After securing Great American Conference regular season and postseason tournament championships last season, the East Central University women’s soccer program is hungry for more in 2012.
ECU reeled off a 12-6-1 overall record, including a 5-1 mark in GAC regular-season play and a two-game sweep in the conference tournament played in Ada.
“Last year was a pleasant surprise…not that it wasn’t our goal. But it’s always nice whenm it works out and the ladies are rewarded for the time and hard work they put it,” said ECU fourth-year head coach Riley Bailey. “We have 18 returning players from last year’s team. We have key members of that team back with experience and maturity. Our girls are hungry to go out and try to win another championship.”
The Lady Tigers lost a chunk of offensive firepower as Whitney Watts exhausted her eligibility after being named GAC Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the GAC Tourney. Watts collected three goals and five assists during the 2011 campaign and is now third on ECU’s all-time scoring list.
“Whitney will be tough to replace, not just because of her scoring, but she created so much chaos up front,” Bailey said.
Back on the forward end is a trio of seniors in Brittant Grady, Andi Reagan and Rachel Hudgins along with sophomore Kourtney Holleman.
Holleman tallied three goals, including one game winner, in her rookie season and Reagan had one score. Hudgins had one of the three shootout scores in the tournament championship win over Ouachita Baptist.
“All had solid springs. Hopefully, they will all step up and fill some holes and get some scoring started for us,” said Bailey. “Brittany, Andi and Rachel are all seniors and should give us a lot of enthusiasm and energy. I expect those three to lead the way.”
Two newcomers – Taylor Kennedy and Traebiyana Dimanche – could be making some contributions right off the bat.
“Taylor and Trae are terrific young players that could get immediate playing time and add depth for us,” Bailey said.
Experience should be a major factor in the midfield area for ECU with six players who have solid experience, two more with some playing time under their belts after one season and four newcomers.
Back in the midfield area with vast experience are Tory Weisman, Molly Hummel, Stephanie Flores, Taylor Graves, Katie Glutz and Ashley Bradford.
Bradford, a junior, was the team’s top scorer last year with six goals and a pair of assists in earning All-GAC Second Team honors. Glutz shared the team lead in assists with Watts at five and also scored once from her wing position.
Weisman and Graves each finished with one goal and an assist for the year while Flores scored once. Hummel appeared in just one match before going down with a season-ending injury.
“Tory is a senior and will be a captain this year. She’ll take that leadership role. Molly should be healthy. Stephanie did a good job for us last year and in the spring and Taylor had a solid freshman year and created a lot for us,” said Bailey.
Glutz earned All-GAC Second Team honors and was voted to the all-tournament team in the GAC Championships.
“Katie had a terrific freshman year and we look for her to have another solid year,” Bailey said.
Bradford had four game-winning scores in 2011 and should spark the Lady Tigers’ offensive thrust from her attacking midfield spot.
“We look for her to have another good effort. She will move from outside midfielder to forward once in a while for us,” said Bailey.
Also back in the fold are Katelynn Harper and Jenifer Guerrero.
Four freshman newcomers – Krista Kahl, Margaux Clark, Kelsey Pickrell and Jennifer Perry – could make an immediate impact as well.
The Lady Tigers appear to be loaded on defense with the return of senior captain Carla Rodriguez and 2011 GAC Freshman of the Year Margaret Glutz, twin sister of teammate Katie Glutz.
Rodriguez was an All-GAC Second Team pick in 2011 while Margaret notched an All-GAC First Team honor.
“Carla is a great leader on and off the field and does a lot of things that people don’t realize. We look for Margaret to have another solid outing and continue the success that she’s had,” Bailey said.
Another experience defender is junior Susana Galvez, who drew several starts while scoring one and assisting on another goal as well in 2011.
Also back with some solid experience is sophomore Jessica Stibbens, who appeared in eight matches as a true freshman last year.
Laiken Knight and Stephanie Gutierrez add depth to ECU’s back line and Sarah Sordahl is the only freshman newcomer on defense.
“I’m really excited about Sarah. I think she’ll do a bang-up job for us,” said Bailey.
ECU will certainly start a freshman between the pipes as rookies Hunter Malcolm and Taylor Lowe will be battling it out.
“I don’t know if one will step up (for the starting position), but it might be one of those by-committee things. They’re both solid keepers. I’m comfortable with either one of them being back there,” Bailey said.
NOTES: The Lady Tigers launch the 2012 season on Aug. 31st against Emporia State in the GAC/MIAA Challenge at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Mo…ECU battled host Missouri Western two days later on Sept. 2nd in St. Joseph…The home opener for the Lady Tigers will be on Sept. 6th against Texas Woman’s University at 5 p.m…The GAC, which had just four soccer teams in 2011, will grow to six with the addition of Southern Nazarene and Northwestern Oklahoma State in 2012.