When the University of Arkansas soccer team took the field for its Aug. 21 season opening win over Michigan, it was under the direction of first-year Razorback head coach Erin Aubry. After a spring season of four exhibition matches and the new coaching staff getting familiar with the players, and vice versa, the Razorbacks are set to provide a follow-up to their performance from last season, in which they equaled the program record with 11 victories.
“There is a tremendous excitement about this season from, both, the players and the coaching staff,” Aubry said. “There are some high expectations that the players are putting on themselves and that we, as the coaching staff, are putting on them, too, because of that excitement. It will, no doubt, be a growing year as you want all seasons to be, but this particular season, it will come from this team’s growth as competitors.”
The coaching staff, which also includes assistant coaches Christine Liberto and Tim Nowak, will work with a 2009 squad that features a true mix of veterans and newcomers. The Arkansas roster features 14 upperclassmen and 13 freshmen and sophomores.
As always, leadership will be essential as the team builds chemistry through the non-conference season in preparation for Southeastern Conference action. The charge of leadership will start with the Razorbacks’ four-member senior class comprised of Kat Moffett, Kathleen Paulsen, Kim Schleif and Sophie Wentz. Collectively, the seniors have started 121 games during their respective careers in the Cardinal and White.
“This senior class is unbelievably special,” Aubry said. “They want to go out making a difference and impact, and if they haven’t already, they certainly will.”
Paulsen is one of the team’s top returning scorers from last season when she netted a career-best four goals, two of which were game-winning strikes, from her midfield position. In addition to her creative playmaking prowess, Aubry is also drawn to Paulsen’s innate ability to be a great teammate.
“(Kathleen) will do anything for the success of this team, this program and the University of Arkansas,” Aubry said. “She’s going to provide a tremendous amount of leadership at the midfield. She’s also very versatile so she’ll see more time this season in an attacking mentality than she has in past seasons. She’s too creative to hold in one place so we plan on releasing a caged animal, as we’ve called it.”
Arkansas can also expect to be guided by its talented junior class that includes Kelly O’Connor and Britni Williams. Since the two arrived on campus, they have made an undeniable impact on the Razorback soccer program.
O’Connor is the team’s top returning scorer from 2008 with five goals, while Williams is set to resume her role in between the posts at the back of Arkansas’ defense. She has accumulated a 1.09 goals against average during her two years as the Razorback goalkeeper.
With O’Connor leading the offensive charge, the Razorbacks return 65 percent of their goal scoring–22 of 34 goals scored–from last season. Arkansas will look to supplement any scoring lost from a year ago with its strong transfer group of Kelsey Allison, Laurel Pastor and Chelsea Tidwell.
Pastor tallied nine goals and 20 points last season while attending Virginia Commonwealth University where she was a member of the All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) first team. Tidwell spent her freshman season as the second-leading scorer at Winthrop University and a member of the Big South All-Freshman team. Always looking to set things up for her teammates, Allison was Oklahoma’s assist leader in 2008.
The Razorbacks will experience most of its transition at its defender position. Three-quarters of last season’s starting backline are gone, so Schleif and sophomore Kailey Anders will transition from their roles up top during the previous season to join Lauren Hallauer on the defense.
This year’s incoming class of freshmen consists of Allie Chandler, Sami Pesek, Valerie Powell, Kate Singleton and Tara Zika. Shelby Campbell, who joins the team as a sophomore, rounds out the newcomers to the Razorbacks.
“Allie is a special type of player,” Aubry said. “We talk about creativity and courage to go to goal, and she’s the epitome of that. You don’t look at her and think ‘that kid is going to rule the floor’ but she does.”
The coaching staff is dedicated to putting the right people in the right position for team success and if the spring season is any indication, the Razorbacks can look forward to a 2009 full of growth and accomplishment.
“Our growth for this fall and, the upcoming year, will be about knowledge and about understanding the time and place for that creativity,” Aubry said. “Our philosophy coming in was to change the mentality and now we have to educate.”