SOCCER SQUAD TABBED AS OVC PRESEASON FAVORITES
August 8, 2012
MARTIN, Tenn. – Coming off the most successful campaign The University of Tennessee at Martin soccer program has ever seen, the Skyhawks are once again primed to contend for a championship. The Skyhawks are the Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorites for the first time in program history, as UT Martin garnered 13 out of 22 first-place votes and 190 points overall in the poll, conducted by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors.
“We are building on several firsts for the program,” said third-year Skyhawk head coach Phil McNamara, who guided the program to a record 14 victories and first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance last season. “We are taking a healthy step forward as a program. Being chosen first shows a respect factor that we have established around the league. It is an honor to gain the confidence of our competitors on reflection of a good year and I thank them for that."
Last year’s regular-season champion Southeast Missouri (180 points) accounted for the nine other first-place votes. Morehead State – who the Skyhawks defeated in the OVC Tournament championship in 2011 – came in at third place with 143 points, followed by Eastern Kentucky (130 points), Belmont (122), Murray State (122), SIU Edwardsville (98), Austin Peay (92), Eastern Illinois (65), Jacksonville State (33) and Tennessee Tech (33).
In order for the Skyhawks to return to the postseason, the team will have to replace a rock-solid senior class that established itself as the heartbeat of the program. Gone are Melissa Govea (2011 OVC Defensive Player of the Year and first teamer), Brooke Robertson (two-time All-OVC first teamer), Rosaelia Loza (17 goals in two seasons), Katie Imperiale (five career game-winning goals) and Lauren MacKenzie (program’s all-time leader with 10 shutouts over two seasons). Together those five players started 218 matches in their careers, combining for 41 goals, 18 assists and 150 saves.
Knowing his team would only have two seniors, McNamara quickly hit the recruiting trail and brought in seven transfers amongst his nine overall newcomers.
“We tried to be smart with this recruiting class because we did graduate five players who played a lot of minutes and did well for our program,” McNamara said. “We felt it would be difficult to replace their leadership with freshmen so we brought in a good recruiting class with a lot of maturity.”
Four of those newcomers (Jessica Horvatich, Jessica Johnson, Melisa Erturk, Ashley Reveiz) have previously played at Division-I universities, while Jenna Merrill helped her team win a national championship in the junior college ranks. Sarah Tompkins and Ashlie Watson also join the Skyhawks after performing well for in-state NAIA programs.
“All of our transfers come from strong programs – they will know the expectations and demands of the collegiate level and that will help offset the leadership we lost from last year,” McNamara said.
While leadership is undoubtedly a key component to the team’s success, the cupboard is far from bare. In fact, McNamara believes his 2012 squad could give last season’s record-setting team a run for their money.
“We are excited about our overall talent,” McNamara said. “As a squad, this team has more depth and is the best I’ve had here at UT Martin. I am saying that with caution because we are young. We certainly hope to sustain the success we enjoyed last year.”
Amongst UT Martin’s returnees are a pair of All-OVC caliber players from last season. Senior Midori Sera and sophomore Amy Maksimowicz were named to the league’s All-Newcomer squad this past season and project to be a big part of the team’s game plans on offense and defense, respectively.
Senior Kendyl Wilson, who has started 47 of her 57 matches in her three-year career, will look to build off a steady junior campaign in which she was one of four players to rack up double-figure point totals. Hannah McGowen (OVC-leading and UT Martin single-season record 10 assists) and Alyssa Curtis (second on the team with five goals as a freshman) also return after eclipsing the double-digit point plateau in 2011.
Reigning OVC Tournament MVP Lucy Pater played well down the stretch in 2011 and will look to parlay that into bigger success this fall. The Skyhawks will also be paced by Abi Sanvee (six goals in two seasons) and Mary Thompson, who became one of only six players to record a five-point outing when she accomplished the feat in the OVC Tournament semifinals against Eastern Kentucky last season.
Dominika Conc, who showed flashes of brilliance last season as a freshman, and 2010 All-OVC Newcomer Sam Dunn (rehabbing season-ending injury suffered last September) will also look to contribute out of the midfielder position this season.
Also joining Maksimowicz to form this year’s defensive core is junior Morgan Brandon, who has 23 career starts under her belt. McNamara also expects incoming freshmen Corrie Dew and Jaclyn Heckle to come in and immediately push for playing time.
In goal, Mariah Klenke will look to continue the success she experienced last season as a freshman. She notched a Skyhawk record 10 victories and was named to the All-OVC Tournament team after conceding only two goals in 257 minutes of play.
Another factor that comes into play after winning a championship is the proverbial target on the team’s back. The Skyhawks will no longer be able to “sneak up” on their opponents and must be prepared to face the most out of the competition each and every night. That certainly will be the case this season, as McNamara has dotted the slate with formidable non-conference foes. Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Purdue headline the opposition, while the Skyhawks will also duel with Mississippi Valley State, Butler, Arkansas State, Lipscomb, Georgia State and Kennesaw State - with all but one of those games coming on the road or at a neutral site.
“We strengthened the schedule immensely this year,” McNamara said. “Our first 8-10 games will put us to the test against great opponents this fall.”
All in all, McNamara believes his team’s potential will shine through as the year progresses.
“You can’t measure our success off what we did last year,” McNamara said. “In a roundabout way, we could be better personnel-wise but the results may not reflect that because of the strength of schedule. If the non-conference games can provide a balance of learning experience along with wins, that will prepare us and give us some confidence for the OVC season.”