HARROGATE, Tenn. — The Lincoln Memorial University women’s soccer squad enters the 2014 season with a resilient offensive attack backed by an abundance of veteran experience geared to remain in the upper tier of the South Atlantic Conference standings.
Capped off by a run to the South Atlantic Conference Championship match and a 10-8-1 overall record, the 2013 campaign was a successful venture by nearly every measure. The Lady Railsplitters rode the No.5 seed to the SAC Championship final, beating Catawba 2-1 in the quarterfinals before knocking off 16th-nationally ranked and top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne 2-0 in the semis. However, a 2-1 loss to Wingate — brought forth by a Bulldog goal in the waning seconds — effectively ended the season.
The 2014 Lady Railsplitters’ squad is highlighted by an explosive offensive unit that emerged as one of the team’s strongest facets last season. In 2013, Lincoln Memorial carried an attacking offense that pitched in 1.63 goals per contest, while a strong backing defense held opponents to 1.05 goals per match. This season, the Lady Railsplitters welcome the return of four of its five leading scorers from a season ago, along with three members of a fortified defensive cavalry.
Headlining the attack is sophomore Michelle Hunter, who was elected to the preseason All-SAC second team in the wake of a breakout freshman season with the Lady Railsplitters. Hunter led her team in nearly every offensive category in 2013, tallying eight goals, two assists and 18 points.
Along with Hunter, the Lady Railsplitters’ offense will be strengthened by the return of senior Nicole McKinney, junior Olivia Thompson and senior Rachael Vienneau, each of whom recorded at least four goals a season ago. Both McKinney and Thompson are coming off of All-SAC honorable mention seasons, as McKinney led the team in shots with 55 and finished second in goals with seven, while Thompson netted five goals. Thompson joined Hunter on the preseason All-SAC second team. Vienneau, meanwhile, adds another veteran boost to the offense, as she posted four goals and an assist in 2013.
The Lady Railsplitters should experience an additional surge with the arrival of transfer Fernanda Miaci, a former NAIA All-American at Hannibal-Lagrange University. A scoring machine during her three-year tenure with the Trojans, Miaci compiled 46 goals and nine assists during her career at Hannibal-LaGrange.
Several returning midfielders are expected to play essential roles in 2014. Senior Brittany Jenkins leads the veteran group, while Maddy Nagy, sophomore Christina Joseph and junior Josefin Hedstrom will play pivotal roles on which the success of the Lady Railsplitters’ offense will hinge.
On the defensive side, the Lady Railsplitters return senior Kristen Cook, sophomore Krista Holka and junior Lauren Dusold, who each started all 19 games last season. The back line also welcomes newcomers Khalia Rainey and Kadie Soall. Rainey, a Powell High School product, and Soall, a Division I transfer out of Mississippi Valley, will be competing for the spot left vacant by the graduation of All-SAC first team defender Sam Adams.
Behind those four defenders, junior goalkeeper Kayla Stephens is back after starting all 19 matches in net for the Lady Railsplitters in 2013. Stephens registered a 1.06 goals against average, fourth-lowest in LMU’s single-season history, with only 20 goals allowed on 202 shots faced.
Lincoln Memorial opens the season on Sept. 5, taking on No.2 nationally-ranked West Florida in Columbus, Ga., at 5 p.m.