|UT Martin soccer receives first-place votes in OVC preseason poll |
|Posted: Friday, August 6, 2010 3:57 pm |
MARTIN, Tenn. – Fresh off winning their first Ohio Valley Conference title in program history, The University of Tennessee at Martin soccer team has been chosen third in the OVC preseason polls, as voted on by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
The Skyhawks, who return 10 letterwinners and six starters from last season’s championship squad, received 86 points and two of the possible 18 first-place votes. Murray State — the defending OVC Tournament champions — led the way by receiving seven first-place votes and 117 points, while Morehead State, who the Skyhawks split a share of the regular-season title with, trailed closely behind with nine first-place votes and 116 points.
“I think third place is extremely fair given the fact we won the regular season championship last year and lost in the tournament semifinals,” UT Martin first-year head coach Phil McNamara said. “It’s flattering that we got two first-place votes considering we have a new coaching staff that came in late and we are facing quite a bit of transition.”
Tennessee Tech (77 points), Eastern Kentucky (74), Eastern Illinois (70), Southeast Missouri (60), Jacksonville State (32) and Austin Peay (16) rounded out the preseason standings.
After reaching the OVC Tournament finals in 2008 for the first time ever, the Skyhawks built off that and brought home their first regular-season title in the program’s 12th year of existence in 2009.
Nine months after the team’s early semifinal exit from the OVC Tournament, UT Martin has turned to McNamara, who spent the last eight seasons coaching across the state at Carson-Newman. He reached double-digit wins in every season at Carson-Newman, including a school-record 20 wins in 2009. All in all, his Carson-Newman teams won five regular-season conference titles and four league tournament titles.
In order to keep the ball rolling at UT Martin, McNamara and assistant coach Leslie Marcouiller have hit the ground running on the recruiting trail since late March, when McNamara was named the fourth head coach in Skyhawk history.
The coaching staff will finally see all the pieces come together today (Thursday) when the team begins its preseason fall practice. A total of 11 newcomers join a solid nucleus that will hopefully offer a repeat performance from the previous two seasons, in which the team has broken 20 school records and perched itself atop the OVC.
“We are extremely excited about this group of girls,” McNamara said. “We know that in order to be successful in the near future we have to come together and become a team. We are inexperienced in some areas but we are hoping our talent will prevail.”
With an attacking style of coaching, McNamara hopes the Skyhawks will be able to light up the scoreboard this fall. Judging by a talented pool of forwards, that just might be the case. Sophomore Kendyl Wilson, who was a 2009 All-OVC second teamer and All-OVC Newcomer as a true freshman, returns after leading the team in scoring. Showing a true nose for the ball, three of Wilson’s four goals were game-winners in 2009, including the lone goal in the OVC championship-clinching win over Eastern Illinois.
Also returning are juniors Katie Imperiale and Tori Taylor, as well as sophomore Emily Crye. Imperiale has found the back of the net five times in her first two seasons as a Skyhawk, including four game-winners. Taylor was hampered by an injury for most of last season, but when she saw the field she was very effective. As evidence she earned a spot on the PUMA Skyhawk Invitational All-Tournament team. Crye, who was a walk-on last season, brought energy off the bench for UT Martin last year, and her relentless hustle earned her the “Most Improved Player” award at the postseason banquet.
Joining those four are a trio of newcomers that pack some scoring punch in junior Rosaelia Loza and freshmen Abi Sanvee and Bettina Baer. Loza enters the UT Martin program from Louisburg College in Louisburg, NC, where she scored a spectacular 48 goals and tallied 14 assists in just two seasons. Sanvee, from Evangelical Christian School in Bartlett, was a two-time finalist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s “Best of the Preps” award and was one of the best offensive players in the state — scoring 24 goals and adding 12 assists last year. Baer comes from the prestigious K+S Raemibuehl prep school in Switzerland, where she helped win back-to-back Swiss championships in 2008-09.
“This is probably the deepest we have ever been at the forward slot at UT Martin,” McNamara said. “We are going to be very strong and powerful at this position and we have the capability of playing numerous different formations, rotating all six forwards on the roster. We hope this area sets ourselves apart from a lot of other teams.”
The largest amount of players at one position for the Skyhawks in 2010 is midfield, where nine players are listed. Heading that group will be junior Brooke Robertson, who last season became just the ninth player in UT Martin history to earn All-OVC first team honors. Robertson has scored seven goals — six of which have been game-winners — in her brief Skyhawk career and carries a career shot-on-goal percentage of .472 heading into this fall.
Upperclassmen Jenni Duffy, Melissa Govea and Marissa Wood-Sternburgh also return to the Skyhawks in 2010. Duffy started all 16 matches and led the team in shots on goal last season and ranks fifth on the all-time career assists list at UT Martin with eight. Govea has led the team in shots in each of the last two seasons, accumulating 13 points on five goals and three assists. Wood-Sternburgh had a successful comeback season after suffering an injury in 2008, and she seems poised to make a contribution in 2010.
Five midfielders also join this year’s squad in junior Michaela Gooden and freshmen Hannah McGowen, Hannah Fessenden, Mary Thompson, Sam Dunn. Gooden was a teammate of Loza at Louisburg College and was a National Junior College Athletic Association Honorable Mention All-American after scoring 18 goals and 17 assists over the last two seasons.
McGowen was an all-state performer at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, scoring 86 goals with 73 assists in her spectacular four-year career. Fessenden and Thompson were high school teammates at Knoxville Christian Academy, where they led the Warriors to three state championships in four years (2006, 2008, 2009). Dunn was a four-year starter at Churchville-Chili High School in New York and brings lots of international experience. She was the first alternate to the Olympic Development National Camp in 2007.
“We are loaded numbers-wise at midfield,” McNamara said. “This gives us a lot of flexibility and depth, which allows us to take advantage of our opponents because of our ability to rotate talent in those areas.”
What has been such a strong point for the Skyhawks in past seasons has been the defense, which has been nationally ranked in portions of each of the last two years. However, with just three defenders on the roster heading into the 2010 season, UT Martin will rely heavily on senior Stephanie Nilica. Nilica is a three-year letterwinner for the Skyhawks who has appeared in 47 matches in her career, starting in all but four.
Nilica, who was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Week for the week of Oct. 13 last season, will be joined by junior Kim Boldt and freshman Morgan Brandon. Boldt has played in 10 contests in the last two seasons but appears ready to contribute. Brandon joins the Skyhawk program from prestigious Farragut High School in Knoxville, where she was a two-time all-district and all-region pick.
“It is very clear looking at the roster that we are heavy loaded in the other areas,” McNamara said. “With only one player returning from the starting defensive unit from last year, we will need to be very smart with the defense early in the process. Our extra midfielders will help us cover during the course of the season.”
Heading into the fall, McNamara says the starting job at goalkeeper is up for grabs amongst two newcomers to the squad in junior Lauren MacKenzie and freshman Elise Applegate. MacKenzie has allowed an 0.95 Goals Against Average and posted 15 shutouts in the last two seasons under McNamara at Carson-Newman. Applegate was dominant at Saint Dominic Regional High School in Auburn, Maine, leading her team to the 2009 Maine Mountain Valley Conference championship by posting 10 shutouts in 17 matches.
“We are excited about the strength of our goalkeepers,” McNamara said. “We have the perfect setup in a junior and a freshman so we will be really strong the next four years there given the fact that both players are equally as good as the other. It is going to be a. challenge early for the starting position.”
The challenge for the Skyhawks begins in less than three weeks. The team opens its season against Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State on Friday, Aug. 20. The match will begin at 4 p.m.