Call it more a marriage of convenience than a match made in heaven, as Denver’s move to the Summit League may not ultimately work out for either party. The Pioneers’ strength is such that their presence might utterly turn the league into their private fiefdom, ala Boston University in the America East for so long. But all that league domination might not count for much in the RPI, making it an even greater uphill task for the Pioneers to get an at-large bid or even avoid very tough matchups early in the Big Dance.
The negative consequences for the rest of the league are pretty apparent, in that their odds of winning a league title with the Pioneers in tow are severely reduced, while the odds for an automatic bid and a shot at the NCAA Tournament probably aren’t much better. At the very least, Denver’s new league rivals will be hoping that the club’s gnawing inability to close the deal in conference tournaments also sticks with the program in their third league in as many years.
Nicholette DiGiacomo’s thunderbolt in extra time against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament may have forever changed Denver soccer, or at the least the perception of the Pioneers. Before then, Denver had been a novelty. A hard luck team that had done much in mid-major conferences but not enough to warrant at-large bids after conference tournament heartbreak. Despite loads and loads of silverware, the club had only advanced into the second round of the Big Dance once going into last season and never beyond. The club stomped of its WAC rivals in its only season in the league, only to be left needing an at-large bid again when it lost to Utah State in the conference tournament final. It got it and made a little history in the NCAA Tournament, but that at large bid might be a one-off with the club again moving conferences, this time to the Summit League, where the Pioneers stand to be a very big fish in a tiny pond. DU will likely be overwhelming favorites to win another league title, though the club must still replace some very talented pieces. Chief among the top talent lost is forward Kaitlin Bast, who finished her career with a brilliant twelve goal, eight assist campaign to finish second on the team in points to cap off a great career that saw her finish as one of the team’s all-time offensive greats. The club also must do without Katy Van Lieshout and Kalie Vaughn, who graduate after fine senior seasons, the duo combining for seven goals and eight assists. Don’t cry too hard for Denver though, who returns two of the region’s deadliest weapons in the senior duo of Kristen Hamilton and DiGiacomo. Hamilton will be going for her third straight Offensive Player of the Year award after winning in 2011 in the Sun Belt and last year in the WAC. Hamilton blitzed opposing defenses for fourteen goals and seven assists, including a hat trick at Portland that likely sealed Denver’s spot in the NCAA Tournament. DiGiacomo will likely forever be associated with that special night in Palo Alto, but keen observers will note that the midfielder has been a creative force in midfield for some time now and will be looking to put together an eye-catching season to potentially get noticed by professional sides. Some of Vaughn’s playmaking skills that depart could be filled by newcomer Brooke Boothe, a Region IV ODP mainstay and a constant force for Slammers FC. Defensively, Denver was stout as well, with the duo of senior Jessy Battelli and junior Sam Harder dominating the opposition. Considering the Summit League is in many ways a step down, from last year’s WAC, the Pioneers could again smother most of their league rivals. That group is only getting stronger on the backline as well, adding in rookie Hannah Ancheta from the powerful Slammers FC club. The only thing that might stop Denver from a similar run as to 2012’s is the goalkeeping situation, with the very solid Lara Campbell and her backup Maria Khan both departing. Returnees Tina Vargas and Amelia Davis have very little match experience at this level, and newcomer Cassidy Rey, yet another Slammers FC product, might be favored to start. Goalkeeping situation aside, Denver should still be heavy favorites to devour all comers in the Summit League this season. Though the club loses some big talent, there’s still plenty left in the tank, and the backline should dominate in their new surroundings. Keeping that edge up from non-conference play will be key though, with not too many conference foes likely to challenge Denver. If they can stay sharp and focused, DU’s top talent could lead the side deep into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament again.
First-year North Dakota State head coach Mark Cook had big shoes to fill after taking helm of the Bison following long-time boss Pete Curdado’s move to Wyoming after the 2011 season. NDSU won trophies and admirers after a few very successful Summit League seasons, including taking Texas A&M to the brink in the NCAA Tournament in 2010. The Bison came into 2012 off a mildly disappointing season in terms of trophies, having not brought home any, despite finishing the season with fifteen wins and in the uRPI Top 150 for the second straight season. Cook would get a baptism by fire, doing well enough in the league to finish third, though they’d go down at the first hurdle in the Summit League Tournament. It was the club’s first losing season since 2008 and also their worst season in the RPI since that awful season as well. Still, qualifying yet again for the postseason wasn’t anything to overlook, and NDSU ended the season much better than they began it. This is a program used to challenging for silverware though, meaning the pressure will be on Cook to deliver as he begins year two at the helm of the Bison. It’s not likely to be easy, with the club losing three talented starters, though they also return some big pieces from last year’s side as well. The biggest piece is junior forward Anisha Kinnarath, who has rapidly developed into one of the Summit League’s very best attacking threats after six goals and seven assists last year, with a point in twelve of sixteen games. The team needs to find more offensive outlets though, considering second leading scorer Jordyn Wallenborn has graduated after four goals last year. The next high scoring returnee after Kinnarath only netted three goals, but the club could be getting some major reinforcements with the addition of Lauren Miller, a U15 international and star on the ECNL circuit with the Minnesota Thunder Academy, Cook’s former employers. Add in some more rookie talent in Amy Yang and Olivia Norman, and you’ve got the makings of a potentially thrill-a-minute attack. NDSU were in the bottom half of the league defensively last season, though not by much, and must retool a backline that takes some losses through graduation. Gone are the towering Holly Christian, a player with extensive starting experience who turned into one of the league’s best defenders as an upperclassman, and Guatemalan international Shannon Brooks, a depth player for so long who, with Christian, were the only players to start every match last season. All isn’t lost though, as the club returns Canadian sophomore Meghan Johnston, impressive as a rookie and well on her way to becoming one of the league’s best defenders, while the club also gets back the promising Taylor Stainbrook after an injury blighted season. Backing the group up in goal will be sophomore Sierra Bonham, another of NDSU’s rising stars who impressed despite her youth last year. Bonham won the starting job early and ended up on the All-Summit League Second Team after an impressive campaign in goal for the Bison. If NDSU can seal some of the gaps in defense, they’ve got a good shot at contending for silverware this season. Even with the loss of a pair of quality starters in Christian and Brooks, they still have some promising pieces to build with in Johnston and with Bonham in goal. Kinnarath should threaten for ten goals leading the line, while the influx of talented offensive rookies should help ease the pressure on her somewhat. Expectations are high in Fargo, and Cook will be expected to at least have his team contending on both fronts in the Summit League this season. Failure to produce will surely have the murmurs beginning from a Bison fanbase craving success after the glories of the past.
The words South Dakota State and “very disappointing season” haven’t been used very often in recent seasons, as head coach Lang Wedemeyer has turned the Jackrabbits into a steady Summit League force over the past decade. SDSU’s most notable moment as a DI program was its shocking upset of Colorado in the 2008 NCAA Tournament after a league-tournament title double, and they’ve been trying to hit those heights again ever since. Expectations were high again in 2012 after the club had crushed all comers en route to a league title in 2011 before being taken down in the Summit League Tournament by Oakland. Last year was largely a bust though, as the club finished fifth in the league, missing out on the postseason for the first time in half a decade. SDSU looks like a club primed for a bounce back year and not just because of the program’s history of excellence in the Summit League (though it obviously helps). The Jackrabbits had the league’s top offense in conference games last season and returns five of the six players who netted goals in 2012. The club does lose a very talented attacker in Christa Nyblom however, the departed captain having netted four goals and four assists. SDSU figures to try and fill her spot in midfield with some of last year’s reserves, as well as recruiting crown jewel Madison Yuelli, a regional ODP player out of Minnesota. The playmaking Yuelli should have plenty of targets to aim for with Diana Potterveld and Stacy Guijarro both returning after strong 2012 efforts. Potterveld heated up late with six goals in league play en route to Summit League Freshman of the Year honors, while Guijarro netted five from midfield last year. The defense isn’t half bad either, as SDSU didn’t give up a goal a game in league play last season and returns all but one starter, Megan Huegli, from a year ago. The return of sophomore Dani Patterson should be reason enough for SDSU to be confident in their backline, as the second-year player from Des Moines proved to be a natural as a rookie en route to All-Summit League Second Team honors. Patterson is also a threat to aid the attack with three assists as a rookie and should have plenty of attackers to set up with her passes this season. Added to the mix is JUCO All-Region talent Sydney Tobin, and this could be one of the league’s better units. Canadian junior Elisa Stamatakis returns in goal and has her fair share of experience from two years as a starter. Denver’s naturally going to get a lot of the attention after their addition to the Summit League, but don’t overlook these Jackrabbits. Based on the return of an experienced squad with some young stars ready to blossom both offensively and defensively, you wouldn’t bet on them struggling like last year. SDSU is a legitimate threat for Summit League silverware and could make a gigantic leap up the RPI this season.
Only appointed in the Summer of last year, Ted Flogaites showed why he was worthy of the head coaching job at Western Illinois in 2012 by guiding the team to its second best record ever. It was just the tonic for a program that had begun to flounder under the reign of Flogaites’ predecessor, Tony Guinn, as the Leathernecks had largely regressed after Guinn had driven the club to a 16-3-1 record, including a perfect 8-0-0 league mark, in his debut season in 2007. WIU came into 2012 having missed out on the postseason in 2011, finishing dead last in the Summit League and nearly falling out of the Top 300 in the RPI. Guinn’s Summer move to coach the men at UW-Whitewater left the coach in the lurch, and Flogaites was hired only in July from NAIA school Hastings College. WIU did swoon a bit late and slip to fourth in the league and out early in the postseason after having a realistic chance of winning the title, but compared to 2011’s horror show, it had still been a fine year. The next step is obviously to contend for trophies, and WIU will hope that last season’s defensive form carries over to this year after tying for the league’s best defense in conference play, giving up just six goals in eight games. Much of the Leathernecks’ success on defense rests with the steady hands of fifth-year senior goalkeeper Laura Atkinson. After two stellar years to begin her career, Atkinson missed all of 2011 before coming back with a vengeance last year, winning Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year honors and tallying an impressive 88.1% save percentage. The defense in front of her should be pretty solid as well, with most of the pieces set to return. The backline’s talisman is another senior, Amber Davis, a versatile player also capable of playing up top, who actually led the club in scoring in 2011 before turning into one of the league’s best defenders last year. She figures to be flanked by another utility player, senior Jordan Spaciel, who finally broke into the starting lineup full-time last year, and junior Lindsay Condon, sister of graduated midfield standout Katie Condon. The offense is probably the most troublesome aspect of the Leathernecks going into the new year, as nobody scored more than five goals in 2013. The aforementioned Katie Condon was one of the players with five goals from last year and settled into a role as one of the league’s top midfielders last year and started for most of her four-year career here. The club also loses Kellie Julius, who had a team leading five assists from midfield, meaning the middle of the park could be a sore spot this year. The club gets a big boost with the return of fifth-year Sloane Levin, who netted three goals and four assists last year, but four goal striker Chrissy Campbell also departs. A good bulk of the scoring load could fall on last year’s joint leading scorer here, Sarah Hall, who netted four winners last year. Beyond her and Levin though, it looks rough. WIU looks like a club that could have one of the league’s best defenses which should go a long way in ensuring they have a great shot at returning to the postseason again this year. Title ambitions might have to wait though. The club loses a lot in midfield and the attack in general, and though there are a few decent sources of goals, there’s probably not enough there to think the club’ll challenge for a major trophy this year.
For the longest time a program that toiled in the nether regions of the Summit League after drifting through conference purgatory for a bit, IPFW truly came good last season with what you could probably call the best season in club history. Patience with Irish head coach Margaret Saurin truly paid off last year as she guided the Mastodons to second in the league and a spot in the Summit League Tournament final, where they were felled by Oakland. The task now is to prove that the club aren’t just one-hit wonders and are instead going to be consistent challengers for honors. IPFW takes some big losses though, especially on the offensive side of the ball going into the new year. The forward duo of Danielle Bishop and Arianne Mason weren’t exactly prolific, but both still knew where goal was, combining for ten strikes, with Bishop making four of hers match winners. Add in the loss of talented midfielder Rhea Proctor, and Saurin has quite the task in front of her to keep the Mastodons’ offense ticking over in the new year. Much may depend on the continued growth of sophomore Rachel Good on the frontline, as the second-year player is the leading returning scorer with four goals. IPFW appears to be in a little bit better shape in the middle of the park, where junior Sydney Hoareau and sophomore Erin Gill provide a little bit of punch having each scored three goals last year. Given that the offense looks more steady than spectacular, the club may have to again rely on defense to carry the load. Whether they’ll be up to the task is in question though, as IPFW loses its best defender in converted midfielder Tylar Allison. Allison was probably the club’s best player last and actually was the leader in assists for the club with four. Junior Amber Lawrence and sophomore Victoria Pepper both return to the backline, but Saurin will have some shuffling to do to keep this group going at a nice clip as they did last year. At least the Mastodons will be solid in goal with the return of sophomore Sam Pavlika. Pavlika played every minute as a rookie for the Mastodons and fared pretty well in her first season, netting All-Rookie Team honors at season’s end. Continued growth may be key for IPFW’s success given some of the questions in front of her. Saurin did a tremendous job last season to get her IPFW side in contention for trophies on two fronts, but the Summit League’s become a much tougher jungle with Denver’s arrival. Despite some notable losses of talent though, these Mastodons still have enough to battle toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the league and are real contenders to make it back to the postseason once again.
It’s all gone pear shaped for IUPUI in recent years, as the Jaguars have faded into the footballing equivalent of oblivion. The club had looked like becoming a regional mid-major power after two great seasons towards the end of the last decade, including a seventeen win campaign in 2009. It’s been all downhill since though, with the club dropping to eight and three wins in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The heat was on head coach Chris Johnson to show his club wasn’t a sinking ship going into last season. What he ended up delivering was hardly reassuring, as the Jags finished 2-14-2 against DI teams and ten points out of the postseason places. Johnson may have brought good times earlier, but the ax is surely close after the club’s third disappointing season in a row. The Jaguars at least had some excuses for last year’s woeful campaign, as they endured a major personnel shift, with nearly half of the previous year’s starting lineup graduating. There are no such qualms this year, with the club set to return nine of eleven starters from last year’s squad. One of those losses is potentially a big one though, as the club’s best field player, defender Kelli Parks departs after a fine senior season. A starter on and off as a junior, Parks was irreplaceable in the backline in 2012 and will be hard to replace in the lineup this year as well. Compensating for that loss could be hard, but the club looks to have a solid building block in sophomore Lauren Kulaga, who was very impressive as a rookie, starting all nineteen matches in the backline for the Jaguars. IUPUI should be in safe hands in between the pipes as well, with senior Giselle Guzman returning a season after being voted the league’s best netminder, though she was also very busy, making one hundred sixteen saves. All things considered, the defense performed reasonably well last year, but the offense was the league’s worst, scoring just four goals in eight league games. Struggles were perhaps expected after the loss of so much firepower from a year before, but probably not to that extent. Junior Taylor Heidorn was likely expected to carry the offense a season after being named Summit League Freshman of the Year on the back of six goals but was a big bust as a sophomore, scoring just once. Senior Ashley Doreski led the team in scoring with four goals last year but was hardly prolific in two seasons before then, and shouldn’t be regarded as a bulletproof option in the attack. If the Jaguars can replace Parks sufficiently in defense, IUPUI should at least be in every Summit League game with the rest of a solid defense returning. Without some serious improvement on offense though, they’ll only rise so high, meaning leaping into the playoff spots looks unlikely this year.
Nebraska-Omaha, like many before them, has found the step up from Division II to Division I to be a rather punishing one, and it told in the results for the Mavericks last year, their first with a full DI schedule. Summit League play brought relief from a torrid non-conference schedule. Surprisingly, UNO won three of their first four to establish themselves as shock early title contenders right out of the blocks. Alas, their form wouldn’t last, and the Mavs ended up losing their last four games of the season. It left them seventh in the league table come the end of the season and a rather unimpressive 3-15-0 overall. It may not have been too palatable on paper, but at least the program had shown growth in the second half of the season. Growth alone isn’t likely to cut it for too long in Omaha though, as the 2005 DII National Champions will want to keep moving up the ladder at the highest level of collegiate soccer. The program appears to be in good hands though with head coach Don Klosterman having overseen the program’s rise through the ranks for well over a decade. Just how much time is the issue though, as last season showed there’s still a lot of work to do before the Mavs can be a mid-major force at this level. In particular, the generally appalling defense has got to be improved in a hurry if UNO stands a chance of moving up the RPI and the Summit League table. The club gave up nearly two goals a game in the league, tying for the worst mark in conference matches, while it was well over two a game in all competitions. For better or worse, that group returns essentially intact from a year ago. The Mavs get to boast a senior center-back pairing in the towering duo of Jordyn Braun and Kerry Pivovar, who stand at 5’10” and 5’8″ respectively. The pair have started for most of three seasons and should join up with full-backs Jenna Summers and Morgan Westenburg to give UNO one of the league’s most experienced back fours. Sophomore Meaghan Clark was thrown to the wolves right away in goal as a rookie, and Klosterman will have to hope she’s the better for it, as there’s little experience behind her. If the defense doesn’t tighten up though, UNO’s in big trouble, because the offense is a major question mark. The departed Danielle Archuleta largely paced the offense last season, netting five of the club’s thirteen goals on the season. The only returnees with multiple goals are Braun, and sophomore Hannah Wampler, who might be the club’s offensive talisman going forward. Wampler netted three times last year as a rookie, including a brace in the win over South Dakota in early October. Newcomers will undoubtedly be expected to challenge for time early, and the pick of the bunch might be Michigan native Ava Doetsch, who was recently a regional ODP selection. UNO had great success at DII level, but it looks like a slow build in Omaha based on current evidence. The defense has the capacity for a lot of improvement given the return of just about all the major contributors, but the offense looks short of enough potency to trouble the league’s best. Mid-table looks possible if all goes right, but consolidation looks to be the order of the day for the Mavs this year.
The end might be near for South Dakota boss Mandy Green, whose terrible tenure at the program thus far might be nearing its terminus after three dismal seasons in Vermillion. A program which had been viable at DII level has been anything but since the departure of Becky Heiberger after the 2007 season, and the bizarre and unsuccessful hire of Marcia Oliveira preceded Green’s hiring in 2010. Early signs were encouraging, but 2011 was a wash as the club moved into the Summit League, with 2012 not any better as the Coyotes finished last in the league. You could argue that USD was, again, a very young club, but the expiration date on that excuse is running out for Green and this program. Offensively, the club wasn’t the worst side in the Summit League, but they still scored just five league goals in eight games, hardly a precursor for success at any level. The hope has to be that one final season of team talisman Jenny Teslow can kickstart the attack into another gear. Teslow was a revelation as a rookie in 2010, with eight goals but has struggled to build on that debut. Five goals last season was still enough to lead the team, but you have to think that more will be needed from the club’s lead gun if they’re to seriously challenge for a move up the Summit League hierarchy. A more diverse attack would also help. Sophomore Danielle Anderson was a hit off the bench for much of last year, scoring four goals, and may be thrust into the starting lineup this season. Even if she does make a smooth transition, the club also has to find a replacement for the departed Erin Bello, who was the club’s leading assister with three. Defensively, it’s even more worrisome, as the Coyotes gave up a league worst fourteen goals in eight league games. A good portion of the starting backline returns for 2013, though the unexpected loss of freshman starter Allison Giddings has to sting. Green will be hoping for the return to health of junior keeper Mackenzie Victor, after a season ending injury knocked her out after just two starts last season. Victor was a very highly regarded recruit coming into USD and started as a rookie, meaning her return to the lineup could be a big boost to the defense. If she can’t return to form, last year’s starter for much of the season, Jen Shaefer returns for her senior season and will deputize. Patience in Vermillion must be wearing thin at this point. The third season for a new coach is often most telling as far as future success at a program is concerned, which isn’t exactly a good sign for Green considering USD’s 2012 was a disaster. This club is still young, with Teslow looking like the only senior heading into 2013. Still, after two lost years spent at the bottom of the league, there has to be progress this season. The added experience from the returnees should help, but the club still looks short of talent on both sides of the ball, meaning gains could be minimal this year.
Projected Order of Finish
2. North Dakota State
3. South Dakota State
4. Western Illinois
8. South Dakota
* = Projected Auto-Bid Winner