Clarksville, Ark.-After posting the most wins in program history, the 2009 women's soccer team will figure in the mix for a long-awaited conference playoff spot.
It was a solid season for Ozarks in 2008, as they collected eight wins and tied for the most conference wins (6) in program history. Ozarks returns eight starters from last season’s 8-11-0 team, which finished 6-7-0 in league play, just one win away from advancing to the playoffs.
Back-to-back years in which Ozarks has posted six league wins have built momentum for the program, according to head coach Bryan Drotar.
“I think the eight wins is a motivating factor,” said Drotar. “I think it will be in the back of their minds. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about wins and losses, but rather the process that puts us there. It is good momentum and adds excitement coming into this year.”
The Lady Eagles had their troubles early on last year, but finished strong in conference play, including picking up an upset win over playoff-bound Mary Hardin-Baylor. Drotar hopes to avoid a slow start this year by emphasizing consistency.
“Early on we lost some games, and I think as conference play began we started to pick up wins and gain confidence,” said Drotar. “The team understood they could win and could improve.”
Drotar, who is entering his second season at Ozarks, brings back a veteran team with six seniors. That kind of experience is key to continuing momentum within the program and having a successful season.
“We have a lot of experience,” said Drotar. “Those five seniors have all played significantly during their careers. And I think that experience will be very valuable this year. They worked very hard during the off-season. That is the biggest change from a year ago. They have been the leaders on the field.”
Among the eight returning starters are three All-Conference players, which include midfielder Heather Dryden, defender Emalee Pearson and goalkeeper Lori Langman. Despite a strong nucleus, the team will need to replace more than half of its goal scoring.
“Our attack is a little unknown,” said Drotar. “We expect Heather to come through again and provide goals. Our other offensive production is still open. The big question mark will be whether we can score.”
Dryden, who was named to the All-ASC Third Team in 2008, returns for her senior year ranked third in career points (47) and fourth in career goals (18) at Ozarks. She scored five goals and had a team-high 52 shots a year ago.
“Heather does a very good job of getting shots on goal,” said Drotar. “She is fast and good in open spaces. We need to get her into situations where we isolate her a little more. I think it will provide more success for her and our team.”
In addition to Dryden, Drotar expects newcomers Lacey Mainer and Claudia Solano to spark the offense.
“I think Lacey will provide a strong attack up front with her speed,” said Drotar. “Claudia will be in the centermid and can be very valuable in the attack.”
With perhaps the offensive attack as a question mark, Ozarks will again rely on an experience defense to set the tone this season.
“I think our team defense will be as strong or stronger than it was last year,” said Drotar. “The unknown is if we have ladies that can consistently put the ball in the back of the net.”
Veterans Taylor Crutchfield, Kristyn Shinn, Roxanne Moody and Pearson return for their final year in an Ozarks’ uniform. Crutchfield was All-Conference her freshman season and is a three-year starter. Shinn has been a two-sport athlete while at Ozarks and has scored 12 career goals. Moody has played in 54 career matches, while Pearson has played in 52 career matches and was named Second Team All-Conference in 2008. Added to the mix are junior Kristi Gordon and sophomore Kaitlyn Williams. Gordon started in 18 matches a year ago and Williams started 15 times as a freshman.
“Emalee will be the anchor in the defensive line,” said Drotar. “She has a good strong supporting cast around her. She is a great leader and is able to organize her teammates. She is a good defender in her own right, too. Taylor is a consistent player. She works hard at practice and in games. She makes very few mistakes. Kristi, Kristyn and Roxanne will be improved and be big players for us. Kaitlyn was our most improved player last year. She will be a force and we will figure out what position fits her.”
Langman returns for her junior season after making the All-ASC Third Team last season. At 5-foot-11, Langman provides Ozarks with an athletic presence in goal. She recorded 129 saves in 2008 and owns a 1.68 career goals against average.
“Lori will do a terrific job in goal this year,” said Drotar. “She excels in her understanding of the game. She is aggressive and is a big powerful presence in the box. Technically, she is very sound.”
Competition is never lacking in the always-tough American Southwest Conference, but Drotar believes his squad can make a run at the playoffs.
“I think the competition within the conference will be similar to last year,” said Drotar. “I think the playoffs are an attainable goal for us. We were one game out last year. So earning a spot is a realistic goal this year.”