Being removed from campus the past three years has provided enough separation that I haven’t been able to completely stay on the inside. However, still living in Abilene I was able to stay close enough to catch some of the exciting happenings in ACU athletics last season.
Obviously one of the bigger stories of ACU’s athletic school year in 2007-08 was the inaugural season of women’s soccer. I wasn’t able to take in all that took place in the program’s first year under Casey Wilson, but I did see the Wildcats shutout UT-Permian Basin in their first-ever home game, pound College of the Southwest 14-0 later in the year, and because of my employment at McMurry, I saw ACU beat the former Indians 5-0 on the reservation.
I had a chance to sit down with both coach Wilson and assistant coach Thomas Pertuit yesterday to get a feel for how they were feeling entering into the program’s second season (Look for an official season preview on acusports.com Friday). It’s easy to see that there’s a sense of relief and the feeling of a more solid direction for 2008.
In my opinion, an 8-11-1 overall season and three Lone Star Conference match wins would exceed the expectations of any coach beginning a new program.
In fact the history proves it. If you exclude the original five teams that made up the conference in 1996 (West Texas A&M, Midwestern State, Angelo State, Texas A&M-Commerce, and Northeastern Oklahoma State), there have been eight schools, including ACU, to begin soccer.
Of those eight teams, only Central Oklahoma – whose first season was in 1998 – had a better overall record and a better conference mark than the Wildcats’ first campaign in 2007. The Bronchos went 11-9-0 overall in 1998 with a 4-4 record in the LSC.
Once you get past UCO and ACU on that list, the results aren’t very good, especially at the conference level. Eastern New Mexico’s first year was in 2003; the Zias went just 2-7 in the league. Harding’s first year was in 1998: the Lady Bisons were 1-7. Ouachita Baptist joined in 1999 and the Lady Tigers went 1-8. Even still, Texas Woman’s (’02), Southwestern Oklahoma State (’98), and East Central Oklahoma State (’97) all went winless in LSC play in their respective opening seasons.
However, the average fan, coach, or spectator’s view of ACU’s first attempt at women’s soccer varies from Wilson and Pertuit’s views. They both told me yesterday, that though many thought that the team was doing extremely well for a first-year program, they both felt they were better than some teams that were able to take victories from them.
In 2008, the two men and their revamped squad will get a chance to prove that the Wildcats are better than some of the teams in the LSC from a year ago. Naturally, when the 2007 LSC Preseason Soccer poll was announced, ACU was voted to finish dead last in the 11-team conference.
This year, after a tie for eighth place in the LSC last season, the Wildcats were voted to finish seventh. If the poll were a crystal ball, it would leave ACU out of the LSC postseason tournament.
And even though Wilson and Pertuit aren’t able to see how the other 10 teams in the conference stack up through each respective institution’s recruiting efforts and off-season programs, they’re confident that their core of returnees and new recruits (particularly on the defensive side) should help them leapfrog a few spots to be in the mix for a conference tournament berth and a shot at gaining a title in just the Wildcats’ second season.
The official preview will come tomorrow, however, below is a quick run down of the upcoming year.
Obviously when any team has players back who made an all-conference team the year before, the expectations are a little higher for those individuals. Thus is the case for Courtney Wilson (so, F), Jordan Reese (jr, MF) and Lyndsey Womack (so, MF).
Wilson was a second-team all-LSC selection and had six goals and six assists in 2007. Reese had eight goals and five assists to earn honorable mention honors while Womack joined Reese as an HM selection and led the team with 10 goals and four assists.
Bree Craig (so, MF), Alyson Thomas (jr, D), Jackie Gentile (sr, MF), Sadie Barton (so, MF), Katie Miller (so, MF), and Ashley Simon (so, D) all return after starting most of ACU’s 20 matches last season.
The coaching staff admitted that the backfield and goalkeeper positions may have been a little weaker and didn’t have as much depth last season as the midfielders and forwards had in 2007. In order to fix that, ACU brought in two goalies and four defenders to revamp the backfield and also brought in three forwards and one midfielder to add depth from the center up.
Crissy Lawson and Anastasia Nelson join ACU’s squad after playing on one of the top junior college soccer teams in the nation last year. Lawson allowed only 13 goals in 25 matches last season while Nelson was both a first-team all-conference selection and an all-region pick.
Veronica Wilhelm will also help the defense and is another California girl from Upland, Calif. Micah Merrill-Johnson will be a one-year player for ACU after transferring from Montana-State Billings where she played for three seasons, adding valuable experience.
Other newcomers included Kaleigh Johnson (jr, D, Quartz Hill, Calif.), Rachel Patchen (fr, MF, Arlington), Kendall Cooper (so, MF, Bedford), Alyse Ritchie (fr, MF, Belton), Tina Griego (fr, F, Pflugerville), and Suzanna Cauthen (fr, F, Tyler).
Like the volleyball team, the Wildcats’ soccer team will open the season with a pretty hefty road schedule before coming home for a match. Aug. 29-30, ACU will be in Missouri where it will face Missouri Southern Friday and Drury Saturday. Then, Sept. 3, the team will face UTPB in Odessa followed by Incarnate Word Sept. 5. Wilson said that he expects that three of those four teams will be nationally ranked when the season starts.
After two matches in Cedar Hill Sept. 12-13 (John Brown University and Our Lady of the Lake), the Wildcats will play host to NCAA III power and in-town rival Hardin-Simmons Sept. 16.