The Illinois State Redbirds enter the 2012 season as the consensus team to beat in the Missouri Valley Conference. Last year’s conference champion and NCAA Tournament representative received five first-place votes and garnered a total of 47 points to surpass the field and grab the No. 1 spot.
The Valley will look to continue to build off of the success of the 2011 season that saw its three top teams post stellar records in a highly competitive battle for first place. Although top teams lost key graduating players, preseason polls indicate that last year’s contenders are in prime position to repeat 2011’s performances in what should be a tremendous 2012 season.
Illinois State, (1st, 47 points) the defending regular-season and Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion, looks to carry last year’s successes into 2012. The Redbirds are coming off of a 2011 campaign that yielded the program’s third NCAA tournament appearance and a 13-6 record (5-1-1 MVC). Although filling the holes left by last year’s senior class will be difficult, Illinois State has great reason to hope for success in this year’s endeavors in large part due to Rachel Tejada’s incredible freshman season. Tejada (21 goals, 9 assists) became the first women’s soccer player in Illinois State history to earn All-American honors after she was named to the Soccer America All-Freshman 1st-Team. She is joined by Anna Stinson and Kristin Cooley on the 2012 preseason all-conference team. Last year’s foundation combined with eight key returning players gives hope for a repeat appearance in the NCAA Tournament. With several standouts and a solid supporting cast in place, the Redbirds will certainly be a threat to conference and non-conference opponents alike.
Missouri State, (2nd, 43 points) last season’s Missouri Valley Conference regular-season runner-up, is looking to improve upon their 2011 season and make a push towards an NCAA Tournament appearance. Similar to other top teams in the conference, Missouri State will undergo some difficulty in replacing six key departures from last year’s 12-5-2 (4-1-1 in conference) squad. However, a strong core, anchored by defenders Nia Williams (5 assists), Grace Cross (1 goal, 1 assist) and Kelsey Fouch (2 assists), gives Missouri State great cause for optimism in 2012. Williams, Cross, and Fouch are joined by three other key returning players as Missouri State looks to improve upon an impressive 2011 season. Beyond this year, the future looks extremely bright for the Missouri State program due in large part to the fact that 14 new players will join the Bears’ squad in 2012. There is no doubt that Missouri State will be a dangerous opponent not only in 2012, but also for years to come.
In 2012, Creighton (3rd, 32 points) will aim to improve upon last season’s successful in-conference performance. But first, the Jays must survive a brutal non-conference romp. Opponents include four 2011 NCAA Tournament teams, but Creighton views these matchups as outstanding preparation for an always challenging conference season. The Bluejays’ lineup is bolstered by Brittney Neumann (8 goals, 5 assists), goalkeeper Katie Jo Swanson (3-1, 2 shutouts), and newcomers Kelsey O’Donnell (MF) and Madelyn Buckner (D). Creighton aims to compete for a top spot in the conference, and a solid group of returning players certainly makes the Bluejays strong contenders.
The UNI Panthers (4th, 25 points) head into 2012 hoping to improve upon last year’s fourth place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference. UNI finished 8-10-3 (2-4 MVC) in 2011, and at one point won five consecutive games. While the loss of eight graduating seniors is obviously a challenging obstacle to overcome, the Panthers hope that their strong finish to the spring season will lead to further successes this upcoming fall. UNI will be lead by a trio of potent midfielders, including junior Sam Copley, sophomore Caitlyn Fuller, and senior Kiki McClellan, all of whom show tremendous potential for a successful 2012. As the season begins, the Panthers will hope to improve in road contests while maintaining the home-field advantage established by last year’s squad (6-3-1 at home). Traveling to Cedar Falls will continue to be a daunting task for UNI’s foes.
The Drake Bulldogs (5th, 20 points) will look to build upon a foundation established by a very young 2011 squad. The Bulldogs return 10 key players and hope that increased experience will yield positive results and help them improve upon last year’s 4-11-4 (2-4 MVC) record. Drake will be lead by senior Forward Laura Moklestad, junior defender Megan Fisher, and junior goalkeeper Kalena Litch. Veteran leadership will aim to inspire a young core as the Bulldogs begin the 2012 season.
The Indiana State Sycamores (6th, 16 points) return 15 letterwinners from last year’s team and welcome 12 new players to their roster in 2012. Of the 15 returners, five were starters, including seniors Casey Albright and Kourtney Vassar, junior Shelby Troyer, and sophomores Sadie Bauserman and Natalie Vaught. Indiana State looks to improve upon their 4-12-4 (2-4 MVC) mark from last season. Of the five players returning, four were amongst the top scorers. The Sycamores hope that increased experience will lead to greater production in 2012.
The Evansville Purple Aces (7th, 14 points) return eight starters from last year’s 4-13 (1-5 MVC) team. The attack will be spearheaded by forward Kaitlin Robinett and midfielder Stephanie Thompson, who, as a duo, put up 22 points last season (9 goals, 4 assists). Ten letterwinners from 2011 are joined by eight incoming freshman from all over the nation. As the program enters its 20th season, Evansville aims to be a competitive threat in The Missouri Valley Conference.
2012 certainly looks to be another outstanding year in women’s soccer. An exciting conference season will conclude at the annual conference tournament held in Omaha, Nebraska, November 2-4, 2012.
Illinois State and Missouri State dominated the Preseason All-Conference selections with multiple players represented. Creighton, Drake, Evansville, and UNI had players chosen as well.