Courtesy: Deb Hill
CEDAR CITY, Utah, Aug. 6 – Soccer season is quickly approaching with the Big Sky Conference releasing its preseason poll on Wednesday. Southern Utah was tabbed eighth by the coaches, marking its highest selection in three years as a member of the league. The Thunderbirds matched Montana and Sacramento State for the sixth-best record last year, and have high aspirations for their upcoming campaign.
“With the conference tournament expanding to six teams, things are going to be very different,” commented Coach Hogan. “Everyone team in the conference is going to feel like they should be higher in the poll, but the question is really which team is going to do the work, who is going to do what it takes. Every team in this conference can win on any given day. Last year it was just a few of shots that determined a couple of wins that kept us from making the tournament.”
Big Sky preseason favorite Portland State will make an appearance at Thunderbird Soccer Field on Sept. 28 as SUU opens its conference season with a three home matches. Sacramento State and Idaho are also set to visit during the opening homestand.
“Last year our plan was to build momentum early on in conference, but a couple of mistakes cost us some matches,” explained Hogan. “This year our preseason schedule is more similar to the rhythm of the conference and we are hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to open at home.”
This year’s team once again features an intriguing mix of talented young players with well-established returners. A group of seven upper classmen will look to lead ten returning sophomores in addition to eight incoming freshmen. Hogan has a lot of confidence in her veterans.
“The senior class has, weathered the storm and coaching change and have great perspective,” stated Hogan. “Christine (Meehan) is a leader, she is friends with everyone on the team and does a lot to bridge the gap between the coaching staff and players. Andrea (Albrecht) has come a long way during her career here, and has truly become a leader.”
They will also play a vital role setting the tone on the field. A well-experienced dynamic duo in the midfield reflects the team’s strengths on both sides of the ball.
“Kirsten (Anthony) is a true holding midfielder, disrupting the other team’s attack. She heads the ball extremely well, her timing is good on tackling the ball. She is working on her range and passing,” explained Hogan. “Brianne Brown will set up a lot of goal-scoring opportunities and get a lot of point production from the midfield. She worked really hard this summer and is one of the fittest players on the team.”
Hogan is charged with the task of managing the team’s diverse group of talent and finding the chemistry that will produce the highest levels of success. Last year’s balanced attack demonstrated the depth and options which she has at her disposal and the newcomers have given the Thunderbird coach even more to work with.
“Our system depends largely on the players we have, last year we did a lot of experimenting, but this season we should be more settled,” commented Hogan. “We want to be great defensively, very organized, and exploit the opportunity when it presents itself. Our offense won’t be as direct because a lot of energy will be used on defense.”
Southern Utah’s coach also highlighted a few players to keep an eye on during the upcoming season.
“Aurora (Moberly) was our leading scorer before her injury, Nancy (Brich) has made tremendous strides, Payton Bonino is a phenomenal goal-scorer, Jahna (Tacson) is a free kick specialist who I would expect to score some goals and there will also be a lot of girls who score one or two goals.”
Another development to watch with this year’s team is the competition to be the first string goalkeeper. Returner Tessa Christensen and transfer Taylor Bolding are both working hard to make their case for the starting job.
“We have a new goalkeeper coach which gives us a fresh set of eyes on the position,” commented Hogan. “Tessa and Taylor are really close in competing for the starting spot. They are very different, Taylor is good with her distribution and hands while Tessa is very athletic and makes a lot of reactionary and unconventional saves.”
The SUU soccer team is also looking to bolster its fan support by increasing the levels of entertainment and interaction at their home games. For the first time fans will be seated at field level with a variety of activities planned throughout the season.
“One of the best things about our team is that we are a very accessible group. We are out in the community, at the elementary schools, doing Relay for Life, offering free clinics. We hope that people get to know our girls,” stated Hogan. “Our games will also be more focused on the fan experience with a new sound system, the new field arrangement puts them right on the sideline and brings them into the game as well as things like giveaways, pre- and post-game events and halftime shows. This is a really fun team to watch.”
Southern Utah opens play in just two weeks as Dixie State is scheduled to make the trip up to Cedar City for the season-opener on Friday, Aug. 22 at 4:00 p.m. As always, there is not cost to attend and pre-game activities are planned for fans. Complete schedule information is available online at www.suutbirds.com.