Delaina McGee. Junior Grace Howell-Harries had been a revelation as a rookie and will likely continue to anchor this backline which could be in a bit of a flux with the personnel changes. Converted forward Caroline Trahan started sixteen games last year and could be on the backline again and probably more comfortable a year on from the switch. The club also has to break in a new starting goalkeeper as well though, as Amanda Moorefield graduates after serving as the club’s starter the last three seasons. Sophomores Cory DeMaro and Claire Steward got a smattering of mop-up duty last year and will fight it out for the starting job along with rookie Maison Haase. It’s hard to get too thrilled about the Ragin’ Cajuns going into 2013. With such a veteran squad last year, to have fallen short of an eight team postseason does not speak well of the direction of the program. There’s a little firepower up front, but given the losses and huge incoming freshman class, Weiland will likely be blooding a lot of new players this season. Though it seems his job is safe for now, ULL will probably be in a dogfight to stay off the bottom of the league this year.
Projected Order of Finish
*1. Western Kentucky
2. South Alabama
3. Georgia State
4. Texas State
5. Arkansas State
* = Projected Auto-Bid Winner