The University of South Alabama’s soccer team is coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Jaguars, though, are not looking to rebuild. They are reloading.
After finishing unbeaten in the Sun Belt Conference in 2015, USA has been voted to defend its league title. The Jaguars have placed four on the preseason all-SBC squad.
The USA program is not the only game in town. The University of Mobile and Spring Hill College also are looking to field competitive teams.
South Alabama — In his fourth year at the helm, USA head coach Graham Winkworth is aiming for a third consecutive regular-season conference crown. With nine starters back from a team that went 18-3-2 and claimed its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, Winkworth has new goals for this campaign.
“It’s really just to continue this momentum,” he said. “We’ve changed the expectations around the program. The girls expect to win matches now; they don’t walk out fearing anybody. Our main goal is to increase our level of professionalism as players. As coaches, we want to prepare the girls for the next level, if that’s what they want to do one day, so it’s installing that level of professionalism in their mindset so they come to training, work hard, give us everything they’ve got and continue that into the games. Hopefully that will show in the games we play against some very good opponents.”
Junior Chardé Hannah has been picked to be the co-Offensive Player of the Year with Texas State’s Lauren Prater. USA junior Steffi Hardy is the Defensive Player of The Year. Also on the preseason all-star roster are junior Danielle Henley and sophomore Jemma Purfield.
Hannah was the 2014 SBC Freshman and Offensive Player of the Year. She had a team-best 11 goals and 27 points last season. Hardy was the league’s 2015 Defender of the Year as she led a defense that shut out 22 opponents over the last two years. Henley was second on the team in goals (10) and points (25), while Purfield was the SBC Freshman of the Year after recording 11 assists and three goals.
USA has played two exhibition games, outscoring opponents by a combined 7-0 score. Seven different players recorded a goal. In the national soccer poll, South has the most votes of any school not ranked.
University of Mobile women — The Lady Rams are ranked No. 5 in the NAIA Women’s Soccer Coaches’ Preseason Poll. The 2015 Southern States Athletic Conference tournament champ, UM is picked second in the opening conference selection behind William Carey, last year’s regular season winner.
“Hopefully our nonconference schedule will prepare us for the quality of teams we will face during our conference games,” said head coach Brian Person, whose club went 19-3 while advancing to the national quarterfinals. “Last year there were three teams in our conference in the top five nationally and we have no reason to think that will change. And the teams not ranked are consistently improving every year. It should be another conference season that comes down to the last weekend of games.”
The Lady Rams return 19 players who saw action in 2015, among them senior defender Leah Corse, second-team All-American; junior midfielder Cayla Hebert, third-team All-American; and senior forward Tyler-Rae Molloy, two-time honorable mention All-American. Sophomore forward Colleen Kennedy recorded 4 goals and 5 assists last season, while senior defender Anna Caroline Scales has appeared in 57 career games.
The season opens Friday with a game at Spring Hill at 3:30 p.m. The home schedule starts Saturday against LSU-Alexandria at 5 p.m.
University of Mobile men — The Rams have been picked to finish second in the SSAC men’s soccer standings behind Bethel. UM won the 2015 regular season title, while Bethel captured the tournament trophy.
“As always, our conference schedule is very demanding,” said head coach Daniel Whelan, whose team was 11-6-2 overall and 5-1-2 inside the league. “Our conference is very competitive, and once again we will need to play at our maximum to get positive results. Hopefully our nonconference schedule will prepare us for the challenges that await in our conference.”
The Rams welcome back 11 players. The veterans include junior midfielder Newton Henry, the SSAC’s Offensive Player of the Year, and sophomore defender Jordan Sinclair, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year. Sophomore midfielder Matthew McArthur was on the SSAC All-Freshmen roster. Other seasoned competitors are senior forward George Stannard (48 career games) and junior midfielder John Plumbar (34 career games).
Spring Hill men — The Badgers continue to make progress in their move to NCAA Division II. While they compete in the Gulf South Conference, they are not yet eligible for postseason action.
SHC was 3-14 last year and 1-8 in league play under head coach Steve Wieczorek. The record is deceiving, as the Badgers suffered nine single-goal losses.
Viktor Kvarnlof, a sophomore forward, returns after leading with 6 goals and 13 points. Tilman Schober, a sophomore forward, added 4 points in just two games before a season-ending injury. Joakim Aakerlund, a 6-foot-6 sophomore defender, had 3 points. Will Carpenter, a senior goalkeeper from Daphne, had 66 saves against 198 shots and one shutout.
The Badgers had two players make the GSC Top Newcomers list — Alaye Brito, a sophomore transfer from Concordia, and freshman Donte Oliver from New Orleans, who scored 87 goals in prep action.
“We are delighted with Alaye’s and Donte’s selection as GSC Top Newcomers,” Wieczorek said.
Other graduate students joining the roster are defenders Tapfuma Dimairo and Ryan Elder from New Zealand.
Spring Hill women — New head coach Allison Whitworth takes over a club that went 3-11-3 overall and 2-9-1 in conference play. The Badgers return 15 letterwinners.
Hoping to improve that mark will be junior forward Madison Camet, who led SHC with 6 goals and 16 points last year. Darby Rasch, a senior forward, was next on the team with 4 goals and 12 points. Rasch needs eight more assists to set the school record.
In goal, redshirt freshman Hannah Shankman is locked in a battle for the starting role with true freshman Kayla Beaston. Senior defender Brittany McNair started all 17 games for a Badger defense that handed out three shutouts in 2015.
The Badgers had two players on the league’s Top Newcomers list — freshman Sydney DeJohn of Hoover and Johanna Meister of Germany.
“Sydney will bring an explosive forward presence to the team and help jump-start the attack,” Whitworth said. “Johanna brings international experience to our midfield and will bridge the gap between the attack and defense.”