Soccer women slated for exciting season

As the summer starts to fade away, students’ minds start to drift to what the fall will bring. Here at Saint Louis University students begin to think about move-in day, new classes, and of course, soccer.

SLU soccer fans have come to expect that each fall the team will win the conference regular season title, make a run through the C-USA tournament and cap the season off with a spot in the NCAA tournament. Of course we are talking about the men’s soccer program, but this year expect to see both SLU soccer teams taking aim at accomplishing all that.

That’s right, the SLU women’s soccer team is gearing up for another season under head coach Tim Champion, who is entering his seventh season with the Billikens. Fourth year assistant Janet Oberle, a charter member of the women’s team, and fifth-year goalkeeper coach Jay Zaber, a goalie for the men’s team in the mid-90s, flank Champion. This year’s team boasts nine seniors, including All-Conference selections forward Jenny Kehl and goalkeeper Meghann Burke.

Also returning for the Bills are Conference USA Freshman of the Year, Jamie Perry, and the team’s thrid leading scorer from a year ago, Anny Lucier.

The heavily touted freshman class looks to provide balance and will be vital to the success of the veteran laden team.

This year’s schedule has the usual dose of conference games intertwined with games against teams from some of the top conferences in the nation.

Overall, the team faces a very formidable schedule with this year’s toughest game being on Sept.15th against the Connecticut Huskies, who are expected to be among the top 10 teams in the nation.

One of the “must-see” games on the Billikens slate this season is the home opener on Friday, Aug. 30, versus Drury. After that match the team will be traveling to Vanderbilt to play a day game on Sept. 1.

The Billikens will begin their C-USA campaign on the road Sept. 20 against Memphis. The C-USA action will continue Sept. 22 at UAB.

The Bills will open their conference schedule the following weekend against Southern Miss and South Florida.

SLU will host C-USA rival Marquette for the first time in three years on Oct. 13, while another conference foe, Charlotte, completes the regular season in St. Louis on Nov. 1.

Coach Champion has his team in three tournaments this season, beginning with the Toys for Tots Tournament, which the Billikens will host on Friday and Sunday, Sept. 6 & 8 at Hermann Stadium. Army, Navy and Air Force will play in the tournament with SLU drawing Army on Friday and Navy on Sunday.

The Billikens will also participate in Wisconsin’s tournament during the weekend of Sept. 13 where they will face Davidson and national power Connecticut.

The team will head west to Tucson, Arizona, for Arizona’s Tournament, where the the women are set to play Big Sky champion Idaho State on Oct. 4 and either Youngstown State or host Arizona on Oct. 6.

As difficult as this season’s schedule looks, Champion says, “If we aren’t at least fighting it out for the conference championship, we’ll be disappointed.”

But don’t look to be disappointed because this team is filled with talent, experience and poise. Key players to keep an eye on this season are standouts Kehl, Perry and Burke.

Also, look for freshman Christie Cigno, a local standout from St. Joseph’s High School, to draw some attention this year.

One of the key supporting players for the Billikens is senior back Megan McNiff, whose consistency and hard work are vital to the team’s performances and stability throughout the season.

Players returning from injuries are going to play a big part in how far this year’s team will fare.

Sophomore Blair Douglass returns from ankle sugery and last year’s sweeper Tressa Pecher is coming off of both feet and knee surgerie.

Sophomore Erin Stay is recovering from compartment syndrome surgery (deals with the shins), senior Katie Zaegel had ACL surgery this offseason, and both Ellen Gerwick and Erin Schwetye look to be 100 percent after suffering from stress fractures last year.

With these players healthy, the team should be able to improve upon last seasons 8-10-1 record.

“Our expectations are a lot higher this year. They have to be,” Champion believes.

Once the season starts, the Billikens are well-positioned to dominate Conference USA play with their roster full of healthy and experienced competitors.

The team is capable of meeting Champion’s expectations for the regular season and are likely contenders for advancing beyond regular season play.