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Big Names Gone but Blugold Women's Soccer Still Highly Regarded
By: Tim Petermann, Athletics Consultant
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (UWECBlugolds.com) - The new-look UW-Eau Claire women's soccer team will have a significant local flavor in 2009 but expectations again will be high for veteran head coach Sean Yengo.
While seeking a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs and a fourth regular season Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in the past five years, the Blugolds must replace five players who garnered 16 All-Conference first team berths, a WIAC player of the year award, a WIAC scholar-athlete of the year award and two NSCAA/adidas second-team All-American berths over the past four seasons.
In order to reload, the Blugolds may lean heavily on three transfers from a Division II program. That trio brings a wealth of experience, competitiveness and leadership to the program which Yengo is leading for a 13th consecutive season. Also back is his top assistant for that entire time in Kimamo Wahome.
The local contingent, all from Kit Schiefelbein's Eau Claire Memorial powerhouses, includes returning players Alli Kishaba, Andrea Hull and Lisa Marco plus transfers Michelle Shannon and Richelle Shannon. The latter extend the Blugold string of consecutive years with twins on the team to five. The Shannons follow in the footprints of the departed Smith sisters, Allison and Amy, one on offense and one on defense. Kishaba transferred into the Blugold program last year and this year will anchor the middle with the potential to take over a game, according to Yengo.
Lost to the Blugolds are the "spine" of last year's team in goalkeeper Allie Rivard, sweeper Allison Smith, center mid Allison Muer and striker Amy Smith along with WIAC Player of the Year Liz Kooistra. Both Kooistra and Allison Smith were four-year All-Conference picks while Rivard and Amy Smith were three-year all-league selections and Muer earned the honor twice. Kooistra and Rivard were also second-team All-Americans last year. Kooistra eventually was named the WIAC's nominee for NCAA woman of the year and Rivard was the WIAC's soccer scholar-athlete. Amy Smith leaves as the most prolific goal scorer in school history.
The Blugolds will still have six returning starters and 15 returning letterwinners including three-year regulars Sam Krueger and Amanda Shelton and two-year letterwinners Gina Christenbury, Kelsey Figg, Megan Hillesheim, Hull, Ali Mater and Jamie Schiesel. Hull was the most improved player on the team last year while Christenbury was the freshman player of the year in 2007. Also back is last year's freshman player of the year Alyssa Walker. The other returning freshman starter from last year is Rachel Nerison.
There will be only three seniors on the squad. Besides Kishaba, they are Shelton and Krueger. The rest of the squad is split evenly over the other three classes with seven freshmen, seven sophomores and eight juniors.
Yengo is pleased with the new talent that has joined the returning veterans and figures to be deep with those additions. Depth has been a Blugold strength for a number of years.
The Blugolds have been the most successful WIAC team over the past four years with a 74-10-11 overall record and a 28-1-3 mark in regular season conference action. This success has been built on a stingy defense and opportunistic offense. During the last four seasons, the Blugolds have outscored their opponents by a 247-52 margin. Four of the Blugolds' losses in the past four years have been in the NCAA tournament. They are coming off an 18-2-4 mark last year which followed 15-3-5 in 2005, 23-3 in 2006 and 18-2-2 in 2007.
For the fourth straight year, the Blugolds have been tabbed to win the WIAC title in a preseason poll by the league's sports information directors. The Blugolds are ranked No. 15 nationally in the National Soccer Coaches Association of American preseason poll. Stevens Point, which won last year's regular season and conference tournament titles, claimed four first-place votes in the conference projections and will continue to be the Blugolds' top conference rival. The Pointers are rated No. 14 national and own a WIAC best 12 conference titles.