Teams to look out for this upcoming season
Christian Ledek | Sports Writer | @sea_led
Photos credit: Gabi Campbell | Art Director | @gabicampbellphotos
Training camps have started and exhibition matches have been played as teams in the WAC gear up for another exciting season of Women’s Soccer. All of the teams in the Western Athletic Conference had their official seasons start this past weekend with hopes and goals of becoming WAC champions.
Seattle University is coming off of a successful 2014 campaign, which saw them crowned as regular season co-champs along with the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Seattle also won the WAC tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament. The Redhawks defeated Washington State in the first round and lost to 18th-ranked University of South Carolina on penalty kicks to end their season. Seattle lost their top two goal scorers from a season ago as Stephanie Verdoia and Taylor Ritzman graduated, but they return junior midfielder Natasha Howe, who was their third leading goal scorer in 2014. Senior Kiana Kraft, who was second in the conference in assists, also returns to help lead Seattle’s potent offense, which averaged over three goals a game. A common sports cliché is that repeating as champions is the hardest thing to do, but Seattle is poised to do just that.
Utah Valley University is in its third season as part of the Western Athletic Conference. They took third place in conference play in 2014 and lost to UMKC 1-0 in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Head Coach Brent Anderson is aware that the WAC will be difficult to navigate through this year.
“There are a lot of quality teams in the WAC,” Anderson said. “Seattle is a very good team. Cal State Bakersfield was a good team last year and is expected to be much better this year. Grand Canyon will be a difficult team to face. UMKC, who knocked us out of the [conference] tournament last year, will be stronger as well. Not discounting New Mexico State, Chicago State, or UTRGV. Those are three programs that are always dangerous.”
Senior goalkeeper Jessica Duffin, who was named the 2015 Western Athletic Conference pre-season Defensive Player of the Year, will lead a defense that gave up only 0.84 goals a game, good enough for second overall in the conference. With Duffin and senior midfielder Kasandra Anderson both making the pre-season all-WAC team, the Wolverines will push the competition to win an outright conference title in 2015.
UMKC finished as co-champions in 2014 and it was no surprise that they met the other co-champion, Seattle University, in the final of the 2014 WAC Tournament as both teams had the best records in the league throughout the season. The result of the final game was surprising though, as Seattle beat the Kangaroos 5-0. Coach Chris Cissell is looking to put last year’s disappointment behind them and build on the good things UMKC accomplished.
“We’ve set very high goals. We want to win the conference and the conference tournament,” Cissell said.
Helping them achieve those high goals will be senior goalkeeper Nina Tzianos. She had the fewest goals allowed in 2014 giving up just 17 in 20 games. Finishing second means that the rest of the conference will be gunning for you, but it doesn’t deter the Roos from their goals.
“We know it won’t be easy [and] we know it will be tough…we get everyone’s best shot and we’ll expect that,” coach Cissell said.
Grand Canyon and Cal State Bakersfield will be teams to look out for as well in the WAC. They will look to improve on their fourth and sixth place finishes in 2014. Conference play begins September 26.
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