UCA women's soccer team gearing up for 2014 season

After making the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time in program history last season, the Central Arkansas women’s soccer program is gearing up to make a run at a second consecutive appearance this season. The Bears will count on a seasoned squad that returns six starters and 13 lettermen to help reach the tournament.

The Central Arkansas offense returns 58 percent of its offense production from last year’s squad, despite the loss of record-setting forward Adriana Lucar (9 goals, 4 assists) to graduation. Senior Brooke Ballard (5 goals, 2 assists) and sophomore Shelby Wilson (4 goals, 4 assists) are the returning offensive leaders, followed closely by sophomore Kate Koch (4 goals, 2 assists). “Having three of our top four points leaders back is huge, from a stability standpoint,” said Bears head coach Jeremy Bishop. “But also, a lot of the stuff that led to Adriana having so many points came from the midfield, and our entire midfield is returning. Obviously, we’ll have to figure out who’s going to put the ball in the net, but I feel like we’ll still be able to create those opportunities through our midfield play.”

The biggest question for the Bears this year is in goal, where they will depend on a pair of freshmen: Sarah Mayorga and Anna Hughes. “We have two freshmen coming in that I think are very capable of playing at this level,” said Bishop. “Obviously we’ll evaluate throughout the preseason and into the non-conference schedule to figure out who is going to give us the best chance, but a big part of that is the defense in front, and we don’t return a lot there either.”

On the back line, the Bears are looking to replace the contributions of graduated seniors Alexa Herbers and Emma Reed, who rank first and second in school history in minutes played. “We’ve got a little bit of experience returning, with Megan (Thomas) and Lauren (Trueheart), but we’re going to be a young and inexperienced backline for the most part,” said Bishop. “If we can get them going and get them to understand what we’re trying to do from a defensive standpoint, then I feel like we can protect the goalkeeping. I’m optimistic that they’re going to do well because most of our teams have been good defensively, which is through organization and understanding where they’re supposed to be based on where the ball is.”

UCA senior Brooke Ballard of Conway. (Josh Goff photo)

Last season, despite a large senior class, the Bears saw a lot of contributions from freshmen. Wilson and Koch led the way, but Allie Coleman and Chele Naudin both saw action in more than half of Central Arkansas’ matches. With a year of experience under their belts, Bishop expects even more from his sophomores. “I think that they’re going to be a big part of our success,” he said. “Obviously we do have some good senior leadership and a lot of players there, but those sophomores got a lot of playing time last year. They’ve got a lot of experience and a better understanding of what it takes to play at this level, and hopefully they can build on that this year. I think more than anything else, they’ve got a better understanding of their schedules and what it takes on a daily basis to be successful. They have the soccer ability, which they showed last year; now if they can incorporate some of those other things, then they’ll continue to excel.”

Due to such a large senior class last season, the Bears will see 14 players don the purple and grey for the first time. This freshman class stands to have a shot at making an immediate impact, as five starting positions need to be filled. “I thing we’ve got a really good group coming in and that the level of play from them is the highest that we’ve seen from a freshmen class in a while,” said Bishop of his new players. “We’ll see how it goes in the preseason, but we’re expecting Dayna (Mounie) to score some goals, we’re expecting Stacia (Carroll) and Jessica (Pantuso) to come in and help solidify the back line, and of course we’re looking for success from the keepers. We’ll see what they’re capable of from a game-time standpoint, but from a day-in, day-out perspective, we’re going to be better than we’ve been due to the size and the ability of this group. We’re excited to have them join us and incorporate them with our other players, and I think it’s going to be exciting to see how they do as freshmen.”

The Bears’ schedule, as always, features some strong opponents, as Central Arkansas will take the field against the likes of UMKC and Oklahoma in non-conference play, before battling the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana during their Southland Conference slate.