THURSDAY, AUGUST 11, 2011
Women's Soccer 2011 Season Outlook
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After almost two weeks of drills, fitness tests and practices, the JU women’s soccer team will get into game mode on Friday when the squad travels down I-95 to Melbourne, Fla. to face FIU in an exhibition.

The preseason contest will mark the start of a potentially memorable season. The Dolphins lost only three starters off the roster from the 2010 team that finished 13-5-2 and advanced to the Atlantic Sun Conference’s championship game.

Head coach Brian Copham enters his fourth season looking to build off a career-best effort. He was named the A-Sun’s “Coach of the Year” in 2010 and has crafted a 30-21-9 career record. Under his tutelage, JU has advanced as far as the conference semifinals in his first three seasons and has never posted a losing season. Copham said he’s excited to see if the Dolphins can take the next step.

“The team came in really fit, so they’ve done their part over the summer,” Copham said. “They have a great attitude and great team morale. Our expectations are to play hard every single game. If we do that, we feel like the wins and losses will take care of itself.”

Here’s a breakdown of the 2011 JU Dolphins:

FORWARD

JU will be looking for underclassmen to step up and lead this unit. The Dolphins lost five of its top-10 scorers off last year’s team and will turn to freshmen Kaitlyn Bassett and Kayla Campbell to generate scoring chances. Bassett will try and parlay her high school success to the collegiate level after leading Chatfield to a 19-0-1 record and the top national ranking ESPN as a prep player.

“I’d like to see everyone on the field step up on the attacking side,” Copham said. “There’s a lot of new faces and we’ll have a lot of different combinations. They’re going to have to learn to play with each other, communicating and committing to each other.”

Kelli Brougham is the lone senior on this unit. The Jacksonville native has filled a valuable reserve role the past three seasons and will try and earn more playing time. She gained experience in high-pressure situations as a junior, coming off the bench in a win over Kennesaw State in the conference tournament semifinal victory. Junior Eva Leeper and sophomore Raquel Weckhurst will also vie for playing time in the hopes of boosting an offense that scored 39 goals in 20 games in 2010.

MIDFIELD

The midfield unit contains a deep group of JU’s most proven scorers. Seniors Liz Fink and Jessica Hurtado combined for 27 points while also generating turnovers and defensive pressure. The duo comprised two of the four total midfielders named to the A-Sun’s preseason all-conference team.

Fink is the top returning goal-scorer, racking up seven goals and seven assists for 21 points. She also netted two game-winning strikes, giving the Dolphins a dependable threat in clutch situations.

Hurtado contributed a goal and four assists. The Butler, N.J. product was named the league’s preseason “Player of the Year” in 2010. Hurtado, Fink and the rest o the midfielders aided a stingy JU defense that surrendered just 20 total goals in 20 games, allowing the Dolphins to post a collective plus-19 goal differential.

“I expect them to be the leaders on-and-off the field and set the bar for everyone else,” Copham said. “The midfield group can run the game and use their strength to get the ball and use it to get into the attacking area make the job of the forwards and defenders easier.”

The Dolphins aren’t top heavy at midfield. Junior Becca Massip was one of just five players to start every game. Fellow junior Emily Culbreth chipped in three goals and needed just eight shots-on-net to become one of just five JU players to notch more the three-goal mark.

Copham will also have the luxury of keeping the midfielders well rested. Four freshmen could earn playing time at the position. Julia Burton, Jessica Cataldo-Ramirez, Adriana Rodrigues and Hannah Storandt all come to JU following impressive prep careers. Having any number of them emerge as reliable contributors could alleviate pressure off Fink and Hurtado and keep them fresh down the stretch, Copham said.

“There’s a lot of good players competiting for playing time as midfielders,” Copham said. “It helps us because we can maintain intensity and pressure. By having that many good players who can play at such a high level, we can hopefully make the pace of the game fit our tempo and fit how we want to play and make it difficult for other teams to stay with us.”

DEFENSE

Three of the four starting defenders return from a unit that surrendered just one-goal per game. Juniors Arianne Heaton and Kelsey Latham and sophomore Alexandra Lee all started at least 17 games, anchoring a JU defense that held opponents to a paltry .066 shooting percentage. The only starter the defense lost to graduation is Devon Dowell.

“We look for our defenders and goalkeepers to work as one solid unit, and we did that last year,” Copham said. “This is the unit that is going to need to anchor the team and keep opponents off the scoreboard.”

Sophomore Brooke Comans and freshman Miranda Fyfe will look to provide depth and give JU goalkeepers the same support that Alexa Rooney enjoyed last season when the netminder sported a .88 goals-against-average and nine shutouts.

SCHEDULE

The Dolphins will play the first four games on the road, though it won’t have to leave Jacksonville for the first two games. JU will face Coastal Carolina in the regular season opener on Aug. 19 before taking on UNC Charlotte two days later. Both matches will be held on UNF’s campus.

A two-game road trip through Colorado will mark the highlight of the schedule’s non-conference portion. JU will face both Northern Colorado and Colorado College.

JU will also face another challenge slate of A-Sun game, including a tough road game on Sept. 25 against preseason favorite Florida Gulf Coast University.

“I expect there to be 6-8 teams competing for conference tournament spots as well as battling for hosting spots (as the league’s regular season champion),” Copham said. “You have to come out every weekend of conference play and get the job done. There are no off weekends because this is the type of league where anybody can beat any opponent. It’s going to be a competitive conference.”

- By Brian Bohl