Steep challenge ahead for Bulls

Logan Fleck is heading into his seventh season as USF women?s soccer coach and the 2001 team could prove to be his biggest challenge since starting with the women?s program in 1995.

?We?ll be ordering jerseys, socks, shoes and diapers for this team,? said Fleck. ?But don?t worry about me. This team may give me a few gray hairs by season?s end ? but I?ll always have more hair on my head than (men?s basketball coach Seth) Greenberg.?

Only half of Fleck?s team from 2000 returns this season. Among the departed players is All-American Siri Nordby, who accounted for nearly one-third of the offense last year.

Fleck said he sees three enemies for this team. The first obstacle is that the Bulls have to travel the most distance of any team in Conference USA.

Secondly, Fleck said the Bulls will have to play together as a cohesive unit.

?We can?t fight ourselves despite a lack of depth and consistency amongst a group of 18 and 19-year-olds,? he said.

And finally, he noted the battle to gain confidence at this level of competition.

Leading Fleck?s challenge of consistency and confidence will be senior forward/midfielder Tia Opliger, a second team All C-USA selection. Opliger netted three goals on 40 shots to go along with three assists last year after a 25-point (nine-goal) freshman year and a 16-point (five-goal) sophomore campaign. She will be coming off a foot injury that sidelined her for summer play.

?She is our impact player, and she will be seeing a lot of the ball,? Fleck said.

Fleck also looks for a ?gelling and understanding of the game? from this team as well as ?early maturation which comes from plain old hard work and determination.?

Determination is certainly a word that describes junior defender Jamie Anderson, who is coming off her second anterior cruciate ligament injury which sidelined her for all but a couple of minutes last season.

?The knees feel great. I played all summer and they feel just fine,? said Anderson. ?Amy (Wallsmith), Tia and I will be the anchors, and we are all looking forward to the opportunities this year presents.?

Wallsmith, a junior midfielder, tallied four points on a goal and two assists last year. Anderson and Wallsmith played together during the summer and, along with Opliger, are the three players coach Fleck will be looking to for leadership this season.

?Coach Fleck is like a second father to all of us. He cares about us, yet is very demanding and expects a lot out of his veteran players,? Anderson said. ?In return we develop high expectations for ourselves.?

Also returning this year is junior goalkeeper Valerie Wetzel, who started all 16 games last season and tallied three shutouts while allowing 32 goals. This after a freshman season in which she allowed only 1.05 goals per game in 13 matches.

?There will be plenty of competition for Valerie, who knows the No. 1 jersey has not been handed to her yet,? said Fleck. ?There are two or three other girls who will give her plenty of incentive to succeed.?

Other returning starters include sophomore forward Danielle Aldrich and junior midfielder/forward Aleia Long. Aldrich finished second on the team with six goals as a freshman in 2000 and added an assist to total 13 points for the year. She was a starter in half of the Bulls? 16 games last season, missing just one. Long topped the squad with seven assists to go along with a goal, finishing with nine points in 2000. She has seen action in all of the Bulls? games since joining the team back in 1999, starting in 20 of 29 of the games.

Also returning for the Bulls will be junior defenders Michelle Upham and Kristin Scotland, junior midfielder Erin Sharpe and sophomore midfielder/defender Jen Stahl. Sharpe started every game last year and finished with one goal and three assists, while Stahl and Scotland saw action last season.

Despite losing a talent like Nordby, who scored 11 of the team?s 31 goals, as well as defensive stronghold Brooke Beck, Fleck is not dismayed.

?Mothers work 10 times harder than me, and I?m just their second father or something like that,? Fleck said.

The Bulls, picked to finish eighth in C-USA, begin the season Sept. 2 against Utah. They will be looking to improve on their 6-9-1 (4-6-1 in C-USA) record of a year ago.

?You have to deal with the hand you are dealt, and I like my hand,? Fleck said. ?There (are) going to be no excuses here. We are going to go out there, work hard, gel and compete.?

Chris Lemke covers women?s soccer and can be reached at