Southeast looks to take care of 'unfinished business' from 2001 season and earn berth in NCAA Tournament.
May 10, 2002
After finishing the 2001 campaign with a 16-2 record, an Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship and falling just one game short of the NCAA Tournament, the Southeast Missouri State Otahkian soccer team will be looking to take that next step during the 2002 season and take care of some 'unfinished business.'
The first major task the Otahkians will look to accomplish is replacing seniors Beth Guccione and Nichole Thiele, two players who helped establish the Southeast program in 1999. Guccione, the 2001 OVC Player of the Year, finished the season with a 0.44 goals allowed average, which ranked number two all-time in NCAA history. Thiele, a three-time All-OVC selection, left her mark as the program's all-time leader in points and goals.
Looking toward the future, Southeast returns three All-OVC first-team selections and an honorable mention selection from a team that led the nation in goals allowed average (0.44) and shutout percentage (0.72) and allowed only one goal in seven total conference regular and post-season games.
That impressive defense is anchored by 2001 OVC Defender of the Year, senior Jenny Hamilton. Hamilton's move from midfield to defense last season was instrumental in the Otahkians success. Returning in the backfield with her is fellow senior Stephanie Bleau. Hamilton and Bleau have played in all 48 games in their three-year careers at Southeast, which also accounts for every game in the program's short history. They are joined in the backfield by junior Valerie Henderson, who made the transition from forward to defender last year; sophomore Jen Cross, who missed last season with injuries; sophomore Heather Reding, who started 17 of 18 games in 2001; Kori Marchi, one of three seniors from the inaugural team; newcomers Mary Kalinowski and Erin Hartmann, who will look to earn significant playing time; and walk-on Elisa Diaz.
"Our defense is tactically the strongest part of our team," said Head Coach Heather Nelson, the 2001 OVC Coach of the Year. "We have plenty of experience returning, including the OVC Defender of the Year and a wealth of mature players that helped produce the number one ranked defense in the country a year ago. Added reinforcements from the likes of Hartmann and Kalinowski will only make that unit stronger."
Southeast is also loaded at the forward position as three offensive threats return from last season. Junior Erika Todd is the veteran of the group and has scored 19 goals in the past two seasons. Last season Todd, a two-time All-OVC selection, also recorded six assists, including four in one game which was tied for first in the nation. Freshman Erin Slattery, a first-team All-OVC selection in 2001, led the Southeast team that finished 10th in the country in scoring (2.67 points per game) with 10 goals last year. She is joined up front by fellow sophomore Diana Poovey, who scored four goals in only 11 games after returning to the line-up following a bought with mononucleosis. Sophomore Jennifer Unrein and redshirt freshman Lisa Schweppe round out the forwards. Unrein will be looking to make and impact after coming off back-to-back seasons where injuries limited her to no on-field action. The same goes for Schweppe, a member of the highly talented Busch-Pecher team and a kicker for her high school varsity football team.
"Our forwards bring a solid balance of target players and take-on artists," said Nelson. "We have a lot of experience and athleticism at this position and a number of talented players who can put points on the board."
The midfield will also be strong for Southeast as sophomore Marla Gianino returns after a fantastic rookie campaign. Gianino, a first-team All-OVC selection, led the team in assists (9) and points (27) and finished second in goals (9) in 2001. She is joined by returners Julie Wunderlich, Michelle Frossard and Laura Hauskins who all gained valuable time and experience in 2001. Newcomers Ashley DeRoy and Megan Hejlek will reinforce the midfield and contend for starting positions.
"Our midfield is our engine room, possessing a solid combination of work rate, speed and vision," Nelson said. "As a group possession is an overall strength which parallels our team philosophy. For the first time since the inception of the program, I finally feel that we have a core of experienced midfielders with a solid understanding of our system of play. In addition, Gianino made an impact in the OVC as an attacking threat from central midfield. She is a smooth player with the ability to create numbers up in the attacking third and open up opportunities for our wing midfielders and forwards."
The main question for the Southeast team will be how well the two new goalkeepers fill the shoes of Guccione. Although Southeast lost the OVC Player of the Year, this season marks the first time the team will have two quality goalkeepers competing for the starting job. Freshman Lauren Fabbro and Eastern Michigan transfer Amanda Wrzos will be the tandem that will battle for the starter's position in-goal.
"It is a luxury for our team to have two goalkeepers compete for the starting job," Nelson added. "Fabbro and Wrzos come from outstanding programs where playing and winning are expectations. I am confident that they will compete on a daily basis to keep each other playing on their edge, and provide the team with the added confidence that, if one is injured or fighting a slump, the other can step-up."
Narrowly missing an at-large bid with a 16-2 record, Southeast was recognized as a 'bubble team' for the NCAA tournament by Soccer Buzz magazine. As a safety net, Head Coach Heather Nelson has beefed up the 2002 schedule. Southeast will once again compete in the OVC including a game against OVC newcomer Austin Peay. In non-conference action, Southeast travels to SEC powerhouses Arkansas and Kentucky, who was ranked most of the 2001 season. Other road games are at Creighton, Drake, Arkansas State and in-state rival Southwest Missouri. Indiana, Memphis, Oral Roberts and Lipscomb will all come to Houck Stadium for games this season. Southeast will host Indiana State and Belmont in a Labor Day Weekend Tournament.
"Our schedule has taken another step up," said Nelson. "We have several traditional powerhouses on the schedule and it is critical for us to earn recognition in our region to give us an edge in case we do not win the OVC Tournament. Hopefully it won't come down to that, as we have our sights set on the automatic bid to showcase our team against the top Division I programs in the country."