Soccer team prepares for continued success

Coming off a summer that included a Women’s World Cup championship for the United States, the hunger for more soccer is growing in America. The appetite for great soccer is not hard to satisfy at North Alabama.

The UNA soccer team is hoping to build the upcoming 2015 season off a very successful 2014 season in which the Lions made an appearance in the Gulf South Conference championship game and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament. Last season, the Lions finished with a 14-4-2 regular season record (10-2 GSC).

The Lions have a good deal of experience coming back. UNA has 14 returning lettermen, with six of those being returning starters.

One of the six starters is senior Chloe Richards, who racked up numerous honors last season, including GSC Player of the Year and Daktronics Division II National Player of the Year.

“Obviously Chloe had a fantastic year last year,” said head coach Chris Walker. “I just want her to go out there and compete. She’s still going to score a handful of goals but if she gets double-teamed we’ve got other players that can take over that role now hopefully.”

Richards understands the double-team strategy teams may use against her but she does not think it will slow her down this season.

“I’m going to have to expect to be man-marked and double-teamed and that’s fine,” Richards said. “I’m not worried. I think I’ve worked as hard as I can and I don’t think it’s going to slow me down. I’ve trained enough to combat it.”

Other returning starters include first team All-GSC defender Alyssa Bova, second team All-GSC players Susan Lang,

Ele Costello and Beatriz Fernandes, along with sophomore midfielder Kristen Sinden.

The Lions have a lot of talent and experience returning but also lost a lot of experience and leadership. With key players moving on last season, UNA will be relying on others to take leadership roles.

“Chloe (Richards) leads by example,” Walker said. “She’s not the vocal leader. Susan (Lang) takes a lot of that responsibility. Susan, Mel (Leonida) and Alyssa (Bova) are the three captains and they’ll do a fantastic job leadership-wise.”

Along with the 14 returners, the Lions have also added seven new players to the roster including six freshmen and a transfer.

“It’s exciting to have a freshman class to come in and compete to play straight away,” said Walker. “We’re not dependent on them, but it’s nice to have the competition and it’s pushed the returners because they see that.”

After a brilliant 2014 campaign and with so many starters returning, naturally the expectations are high for UNA. The Lions were recently ranked third in the GSC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, a respectable position in a conference that is very deep.

“I think third is a nice place to be,” said Lang. “West Florida is obviously up there and Lee is able now to come in and compete for the conference. Obviously they’re a very strong team. I think it’ll be a hard year but a good year. We have a good team coming up.”

The Lions start the season on the road at McKendree on Sept. 3. UNA’s home debut is Sept. 11 vs. Kentucky Wesleyan.