HARROGATE, Tenn. — This is a complete and comprehensive preview of the upcoming Lincoln Memorial University women’s soccer season, including position-by-position analysis, a quick review of last season and quotes from head coach Helio D’Anna.
Following a 4-1 loss to second-ranked West Florida and a frustrating 1-0 setback to Coker early in the season, the Lady Railsplitters went 10 consecutive matches without suffering a loss, the second-longest lossless streak in program history. That stretch helped Lincoln Memorial account for a 9-4-2 regular season record and earn the No. 4 seed for the South Atlantic Conference Championship.
Heartbreak met the Lady Railsplitters in the opening round of the SAC tournament as LMU and Catawba were locked in a 1-1 draw through 110 minutes of action in Harrogate before the Indians advanced into the semifinal round with a narrow 5-4 win in the decisive penalty kick shootout.
The Lady Railsplitters were ranked seventh in the NCAA Division II Southeast Region rankings for the better part of the season, but that loss extinguished any hope of breaking back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
Despite the difficult ending, the Lady Railsplitters’ fourth-place SAC finish was the program’s best since 2007.
“Coming from the year before last when we made it to the conference final, the girls put a lot of pressure on themselves to do even better last season,” D’Anna said when asked about the 2014 campaign. “They did that in the regular season and accomplished a number of things, but it was short lived. But all in all, I would classify the last two seasons as great seasons. And if you look at the number of returners and the quality of the incoming players, we look to build on those two seasons.”
The Lady Railsplitters graduated seven seniors off of last season’s team, and no position was more directly affected by those departures than the forwards. NSCAA All-Southeast Region first team selection Fernanda Miaci, All-SAC second team pick Nicole McKinney, and key contributor Rachael Vienneau – a trio that combined for 13 goals and 110 shot attempts – are no longer with the program.
Despite those losses, the Lady Railsplitters return a pair of All-SAC forwards in junior Michelle Hunter (Tecumseh, Ontario) and senior Olivia Thompson (Melbourne, Florida).
Hunter ranked second on the team and ninth in the SAC with six goals last season, increasing her career goal total to 14. The Tecumseh, Ontario native added two assists, 30 shots and 15 shots on goal over 1,223 minutes. Thompson, meanwhile, produced two goals and 11 shot attempts in just 702 minutes. She enters her final season in the Blue and Gray with nine career markers.
Senior Madison Rivard (Roanoke, Texas) could also make an impact at the top of the Lady Railsplitters’ offensive alignment, as she has accounted for a goal and two assists in three seasons in Harrogate.
Six of LMU’s 15 new faces will be competing for minutes at the forward spot, but Caroline Souza (Sao Paulo, Brazil) is expected to make the most immediate contributions.
“We graduated a couple of four-year players that left at their peak and those are big shoes to fill,” D’Anna said. “But we have a couple of seniors (Thompson and Rivard) that are ready to peak and we are bringing at least four players that, as freshmen, are as ready to make an impact as anybody I’ve seen so far.”
A solid, senior trio returns to the midfield to account for arguably the Lady Railsplitters’ strongest area of the field, as Kadie Soall (Tecumseh, Ontario), Maddy Nagy (Viera, Florida) and Josefin Hedstrom (Burtrask, Sweden) each appeared in at least 13 matches in 2014.
Soall – a transfer from Mississippi Valley State University – was stellar in her debut with the Lady Railsplitters, tallying two goals and two assists over more than 1,300 minutes.
Nagy, who is entering the 2015 season with 99 career shots, was tied for the team lead with three assists last season, while adding a goal, 42 shot attempts and 14 shots on goal.
A 2012 All-SAC first team selection, Hedstrom appeared in 13 matches last season. She has accounted for four goals and three assists in her three seasons with the Lady Railsplitters.
Senior Morgan Brinson (Southlake, Texas) could also be looked upon for some production. Brinson enters the season with 10 career appearances.
A large portion of the Lady Railsplitters’ recruiting class was dedicated to the midfield, as Isa Jara (Miami, Florida.), Alyssa Berry (St. Joseph, Michigan), Kaitlyn Waddle (Corbin), Amanda Perez (Miami) and Claire Leasure (Franklin, Tennessee), among others, could be asked to contribute this season.
“That’s probably the area of the field that I feel is the most ready,” commented D’Anna. “I like the fact that Maddy, Kadie and Josefin played this summer. They look good, they’re in shape and they are showing real leadership. We are also bringing some newcomers that are pretty exciting. They are different from our normal mold but they fit the Brazilian style.”
With a solid core of returning veterans, defense should be a true strength for the Lady Railsplitters in 2015.
2014 All-SAC honorable mention selection Krista Holka (Harrison Township, Michigan) and four-year starter Lauren Dusold (Spirit Lake, Iowa) will lead the back line.
Dusold led the Lady Railsplitters in minutes played last season with 1,434, accounting for an assist and three shots over that span. She enters her senior season with 48 career appearances and 3,847 career minutes played, the 19th-highest mark in program history.
Holka ranked second on the team last season with 1,371 minutes despite missing a match due to injury. The Harrison Township native has amassed 4,025 minutes – ranked 17th in program history – over the course of 45 career appearances.
That pair, along with goalkeeper Kayla Stephens (Keller, Texas), helped the Lady Railsplitters limit opponents to 1.13 goals per game. D’Anna spoke highly of his senior duo, saying “I truly believe Holka and Lauren are the best in their positions in the South Atlantic Conference.”
The Lady Railsplitters’ roster features three talented goalkeepers in Stephens, Kathryn Lundy (Pinckney, Michigan) and Brooke Taylor (White Pine, Tennessee).
Stephens served as the primary keeper last season, consuming over 1,200 minutes in net. Stephens ranked fifth in the SAC with a 0.99 goals against average, while also accounting for an 80.6 save percentage. She enters her senior season ranked second all-time at LMU with a career 1.10 goals against average.
Lundy made two starts and six appearances in 2014, compiling a 1.82 goals against average with seven saves.
Taylor is a 5-10 freshman from Jefferson County High School, who will also be competing for the women’s basketball team this winter.
“As far as keeper is concerned, this is the best trio I’ve ever had. I’ve got to be smart and find a way to keep everybody happy, but that’s a good problem to have.”
The defense will get a boost from a familiar face, as junior Marissa Kiernan (Port St. Lucie, Florida) makes the transition from the midfield to defender. Kiernan contributed a goal and an assist over 15 appearances last season.
Sophomore Khalia Rainey (Knoxville, Tennessee) and freshmen Emily Peel (Newcastle, England), Allyson Flock (Charleston, Tennessee), Courtney Boyd (Chattanooga, Tennessee) and Samantha Brumm (Cottage Grove, Minnesota) will also have the opportunity to earn minutes on the back line.
The Lady Railsplitters open the season against West Alabama on Sept. 4 in Montevallo, Alabama.