Ladyjack Soccer Set to Open Season
Aug. 25, 2006
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack soccer team's 2005 season was one for the record books. SFA posted a 14-4-0 season mark. That ranks as the second most wins in school history, and the Ladyjacks' .778 winning percentage is a new record. SFA also put together a school-record 11-game winning streak and posted a 7-0-0 record against Southland Conference competition -- the first undefeated, untied conference season in league history. That perfect run gave the Ladyjacks their second straight SLC championship. SFA also posted 11 shutouts, a new school and conference record. The Ladyjacks' 0.78 goals against average was the lowest in school history, and SFA outscored its opponents by an average of 1.72 goals per game, another new school record.
That performance becomes even more impressive when one considers that the Ladyjacks achieved such heights under the direction of a first-year head coach and with eight newcomers dotting the roster. But coach Jaime Frias is not content to rest on the accomplishments of the past. In fact, he wants more out of this year's squad, despite an even greater abundance of new faces for the 2006 campaign.
"I think this group will work hard to maintain and, hopefully, surpass the standard of excellence past SFA teams have achieved," the coach said of his 2006 team.
The Ladyjacks will be a young team again this season with 16 of the 22 players entering either their freshmen or sophomore year. Nine of those players -- seven freshman recruits and two college transfers -- will be suiting up in the purple and white for the first time. Still, Frias is confident that his team possesses the right mix of veteran leadership and young talent to compete for a third straight SLC championship.
"This will be an exciting team to watch, as we have a good mix of technical and athletic players on our roster," the coach said. "I'm looking forward to what 2006 will bring for our Ladyjacks."
Frias and the Ladyjacks will get their first glimpse of what's to come on Sunday, when they open the 2006 season at home against Grambling State. The game is set to start at 2 p.m. from the SFA Intramural Complex.
Following is a position-by-position look at this year's Ladyjack soccer team:
For the first time in five years, the Ladyjacks will enter the season with a question in net. The departure of four-year starter and four-time All-SLC selection Natascia Michalezki leaves a vacancy in front of the SFA goal. But Frias thinks he has two very capable answers. Sophomore Francesca Tierno and freshman Crystin Pactor will vie for the chance to fill that slot.
Tierno returns after seeing limited playing time as a freshman. The 5-4 Kingwood, Texas, native played in three games with one starting appearance for a total of 136 minutes in net. She recorded five saves, allowed no goals and was credited with one shutout.
"Fran has matured a great deal as a player over the course of the past year," Frias said. "She's gotten better at reading the game and facilitating the players around her through verbal communication. She's also become a better athlete by committing herself to our strength and conditioning program."
Pactor joins the Ladyjack squad after an impressive high school and club soccer career. The Arlington, Texas, product is a former freshman of the year for her Lamar High School team and helped lead her Challenge club squad to three straight state championships.
"Crystin is a very aggressive goalkeeper and one who takes command of her box," Frias said. "She's a very vocal goalkeeper, which helps her in organizing the back line."
Tierno and Pactor will both challenge for the starting goalkeeper position.
"I'm looking forward to seeing both of these goalkeepers compete for the number one spot, left vacant by Natascia," Frias said.
While Tierno and Pactor battle for top billing in goal, the most hotly contested duels for playing time may be taking place right in front of them. The Ladyjacks opened fall camp with eight players gunning for half that many starting positions in the backfield. And, according to Frias, the competition looks pretty even.
"All of the eight backs we have coming in this year can potentially start for us," the coach said. "It will be good to see who rises to the challenges of pre-season and earns the three or four starting spots available."
The two most experienced returning defenders are junior Keyli Townsend and senior Jill Robison. Townsend started all 18 games last season, and Robison played in all but one contest, earning 14 starts. The duo played key roles on a Ladyjack squad that posted a school- and conference-record 11 shutouts. SFA allowed less than a goal a game for the year.
Townsend is valued both for her athleticism and field awareness. She also recorded three assists in 2005, which tied her for second on the team.
"Keyli is a vocal player and does well organizing the players around her," Frias said. "She's extremely fast and does very well in the air for us. She will be a player we will look to for leadership and stability in our back line."
Robison is expected to take a leading role in her fourth year as a Ladyjack.
"Jill brings a great deal of experience to the outside back position," Frias said. "She's played in big games and knows how to handle the competitive pressure that comes along with it. Jill's leadership qualities will also help mentor many of our young backs we have coming in this year."
Cotton played in 13 games last year, 10 of which were shutout victories for SFA.
"Cotton has all the qualities that make an excellent center back for our program," Frias said. "She's good in the air, strong on the tackle and good at playing balls over long distances."
Jackson saw action in 15 contests with two starting appearances. She also scored a goal in SFA's 3-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
"Alie is an outside back who has gained valuable experience throughout the course of the year," Frias said. "She had moments of brilliance last fall and has worked hard on making her performance more consistent."
Turner started the first three games of the year before an injury ended her rookie campaign. Frias expects her to be an impact player for the Ladyjacks this season.
"Jenna is arguably the most athletic player on our team," the coach said. "She's a very tough one-versus-one defender and does a great job attacking out of the back. We will look to Jenna to contribute to our team's success in a significant way this year."
In addition to his returning players, Frias landed three freshman defenders in the offseason, all of whom could easily see a ton of playing time as rookies. Jessica Huggins, Brittany Haugen and Meagan Trifaux will add a great deal of talented depth to the Ladyjack backfield.
Huggins is a speedy player who, in addition to her skills as a defender, plays well with the ball at her feet.
"In my opinion, Jess is one of the best defenders to come out of Texas this year," Frias said. "Her quickness and agility make her a great one-versus-one defender."
Haugen is an athletic player who can be a valuable offensive asset, even from the back line.
"Brittany is tall, athletic, vocal, good in the air and a good distributor of the ball," Frias said. "She constantly wins balls in the center of the field and does an outstanding job of starting her team's counter-attack."
Trifaux is a blue-chip recruit from Canada who Frias describes as "the complete center back."
"Meg is one of the most competitive players I've seen on the soccer field," the coach said. "She can play as either a center back or forward but will most likely play on the back line for us this year. She's good in the air, tenacious, good on the ball and very athletic. She will look to fill one of the voids left by Kim Gray and Camren Norris."
While a stingy defense has been one of the most notable trademarks of recent SFA teams, the Ladyjacks' strongest point in 2006 might be smack dab in the middle. SFA will suit up seven midfielders this season, six of whom already have collegiate playing experience.
"On paper, we have one of the best midfields SFA has ever produced," Frias said. "The great thing about this group is that we have a great deal of depth in every position. I'm looking forward to watching this group produce an attractive brand of soccer."
Senior Andrea Ramirez will anchor the midfield corps. Injury forced her out of the lineup after only seven games last season. In 2004, Ramirez was named second-team All-SLC, and she earned conference all-tournament honors as a freshman in 2003.
"Andrea has been the heart and soul of this team when it comes to leading by example," Frias said. "She's done a great job rehabbing an injury that ended her season early last year. She is hungry and motivated to play, more so than any other year she's been here. I expect her to do big things for the program her senior year."
Surkein put together a break-out year in 2005, when she earned seven starts and played in all 18 contests. She scored two goals and assisted on two others, both career-highs.
"Mary is another one of our veteran players," Frias said. "She brings a wealth of experience to the outside mid position and knows how to handle the pressure of big games. As an outside player, Mary does an excellent job of keeping possession of the ball in the middle and final third of our field."
Lackey is coming off a strong freshman campaign that earned her second-team all-conference honors. She finished with seven goals and three assists, both good enough for second on the team. Her strong play in the middle earned her 13 starting appearances. And, according to Frias, she will only get better.
"Amanda is a player who improved tremendously over the spring," the coach said. "She's a player who can take over a game at any given moment. Her competitive drive and desire to win set her apart from other players. Amanda has the potential to become one of the best center midfielders this conference has ever seen."
As Bradfield adjusted to the collegiate game last season, she showed her value as a player who can combine well with teammates. Her four assists in 2005 led the team.
"Summer really matured into a great outside mid for us last year," Frias said. "She's starting to read the game a lot better, which is allowing her to impact the action more. I would have to say that the most dangerous thing about Summer is her ability to cross the ball with precision and pace."
Schwind and Fricks both transferred from Texas Tech this offseason, in time to participate in spring drills, and both have already impressed their new coach.
"Rachel's work ethic and passion for the game is as good or better than any player ever to wear an SFA jersey," Frias said. "She's a technical player who reads the game extremely well. I expect her to fight for a starting role as a center midfielder this year.
"Lauren is one of the most explosive players on the team. Her mobility off the ball is good, and she does a great job as a flank player. She's another player who is superb at crossing the ball with pace and accuracy."
The only freshman in the bunch is Plano, Texas, product Kelli Wilson. Despite her youth, Wilson has already demonstrated to Frias that she possesses good field vision and confidence under pressure.
"Kelli is one of those players who is always cool, calm and collected, no matter how important or how much pressure there is in a game," the coach said. "This quality, along with her ability to distribute the ball and connect passes, will make her an excellent midfielder for us. What impresses me the most about Kelli is that, for a young player, she reads the game very well."
In recent years, this group has been at the front for SFA in more ways than one. Each of the last two years -- and for three of the last five -- a Ladyjack forward has led the SLC in points. SFA has cause for even more excitement this season with the league's last two leading scorers both returning for the 2006 campaign. Sophomore Amanda Alders and senior Shahin Pabani will headline a talented group of forwards with a lot of goal-scoring potential.
"The players we have this year at the forward slot are amazing," Frias said. "Every single one of these women is capable of scoring tons of goals for us. Amanda and Shin highlight the group with a wealth of experience and scoring ability."
Pabani was sidelined with an injury early last season, but not before she opened the year on a hot streak, scoring three goals in the Ladyjacks' first four games. Pabani was coming off an impressive 2004 campaign, when she set a school record for points in a single season with 36. She also tied the SFA record for single-season goals with 15. Pabani was named first-team All-SLC for her efforts.
"Shin is probably the most technical player we have on our team," Frias said. "She handles the ball with such grace in tight spaces, especially inside the opponents' 18-yard box. Injuries prevented her from dominating our conference last year, but I expect her to take her game to the next level in 2006."
Frias expects Alders to join his veteran star on that next level. The Colleyville, Texas, native posted the best freshman season in school history in 2005. Her 33 points and 15 goals were both Ladyjack rookie records and both totals were good enough to lead the conference. Alders also led all SLC players in game-winning goals. Her exploits led to her being named SLC Freshman of the Year, marking the second time a Ladyjack has earned that honor.
"Amanda dominates the top of the 18-yard box like no other player in our conference," Frias said. "Her strength, power and agility make her the most dominant target forward in our league. Amanda's ability to combine with players around her has improved tremendously over the spring. This will make it more difficult for opponents to mark her in 2006."
Palmacci is a fast, aggressive player whose ball-handling skills can create space for herself in one-on-one situations.
"Erika will add a great deal of explosiveness and speed to our team," Frias said. "She's an attacking personality who always looks to penetrate defenses with the runs she makes. When the ball is at her feet, she's technical and creative enough to beat people one-versus-one."
Crockett gives SFA a big, athletic forward who can score in the air when given the opportunity.
"I saw Brenna play for the first time at a camp I attended in Canada last summer," Frias said. "She immediately caught my attention when she went up to head a ball off a cross and struck it with such power. She's tall, strong, athletic and very fast. We will look for Brenna to add a different dimension to our team this year."
-- SFA --