ROCK HILL, S.C. — Fresh off of the program’s best finish in seven seasons, the Lady Railsplitters have been tabbed No. 3 in the 2015 South Atlantic Conference Women’s Soccer preseason coaches’ poll, it was announced by league officials on Monday. Additionally, junior forward Michelle Hunter (Tecumseh, Ontario) has been selected to the preseason All-SAC second team.
Only 12th-ranked and five-time defending SAC regular season champion Lenoir-Rhyne and two-time reigning SAC tournament champion Wingate, who both made NCAA Southeast Regional appearances last season, finished ahead of Lincoln Memorial in the league’s preseason poll.
Lenoir-Rhyne received seven first-place votes and 127 points to take the top spot, while Wingate fell just a single point behind the Bears with five first-place tallies.
The Lady Railsplitters received 103 points to finish eight points ahead of No. 4 Newberry and 13 points in front of No. 5 Catawba. Tusculum rounded out the top half of the poll in sixth with 89 points.
“Preseason rankings and preseason All-conference only means so much until everything starts, but I’d rather be towards the top in terms of overall perception than the other way around,” LMU head women’s soccer coach Helio D’Anna said. “With that said, our conference conceivably has 10 teams that can beat be anybody on any given day, so you’ve got to show up every single match.”
A year removed from making an appearance in the SAC Championship title game, the Lady Railsplitters compiled a 9-4-2 regular season record in 2014. Riding the wave of a 10-game lossless streak, the second-longest such streak in program history, LMU finished fourth in the final SAC standings, which was the program’s best league showing since 2007. The Lady Railsplitters also earned the opportunity to host their quarterfinal round match of the SAC tournament for the first time since that same year.
D’Anna recognized the show of respect by being grouped with the SAC’s elite programs in the preseason prognostications, but he was quick to note that respect is fleeting without results to merit that high regard.
“Respect, to an extent, is as important as anything else. I want people to be a little bit nervous about playing us. But you can blow that in a hurry if you don’t go out there and perform.”
No. 7 Queens (77), No. 8 Anderson (62), No. 9 Carson-Newman (56), No. 10 Coker (35), No. 11 Mars Hill (33) and No. 12 Brevard (31) completed the lower half of the poll.
Along with the preseason poll results, the league office unveiled the 26 preseason All-SAC selections with Michelle Hunter earning a spot on the second team.
Hunter received her second consecutive All-SAC selection in 2014 after compiling six goals, two assists, 30 shots and 15 shots on goal over the course of 16 starts. The Tecumseh, Ontario native sizzled during a five-match stretch from September 17 to October 4, scoring five goals, including the game-winning marker in a 1-0 victory at Newberry.
“Michelle is finally healthy,” D’Anna said about his junior striker. “Most people don’t know what this kid went through day-to-day for the last two seasons, but she went through a lot. She has a passion for fitness and she works hard in the weight room. I’m thrilled for her and I want her to put it all together and have a great year. Looking at her day-to-day in practice, I think she will do just that.”
Hunter has made a tremendous impact in his first two seasons in the Blue and Gray, racking up 14 goals, four assists, 82 shots and 40 shots on goal. Four of her 14 goals have been game-winners.
Hunter is currently 11th in program history with a career 0.40 goals per game average. She is also ranked eighth all-time with 1.14 shots on goal per match.
A trip to Montevallo, Alabama awaits the Lady Railsplitters in the season-opening weekend, as LMU travels to the Yellowhammer State for nonconference tilts against both West Alabama (Sept. 4) and Montevallo (Sept. 6).
The Lady Railsplitters kick off South Atlantic Conference play at Brevard on Sept. 16 before making their LMU Soccer Complex debut against Queens on Sept, 19.