Birmingham, Ala. - The Southeastern Conference unveiled its soccer coaches' preseason watch list, Tuesday, to kick off another great season of SEC women's soccer.
• Alabama returns nine starters and 12 letterwinners off last season's squad, which includes four seniors from a year ago. However, the Tide will be a young team as 15 members of the squad are either sophomores (5) or freshmen (10).
• The Crimson Tide returns four of its top five offensive leaders in total points from a year ago. Highlighting the list of returning scorers is senior Pia Rijsdijk (7g, 4a/18 pts), who led the team in goals and points last season. Rijsdijk was one of the top players in league play a year ago. After recording only one point in non-conference play, the Numansdorp, Netherlands native accounted for 17 of her 18 points against SEC competition. Joining Rijsdijk in the offensive attack will be seniors Merel van Dongen (4g, 0a), Theresa Diederich (3g, 2a) and Laura Lee Smith (3g, 0a).
• Senior Merel Van Dongen returns for her senior season after missing the final 12 games of last year with a knee injury. She injured the knee in mid-September training with the Netherlands Women's National Team. Van Dongen, who was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and an second team All-SEC performer in 2012, scored four goals in the team's first six games a year ago, including a pair of game-winners.
• Senior Pia Rijsdijk is closing in on the program's all-time shots record, which was set just last year by Molly Atherton. Atherton set the record last year and finished her career with 199 shots. Rijsdijk enters the 2014 campaign with 178 career shots, which ranks second in program history. If she accomplishes the feat, she would become the first player in program history to record 200 shots in a career.
Alabama Players to Watch:
• Arkansas returns 20 players, including eight regular starters, from the 2013 team that won a program record 15 games (15-8-1) en route to advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
• Picked first-ever NCAA Tournament win on the road at Oklahoma State before advancing to the third round with a win over St. John's in Durham, N.C.
• Arkansas posted a program single-season record eight shutouts in 2013, while it won 11 one-goal games and five overtime contests.
• One of four SEC schools to rank in the top five in the conference in goals per game and total shutouts in 2013.
• The Razorbacks return 75 percent of their scoring (102-of-136 points) led by junior Ashleigh Ellenwood, who ranked in the top 10 in the SEC in points (35/7th), goals (14/6th), assists (7/T-7th) and game-winning goals (6/T-3rd).
• Arkansas returns eight of its top 11 scorers, who accounted for 33 of the 46 goals scored last season and 36 of the 44 assists handed out.
• Head coach Colby Hale enters his third year at the helm and has orchestrated the Razorbacks to 24 wins over his first two seasons, the most over any two-year span in program history.
Arkansas Players to Watch:
• Auburn reached the SEC Tournament for the 13th-straight year in 2013, the second-longest active streak in the conference behind only Florida (19).
• Head coach Karen Hoppa will begin her 16th season at the helm for the Tigers, having won 236 games in her 21 years of coaching, good for 39th among all active coaches.
• The Tigers return their top scorer from a year ago in Casie Ramsier, who scored nine goals, one game-winner, as a freshman last season and also had four assists. All three of AU's top scorers return for 2014 along with Ramsier, seniors Tori Ball (6) and Chelsea Gandy-Cromer (4).
• 15 players return to this year's team, all but two starting at least one game in 2013. 10 freshman make up the 2014 signing class that will don the Orange and Blue for the first time. That class was ranked 13th-best in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer back in February.
Auburn Players to Watch:
• 2014 is season No. 20 for the Gator soccer program. In the program's previous 19 seasons, the Gators have compiled a 337-90-28 (.771) record, advanced to NCAA play in 17 years and won the 1998 NCAA title and claimed a league-leading 13 Southeastern Conference crowns.
• Florida opens 2014 as No. 8 on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) preseason poll. This is the program's 18th consecutive appearance in the NSCAA preseason poll. During the 2013 season, Florida turned in a record of 18-5-1, won a share of the Southeastern Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Second Round.
• Three Gators - Savannah Jordan, Havana Solaun and Christen Westphal - are among the 63 Division I players on the Preseason MAC Hermann Watch List. The MAC Hermann Trophy is the most prestigious individual award in NCAA soccer presented annually to one male and one female athlete.
• Two Gators earned NSCAA All-America second-team honors in 2013 - Jordan and Westphal. They were joined on the 2013 NSCAA All-South Region team by Solaun and goalkeeper Taylor Burke.
• Twelve of the Gators' top 13 points contributors return in 2014, including Jordan whose total of 22 goals was just one behind the nation's 2013 leader.
• Burke's 2013 goals-against-average of 0.543 ranked No. 13 among NCAA Division I goalkeepers and set Gators' season GAA record.
Florida Players to Watch:
• The Georgia soccer team returns six starters and 17 letterwinners from the 2013 campaign in which the Bulldogs went 12-7-1 and 5-5-1 in conference, with a trip to the SEC Championships quarterfinals.
• The Bulldogs bring in 13 new players for the 2014 season, including five who are currently on the roster of their respective youth national teams.
• Sophomore Marion Crowder leads the returning group, coming off a standout freshman season in which she led the Bulldogs in goals (11) and points (23), named All-SEC and to the All-Region team as a rookie.
• Georgia is aiming for its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight seasons, and ninth overall.
Georgia Players to Watch:
• Kentucky returns eight of 11 starters from the best season in program history in 2013, where UK collected 14 wins, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in program history. Kentucky collected a dominating 3-1 win over Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual national champions, UCLA.
• 2014 Honda Inspiration Award winner and returning goal scorer and point-getter, Arin Gilliland returns for her final season for the Wildcats. The Lexington, Ky., native has already set multliple school records, and is looking to etch her name into the UK record books as the best player in program history. Gilliland was just recently named to the MAC Hermann Watch List, and just returned from a stint with the Ottawa Fury FC in the W-League.
• UK will be commencing the new $7 million Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in 2014, as the Wildcats will officially open the new soccer-specific stadium on Aug. 31 against the Ohio Bobcats. The new home for UK will house separate facilities for the men's and women's programs, including new team rooms, player lounges, locker areas, coaches offices, press box and a gorgeous new grandstand. Combined with the 2011 additions of a $100,000 playing surface, a new video tower and a video board, it will immediately set the standard for college soccer facilities.
Kentucky Players to Watch:
• The Tigers return their top three scorers and six of their top seven scorers from a season ago, including leading goal scorer Summer Clarke with 10 goals during her freshman season in 2013. Emma Fletcher also returns as the SEC's leading assist maker from a year ago when she set an LSU freshman record of 12 assists a year ago.
• LSU led all NCAA women's soccer programs with four players competing at the 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Canada in August as All-SEC attacking midfielder Emma Fletcher and Class of 2014 defender recruit Jordane Carvery representing Canada and All-SEC left back Megan Lee and Class of 2014 goalkeeper recruit Lily Alfeld representing New Zealand. LSU's four World Cup participants led North Carolina, Stanford, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Harvard with three participants apiece.
• The Tigers welcome one of the Top 10 recruiting classes in the nation to campus this fall as their nine-member Class of 2014 received a No. 7 national ranking by TopDrawerSoccer.com. Joining the program are striker Jorian Baucom (Scottsdale, Arizona); midfielders Kristen Pavlick (Danville, California), Christyna Pitre (Austin, Texas) and Madeline Ramsey (Rock Hill, South Carolina); defenders Jordane Carvery (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), Emma Meckfessel (Point Reyes Station, California), Alexis Urch (Round Rock, Texas) and Ella Williams (Surrey, England); and goalkeeper Lily Alfeld (Christchurch, New Zealand).
• Six of LSU's opponents during the 2014 season will open the season ranked among the nation's Top 25 in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I Women's Preseason Top 25 poll, including No. 8 Florida, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 14 South Carolina, No. 15 Marquette, No. 18 Duke and No. 22 BYU.
LSU Players to Watch:
• Ole Miss enters the 2014 season with a bevy of upperclassmen with 14 returning lettermen and nine starters returning from a team that posted a 16-6-2 record last season and finished fourth in the SEC overall standings.
• The Rebels' 16 wins last season set the school record for wins in a season as Ole Miss hosted an NCAA Tournament game for the first time and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It marked the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance for Ole Miss and second time to advance past the first round.
• Ole Miss returns seven players who notched goals a year ago, and 39 career goals among all returning players in the junior and sophomore classes over the last two seasons.
• Defensively, the Rebels also return one of the most talented and experienced back lines in program history with all six players who drew starts returning from last season all hitting the field again. The group helped post 10 shutout victories a year ago and 17 matches with one goal or fewer allowed. The rising junior class has helped lead the Rebels to 18 shutout victories over the last two seasons and 30 total matches with no more than one goal allowed by opponents.
• In goal, the Rebels return senior Kelly McCormick who is the career win leader in goal (34) at Ole Miss and has posted 21 shutout victories for her career.
Ole Miss Players to Watch:
• Mississippi State begins it's second season under Aaron Gordon with an Aug. 13 exhibition at Memphis.
• The Bulldogs open the campaign officially Aug. 22 at home against Iowa State.
• MSU has six starters returning, including lone senior Shannen Jainudeen.
• The squad will be young, with 19 newcomers joining the squad.
Mississippi State Players to Watch:
• Missouri returns 15 letter winners and eight starters from the 2013 team that compiled an 8-9-3 mark and defeated three top-25 opponents, including two top-10 foes.
• The Tigers return the team's top two point producers from 2013, seniors Kaysie Clark and Taylor Grant. Clark, a 2013 All-SEC first team selection, tallied 15 points (six goals and three assists) last year, while Grant added 14 (five goals and four assists). Clark also earned a spot on the NSCAA All-South Region second team in 2013.
• Head Coach Bryan Blitz, entering his 19th season at Mizzou, needs just four wins to reach 300 in his career.
• Mizzou's schedule features six games against NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago.
Missouri Players to Watch:
• South Carolina finished 2013 with a 17-4-2 (8-2-1 SEC) record and went undefeated at home (11-0-0) in one of the most successful seasons in program history. The Gamecocks advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after earning the second national seed in school history, but ultimately fell to Stanford 1-0 in overtime.
• Twenty-two letterwinners, including eight starters from last season's squad, are joined by seven newcomers for the 2014 season.
• With eight of their top 10 scorers returning, the Gamecocks bring back 77.3 percent of their scoring from the 2013 campaign. Junior Raina Johnson led the team in points (21) and goals (10). SophomoresChelsea Drennan (1 goal, 12 assists, 14 points) and Daija Griffin (3 goals, 4 assists, 10 points) also highlight the returning scorers. Junior Coryn Bajema produced 14 points on three goals and four assists despite being limited to 12 games by injury.
• Senior goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo is set to anchor the defense for the fourth-consecutive season after securing the second SEC Defensive Player of the Year of her career last season. Leading the conference's top defense in 2013, she tallied 12 shutouts and a 0.59 goals against average. A semifinalist last year, D'Angelo starts this season on the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List.
• Head coach Shelley Smith is in her 14th season at South Carolina and owns a 155-93-34 record. Smith will look to lead the Garnet & Black to its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years.
South Carolina Players to Watch:
• Tennessee begins its third season under head coach Brian Pensky and UT returns 17 players from last season's squad that went 8-7-4, which marked UT's third-consecutive and 14th-overall winning season. The Volunteers also welcome 15 exciting newcomers in 2014.
• On offense UT returns 2012 NSCAA All-American and New Zealand National Team member Hannah Wilkinson, who had five goals and five assists in 2013. 2013 Second-Team All-SEC selection Allie Sirna also returns to anchor UT's stout defense.
• Sirna, who earned National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) All-America honors this past spring, leads a group primed for a big 2014 season. Last season, Sirna became the 24th Tennessee player to receive All-SEC recognition (First Team or Second Team) and was twice named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com Team of the Week for her defensive leadership.
• Tennessee will look to its younger rising stars to replace some major contributors and starters from 2013. After the graduation of key players Caroline Brown (eight goals, one assist), Katie Lenz (three goals, three assists) and Tori Bailey (two goals, two assists), the Volunteers will certainly have a new look up front.
Tennessee Players to Watch:
• The Aggies return 10 starters from 2013, of which five were All-SEC selections, including first-teamers F Shea Groom and D Meghan Streight and second-teamers GK Jordan Day, D Leigh Edwards and MF Kelley Monogue. 2012 All-SEC forward Annie Kunz also returns for her senior campaign. Overall, the Aggies' 18 returnees account for 54 of the 56 goals scored in 2013.
• Head Coach G Guerrieri enters his 22nd season at the helm of A&M soccer and is the only head coach in program history. Guerrieri and North Carolina's Anson Dorrance are the only two head coaches to appear in every NCAA Tournament since 1995.
• A&M earned its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth in 2013, ending their season at 18-5-2 after making the 12th Sweet 16 appearance in school annals. The Aggies are one of five schools to make it to every NCAA Championship since 1995. The other schools include North Carolina (1982-2013), Notre Dame (1993-2013), Virginia (1994-2013) and Penn State (1995-2012).
• Texas A&M owns a 192-29-5 (.861) all-time record at Ellis Field (formerly Aggie Soccer Stadium). The Maroon and White have called the field home since the 1994 season, playing the inaugural 1993 season at Old Tiger Field. Since 2005, the Aggies have registered a 92-13-4 (.862) mark on the friendly pitch.
Texas A&M Players to Watch:
• Vanderbilt returns 21 letterwinners and nine starters, including three (Erin Myers, Kelsey Tillman and Cherrelle Jarrett) who started all 19 games.
• The Commodores are coming off one of their best offensive seasons in recent memory. They scored 37 goals, which was the most since 2005. They also averaged 2.06 goals a game - their highest average since 2000.
• Sophomore Simone Charley returns as the team's top returning scorer after scoring five goals and dishing out five assists. The SEC All-Freshman forward is a two-sport athlete who broke the school record in the triple jump five times. She placed ninth at the NCAA Championships and was named a second-team All-American.