Clarksville, Ark.-New University of the Ozarks women's soccer coach Bryan Drotar inherits six returning starters and will benefit from the momentum built from last season's best year in school history.
Drotar, who led Geneva College (Pa.) to the playoffs in 2003, will need to replace a stable of four starters whose eligibility expired. Those seniors were instrumental in helping Ozarks to a school-best 7-6-4 overall record and a 6-6-1 conference mark. It was the first winning season ever for the program, and the most conference wins in the program’s history. With a seventh-place conference finish, the Lady Eagles were just one spot away from qualifying for a playoff berth. However, losing that group of established players leaves the team without any seniors, but a talented group of juniors figure to take over the leadership role, according to Drotar.
“The junior class is a solid group and a group we can certainly build around,” said Drotar. “Without any seniors on the roster it basically makes the junior class the leaders. I think they will step up to that challenge. They are players that have played and are experienced. They will be prepared to face this season.”
The junior class includes forwards Heather Dryden and Laura Sprueill, midfielders Marisa Maldonado and Roxanne Moody, and defenders Taylor Crutchfield, Emalee Pearson and Kristyn Shinn.
Dryden headlines the capable group that will be expected to produce on the pitch.
Dryden finished tied for sixth in the American Southwest Conference in points (21), ninth in goals (8) and assists (5) and fourth in game-winning goals (3). She took 44 shots, second-most on the team. Dryden recorded a hat trick and totaled seven points against University of Dallas last season. Dryden looks to continue her assault on the record books as she already has the fourth most points (36) in school history. The All-Conference performer is also in the top ten in career goals (13), career assists (10) and career shots (82).
“Heather is a very determined player,” said Drotar. “She has good vision of the field. She can see what is around her. She is one of those players that makes others around her better.”
Maldonado, an All-Conference performer her freshman season, gives Ozarks a strong option in the midfield. She will be expected to contribute significantly in that area because of her experience. Moody, who played in 16 matches a year ago, scored three goals in her sophomore campaign.
“Our center midfielders will be hard to replace from last season, but I think we can do it,” said Drotar. “We need to have someone step up and fill that role of play making. With the exception of Taylor it is completely different than it was last year. Those players in that area will have to step up game after game.”
The athletic Shinn scored four goals and had three assists last season, and will help at the defender position this season. She had eight goals as a freshman. The speedy Spruiell has shown flashes of All-Conference ability having scored nine goals as a freshman and two goals last season. Sophomore midfielders Kristi Gordon and Chelsea Coleman will need to have solid seasons on the field. Gordon produced three assists in 16 starts a year ago. Coleman ranked second on the team behind Dryden in points (14). She also had five goals, second-most on the team.
“Kristyn, Marisa and Laura could be a strength if they can be more consistent,” said Drotar. “They have the ability to step in and fill key positions for us. Kristi has the ability to create opportunities for her teammates. Chelsea was a productive player last season and I expect good things from her this year. Roxanne will provide experience on the field for us, too.”
A defense led by sophomore goalkeeper Lori Langman appears solid entering the 2008 campaign. The defense will need to at least match what it did last season to stay in contention for a playoff spot. The 2007 team set school defensive records for fewest goals allowed (23) and goals against average (1.28).
“We will be a strong defensive unit,” said Drotar. “Our attack will flow out of the defense. The creativity will come from our defense.”
Langman was named the ASC Quad-Defensive Freshman of the Year after posting a single-season school record 1.29 goals against average. The 5-foot-11 Langman notched 60 saves and started in all 17 matches while recording three shutouts. She ranked fifth in the ASC in goals against average, eighth in shutouts, ninth in saves percentage (.721) and tenth in saves.
“Lori is a very gifted goalkeeper,” said Drotar. “She has the size, foot work and ability to be successful in this conference. She has already shown that, and if she will work hard she can have a very good year and greatly contribute to our success. I am confident in her abilities to get the job done. I am confident she will organize the defense in front of her.”
Crutchfield and Pearson have displayed the soccer-smarts to help Ozarks defensively and offensively. A defensive stalwart, Crutchfield was an All-Conference performer her freshman season. Pearson had a pair of goals and three assists in 17 starts a year ago. And, the versatile Pearson provides Ozarks with size on the field.
“There are several players that have the ability to change games on the field,” said Drotar. “I think Heather will be able to change games. Emalee will be able to change games. Laura had an off year last season, but I think she can be very valuable to the team. Taylor is very solid. She will be a strength and an anchor for the defense.”
The freshmen class will also be called upon to give Ozarks the necessary depth in the rugged ASC.
“Our freshmen class needs to be prepared to play,” said Drotar. “They can provide us with depth and that is a necessity in this conference.”
The team’s hard work and positive attitude are strengths of the up-start squad, according to Drotar.
“I think the strengths of the team are they have a desire to improve and they will work toward achieving a goal,” said Drotar. “They enjoy working with each other and like to be around each other. I think team camaraderie will go a long way in being able to work as a unit. Their work ethic has been good.”
The Lady Eagles begin the 2008 season this weekend when they host Texas College on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. They will host Central Baptist College on Monday at 1:00 p.m.