Clarksville, Ark.-New University of the Ozarks head women's soccer coach Chad Leonard inherits nine starters and a strong freshmen class to help him build off of last season's momentum.
Ozarks returns five All-Conference players from its most successful team (7-10-2) in the program’s history. The Lady Eagles return its top six goal scorers and graduated only two seniors from the 2006 team. Add the return of a former All-Conference midfielder to the mix, and the Lady Eagles appear ready to turn the corner and possibly vie for a playoff spot.
“The team’s attitude has been absolutely great,” said Leonard, who had a three-year stint at Upper Iowa University prior to Ozarks. “Everyone has quickly bought into the system that we presented. I have nothing but great things to say about the girls and what they have accomplished so far. Overall, our expectations are to get one percent better on the field every day. That’s our rule. If we meet those expectations, by the time October rolls around, I think we could put ourselves in position to be in the conference tournament.”
In 2006, the freshman trio of Laura Spruiell, Kristyn Shinn and Heather Dryden had nine, eight and five goals, respectively. Spruiell led the team in points (22) and goals while taking 37 shots. Shinn produced 18 points, while Dryden recorded 15 points and a team-high five assists. Dryden was voted to the All-Conference team. Each are expected to make an impact at the forward position once again. Added to the group up front is freshman Kristi Gordon.
“Up top, Heather has done a good job scoring,” said Leonard. “Kristi is fast and has good technical skills. She can be a dynamic scorer in this conference. She has a nose for the goal. She can take on people. She can finish and give the ball up so well.”
The Lady Eagles welcome back a pair of former All-Conference midfielders who saw limited or no action a year ago. Junior Jessalyn Halsted returns to the pitch after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago, and senior midfielder Kate Schoenhals is back after a year of studies overseas. Despite playing in only six games in 2006, the talented Halsted scored three goals. She is a two-time All-Conference performer. Halsted has made her mark on the school record books, accumulating 14 career assists, the most in the program’s history. Schoenhals is a three-time All-Conference player and has 52 starts under belt. Senior Amanda Bohon returns for her third year as a starting midfielder. Bohon received All-Conference honors in 2006 after scoring two goals and recording four assists. The midfield trio provides Ozarks with good size and leadership, according to Leonard.
“We have great senior leadership in the middle,” said Leonard. “Jessalyn and Amanda do a good job of controlling the middle of the field. They can win the ball and distribute the ball. Jessalyn has the ability to strike the ball from 20 to 25 yards and put it on frame. I think she will really step up and have a great season. She plays off of Amanda very well, which gives us even more of an attack. That plays into the philosophy I have for this team.”
Marisa Maldonado returns to the midfield after having a solid freshman campaign. Maldonado was named to the All-ASC Third Team after starting in all 19 matches. She contributed one goal and two assists.
With a variety of potential producers on the offensive end, it is the defense that is the team’s strength, according the Leonard.
“Our defense is going to be very good,” said Leonard. “Having Kate back will solidify our defense. She is a senior leader and does a good job of organizing our defense. And, I can’t say enough good things about Taylor Crutchfield. She wins every ball despite her size. She puts a body on somebody and she is fast. Freshman Jessica Martin has size, strength and deceptive speed. She tackles the ball very well. And, Olivia Fisher is by far the purest athlete on the team. She can play anywhere and do anything we asked her. Her upbeat attitude is contagious to the team. She may play a stopper position for us if we play with four in the back.”
Crutchfield, who earned All-Conference honors in 2006, started in 17 matches before missing the final two games due to an injury. Defensive-minded sophomores Emalee Pearson and Roxanne Moody return after starting in 15 games apiece.
“Emalee has really filled the role for us,” said Leonard. “I can see her playing some outside midfield as well as some back for us.”
Ozarks five newcomers should see plenty of action during the season, according to Leonard. In addition to Gordon and Martin, the class includes forward Chelsea Coleman, goalkeeper Lori Langman and midfielder Emily Wright.
“These five freshmen are all vying for a starting position,” said Leonard. “This team could be very young. We are freshmen and sophomore oriented. Our freshmen, however, need to understand how much physical and faster the college game is. We want to increase the goals we score, and I think we’ve done that with a few of the freshman that have come in.”
Leonard will rely on the aforementioned Langman in goal.
“Lori is a true goalkeeper,” said Leonard. “She has played it all her life and is true technically. She can command the box. At 5-foot-11, her physical presence in the back is something that will be good. And, she allows us to put Olivia on the field.”
At 4-9-0, Ozarks finished the conference race in tenth place last season. Only the top six teams make the playoffs, and Leonard understands his team still has a long way to go in the rugged American Southwest Conference.
“We still need to get better every day,” said Leonard. “We need to do the simple things better, including making sure our head is up and making sure we play the ball with the correct foot. Our timing is still a little bit off, too. But those things will come. We obviously want to decrease the amount of goals that were scored against us, both during the play of game and off set pieces.”
“This is a good, solid team,” said Leonard. “It is not a bunch of individuals that are good in certain positions. Collectively, we are very good. I believe one of our strengths is how well we play together. We have really focused on that. They have done a good job of taking what they’ve learned and putting it into play. They have done a good job at interpreting what I’ve given them.”
The Lady Eagles open the season on the road against Texas College on September 1 and Austin College on September 2.