Poll predicts soccer No. 1

UNA soccer is coming off of a strong 2011 season and looking to improve in  national play this year, officials said.

The Lions went 17-4 overall last year, which included a 6-1 record in the Gulf South Conference.

After winning the GSC tournament, UNA advanced to the NCAA regional tournament for the third straight year.  But for some of the seniors, that won’t be enough this season.

“This is our most talented team yet,” said senior midfielder Nikki Brown.  “This is the year.”

“This team has the most depth since I’ve been here,” said senior midfielder Jo Chubb.

The Lions have been picked to repeat as GSC champions in a coach’s preseason poll, but junior striker Jennifer Osmond said predictions are not so important.

“We want to win a national championship, and we think we can do it this year,” Osmond said.  “We know we have to focus on the season and big games like West Florida in order to get where we want to be.”

Coach Graham Winkworth has had success in his nine seasons at UNA but said that this year he is not focusing so much on the wins and losses.  

“We have a strong team this year, and I know the results will sort themselves out,” Winkworth said.  “I want us to focus on playing an attractive style of soccer. The wins will come as they should.”

Winkworth said his team is working on establishing a more possession-based game.

“Some of the opponents that we face will pack their defense in, which makes it difficult for us to set up a shot on goal,” said Winkworth.“By possessing the ball more, we can pull their defense out and eventually find that last pass to create a scoring chance.”

UNA also mixes in different formations depending on the opponent.

“We vary our formations and our overall tactics each game based on our opponent,” Osmond said.  “We have enough talent at each position which allows us to be confident in changing tactics or formations even throughout a game.”

The Lions will have a new face at goalkeeper this season after starter Alex McLay graduated. Winkworth said no one has sealed the starting spot in goal yet.

“There is a battle for the starting goalkeeper position including a couple of freshmen,” Winkworth said. “No one has separated themselves at that position just yet.”

The Lions have some important  games at home this season, and Winkworth and the players said they look forward to playing in front of the home crowd.

“We really like our home field and we have a great atmosphere for some games,” said Chubb.  “We want to do well enough in conference play so that we can host playoff games all the way to the finals.”

The Lions open their season at home against Tennessee Wesleyan on Aug. 31 at 7 p.m.