Season Opener: For the third straight season, the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks begins its soccer season in the month of August. Arkansas takes on the Southeast Missouri State Otahkians in Cape Girardeau, Mo. in the opener.
On the Road: Also for the third straight season, the Lady Razorbacks begin their year on the road. Unfortunately for Arkansas, those openers have yielded little success as they have dropped each of their past three openers.
Southeast Missouri: The Southeast Missouri Otahkians enter the 2004 season after a very successful 10-5-5 record in 2003 and a positive 4-3-1 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play. The squad returns nine starters from its 2003 roster and has great experience to go along with a solid group of newcomers.
The Series: The Lady Razorbacks own the only victory in their career series against Southeast Missouri, a 2-1 victory over the Otahkians at Lady’Back Field in early September, 2002.
Southeast Defense: The heart of the Otahkians is certainly their defense as evidenced by last season’s statistics. Over the course of 20 games, Southeast surrendered a mere 19 goals while scoring 25 of its own. Returning starting goalkeeper Amanda Wrzos allowed all the scores, but in the process earned a staggering 0.90 goals against average.
Historically in Openers: In 18 years, the University of Arkansas owns a decent 8-9-1 overall record in season openers. Unfortunately for the Lady Razorbacks, most of their success came in the early years of the program and over the past five seasons have just a 1-4-0 mark against their first regular season foe. To Arkansas credit, all four losses have come on the road with the lone win a 6-1 rout of Texas Tech University in 2001.
Arkansas’ Leading Scorer: With all-time leading scorer Julie Williford having completed her soccer eligibility, the Lady Razorbacks are looking for someone to fill the void and if numbers are what you look to, then Christina Burger could be her replacement. Scoring six goals and two assists in 2003, Burger is Arkansas leading returning scorer and what looks good for the Lady Razorbacks is that she was able to notch her scores from all over the field.
Two Goals in 17 Seconds: It has only been done 17 times before, but Christina Burger scored two goals in 17 seconds against Kentucky to at least tie for 18th on the NCAAs fastest goals scored list. Only the 11th individual to score both goals in that time span, Burger netted her pair in nearly identical fashions from the right side. The NCAA record you might ask, five seconds between goals.
The SEC Preseason Poll: The Lady Razorbacks were chosen to finish fourth in the western division in the annual Southeastern Conference coaches’ poll which was released on Tuesday, August 24. After tying for third in 2003, Arkansas head coach Gordon Henderson felt that the ranking was very fair given the circumstances and hopes to improve on the preseason rankings.
Tulsa: Perhaps the biggest thorn in the Arkansas Lady Razorback soccer team’s side, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have owned the Lady’Backs over the years with a shocking 17-4-1 advantage. The Golden Hurricane has historically been able to sneak out the close win and have not lost to the Lady Razorbacks since 1994.
Last Four Meetings: Close but no cigar, for the Lady Razorbacks in their last four meetings with Tulsa. In 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, Arkansas has fallen to Tulsa by a combined four goals. The scores, 2-3, 0-1, 1-2 and 1-2 and there is no difference at home or on the road as two games have been in Fayetteville and two in Tulsa.
New Coach, New Luck: The same could be said for both squads as the Tulsa Golden Hurricane have a new head coach as do the Lady Razorbacks. Heading Tulsa in 2004 is former Alabama assistant Rena Richardson, but her experience against Arkansas will only help her so much as Arkansas also has had a changing of the guard in Gordon Henderson.
Tulsa in 2003: The Golden Hurricane finished the 2003 season with a disappointing 5-12-1 overall record and 2-6-0 mark in the Western Athletic Conference. While seven of Tulsa’s 11 starters return to action this season, the Golden Hurricane are under a new head coach which makes the 2004 meeting one to watch.
Questions About Tulsa: Similar to the Lady Razorbacks, Tulsa’s biggest question entering the 2004 season is who can score. The Golden Hurricane lost their top two scorers from 2003 with midfielder/forward Kristie Keirsey leading the squad in 2004, but she only mustered seven overall points last season.
Home Opener: It isn’t often that any Arkansas team has had its road and home opener on the same weekend, but that is the schedule that was constructed for the fall. Following Arkansas season and road opener at Southeast Missouri, it returns to Lady’Back Field to take on Tulsa. Historically, Arkansas is 9-9 in home openers, and 2-1 over the past three seasons. Unfortunately, Arkansas’ lone loss came against Tulsa in 2002.
A Disappointing Preseason Match: The Lady Razorbacks are technically playing their second match of the fall when they face off against Southeast Missouri, but similar to kids games, get a do-over as they prepare for the Otahkians. The Lady Razorbacks played a pre-season scrimmage with Baylor University on August 18, falling to the surprisingly quick Bears 3-0.
Defense Looks Strong: Despite the disappointing, 3-0, outcome in Arkansas’ preseason match with Baylor University, its defense still looked very strong. The Lady Razorback’s quartet of Katie Taylor, Allison Harris, Andrea Sparks and Devon Burger adhered to head coach Gordon Henderson’s new style of play and even though they weathered some breakdowns, kept their heads together knowing that it was just preseason and that it wouldn’t count on the final standings.
Ones to Watch: If one were to poll Arkansas’ opponents in 2004 one might learn that Arkansas’ central midfielders are a handful. The tandem of Megan McCool and Christina Burger may not strike fear in a coach’s heart when he hears the names, but once he sees them on the field, that impeding fear may creep up. McCool has been Arkansas’ most consistent player for the past two seasons and has a flair for the dramatic when the Lady’Backs need it. Burger is Arkansas’ top returning scorer and can play anywhere on the field making her even more dangerous.
New Coach: On December 16, 2003, the Lady Razorbacks hired Gordon Henderson as the sixth coach in University of Arkansas women’s soccer history. A native of Scotland, Henderson is the second non-American head coach in the program’s history and has a history of building programs both at North Dakota State and Idaho State. A believer in fitness and quality, Henderson has already had his team running more and working on the little things that make teams go from good to great.
What Henderson Inherits: Asked to turn the fortunes of the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback soccer program, Henderson inherits a team that went 7-10-2 and capped off the season with its best record since 1996. He has a solid core of freshmen and sophomores and must evaluate the 19 returning players when spring workouts begin.
Best Season Since: The Lady Razorback’s 2003 record of 7-10-2 is their best since 1996 when they went 11-7-3. It’s .421 winning percentage was a tad higher than the .404 percentage Arkansas posted in the fall of 2000, but not quite the .595 percentage in 96.
Parallels to 1995: The Lady Razorback’s 2003 season draws an alarming similarity to the 1995 season in which Arkansas posted a 5-13-1 record. In that year, the Lady’Backs opened the year hot at 3-2-1, and then won only two of their next 13 games including a nine-game losing streak to end the season. In 2003, Arkansas opened the year 3-3-2 but swooned near the end of the season dropping five consecutive games in conference play.
1996 and 2004: While Arkansas’ 1995 season ended on a sour note, the team rebounded in 1996 to have its best season in Arkansas’ 18-year history. Finishing the season 11-7-3 with a .595 winning percentage, Arkansas posted school records for both wins and percentage on its way to the SEC Western Division Title. Could 2004 be similar to the 1996 season? Only time will tell.
Returning Starter: If there is one thing for sure, it’s that Carrie Dillsaver will start in goal for the Lady Razorbacks this fall. The only goalkeeper with experience on the roster, Dillsaver was Arkansas’ starter last season and did a fabulous job between the posts as she accumulated a 1.92 goals against average in an Arkansas record 1,549 minutes played by a freshman.
Record Setter: Carrie Dillsaver beat out a senior for the starting goalkeeper’s position in 2003 and after doing so, set the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback record for minutes played in goal by a freshman. Ironically, Dillsaver broke the record that had been set four years earlier by the same senior whom she beat out for the starting position.
Already One of the Best: The University of Arkansas has tradition when it comes to soccer, 18 years of tradition and to say that Carrie Dillsaver is already one of the best to play says something. After one season, she ranks among Arkansas’ all-time best in games played, games started, wins, minutes, shots faced, saves, goals against average and shutouts.
Keeping the Lady’Backs Close: Carrie Dillsaver was outstanding in Arkansas’ contest with the Baylor Bears last Wednesday, making six saves and numerous right calls. Just three minutes into the contest a Baylor player had a near point-blank shot at Dillsaver which she coolly collected, shocking those in attendance. Later in the first she came out on a corner to intercept a cross that was headed toward an unmarked forward, intercepting the pass and keeping the Lady Razorbacks in the contest.
Lone Senior: Jenni Brashear is Arkansas’ lone senior on the active roster in 2004. Hailing from Little Rock, Ark., Brashear has been a four-year starter for the Lady Razorbacks and has played multiple positions. The 2004 season could showcase Brashear at her original position, forward, after spending the past two seasons as a stalwart defender.
Goals When it Counts: Jenni Brashear had a flare for the dramatic during her freshman year when she tallied three goals and an assist. The drama that she caused was usually directed toward Arkansas’ opponents and came in the form of a knife to the gut as she scored two game winners and a game-tying goal. Her first career tally came at the expense of Mississippi State, followed by a pair of knocks against LSU, one to force overtime in the final moments of regulation and the other to win the contest in extra time.
Freshmen Breaking In: No one really knows who will start and who will come off the bench for the Lady Razorbacks this season, but it is safe to say that many of the five freshmen on the roster should see significant playing time this fall. With only 18 active players on the roster, Arkansas will likely use its whole bench during games.
A September to Remember: The Lady Razorbacks were stunning in the month of September in 2003, going 4-1-2 during the month. Arkansas’ only loss was to a Purdue team that was in and out of the rankings all season. Victories came at the expense of Arizona, Oral Roberts, George Mason and Drury. Another September like that and Arkansas could be in for a treat this fall.
McCool to Miss First Game: Junior Megan McCool gets to see action against Baylor in Arkansas’ exhibition match, but the Bethany, Okla., native must sit against Southeast Missouri State next weekend. McCool accumulated her fifth yellow card in Arkansas’ season finale against Oklahoma State in 2003 requiring her to miss one game as a result.
Roster Additions: The Lady Razorbacks have added two to the 2004 roster since the media guide was published in late July. Junior Meredith Thompson and freshman Christina Lachut came to the team at the beginning of school and have been working out with the Lady Razorbacks. Some might remember Thompson from her freshman year of 2001 where she played for the Lady Razorbacks but then left the team due to burnout. Lachut is a freshman and assumes the backup goalkeeping duties.
Welcome Back Thompson: In 2001, Meredith Thompson started 14 of Arkansas’ 20 games at central midfield/defense and was counted on to be a significant contributor. Soon after the close of the season, Thompson felt the burnout of years of soccer and left the team to concentrate on being a college student. Two years later and she has returned to the team. Still in physical shape after several years of conditioning, the biggest question is her touch with the ball, which should come back with time.