Women’s soccer starts A-Sun play with trip to Stetson on Friday
Freshman Miranda Fyfe will look to help key the Dolphins backline once A-Sun play starts on Friday. Play Video
Freshman Miranda Fyfe will look to help key the Dolphins backline once A-Sun play starts on Friday.
Since the sweltering mid-summer practices, JU women’s soccer coach Brian Copham has talked about preparing his team to be completely focused for every conference match. After nine closely contested non-league games, the Dolphins will look to put that mantra into practice starting on Friday when they open Atlantic Sun Conference play against Stetson at 7 p.m.

JU (4-4-1) will head to DeLand, Fla. coming off a challenging non-conference slate. The Dolphins have won three of the past five. The squad’s only losses in that stretch came on late goals against well-respected programs. JU held a lead against USF until the 87th minute before falling to the Bulls in overtime. The Dolphins also stayed tied with No. 15 UCF until the Knights scored in the 88th minute for a 2-1 win.

The Dolphins lead the all-time series against the Hatters, 9-7-2. JU won last year’s matchup versus Stetson, 1-0, on the strength of Alexa Rooney’s five saves in the shutout. The Hatters are off to a 1-6-1 start this year but boast multiple scoring threats. Senior midfielder Alexis Hermosa has scored four goals in eight games for a team-leading eight points. Freshman forward Katie O’Kennedy’s seven points (three goals and one assist) is second.

“Once you to conference, there are no easy games,” JU head coach Brian Copham said. “This is where the rubber hits the road for us as a team. We’re excited to get started.

“Stetson is a talented team and their results aren’t indicative of the quality of their team. They always play hard and they are incredibly difficult to play against, especially at their place. They’ll be a lot of emotion with the first conference game and I’m expecting a tough game.”

A one-day respite will follow the Stetson contest before the Dolphins take on FGCU. Kickoff on Sunday is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Ft. Meyers, Fla. The Eagles (5-3-1) entered the week in second place. FGCU finished its non-conference schedule with a scoreless tie against UCF last weekend, earning votes in the NSCAA/Continental Tire Southeast Region rankings. That marked the third time in the program’s five-year history that the Eagles received votes.

JU will be looking to hand FGCU its first A-Sun loss in almost two years. The Eagles went 8-0-2 against the conference last year and has not lost since Oct. 16, 2009 at Belmont.

“FGCU has been one of the best teams in the conference for the last three years,” Copham said. “They’re talented and well-coached. I expect it to be a difficult game. Both teams play similar styles, so it should be a fun game to watch.”

Despite the two close defeats in back-to-back weeks, Copham said the morale of the team is fine. Sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Sierra continues to perform well in her first season as a starter. The Madera, Calif. native will carry a .850 save percentage and a 0.97 goals-against average into Friday. Sierra has 51 saves and has logged all 833:35 of game action this year.

Sophomore Raquel Weckhurst (West Hills, Calif.) has emerged as an offensive threat, scoring a goal in back-to-back games. She netted her first career scoring strike against the Bulls and followed that up with a goal off a turnover against a nationally ranked Knights squad.

Senior Liz Fink (Cumming, Ga.) has two goals tie Weckhurst for the team lead and has doubled the shots of the next closest teammate, registering 42. Both of Fink’s goals have been game-winners. The midfielder entered the weekend with 45 points (15 goals and 15 assists), marking the second-most among active A-Sun members. Only Mercer’s Olivia Tucker’s 62 points (28 goals and six assists) has more.

Fellow senior midfielder Jessica Hurtado is tied for fifth on that list with eight goals and 15 assists for 31 career points. Hurtado (Butler, N.J.) has a goal and a JU-best three assists through nine games in 2011.

- By Brian Bohl