The USF women?s soccer team is picked to finish eighth in Conference USA this season, largely because of the loss of two All-conference players.
And on Tuesday, senior Tia Opliger completed a dubious hat trick, becoming the third All C-USA player lost by the Bulls since last year. Coach Logan Fleck announced the dominating midfielder will be redshirted this year because of a recurring foot injury.
?I was looking forward to this year, and knowing that I?m redshirting, I can?t help but look at things optimistically because this year we?re going to be good, but next year we?re going to be unbelievable,? Opliger said.
With the graduation of midfielder Siri Nordby, a first team All C-USA selection last year and former All-American, as well as second team defender Brooke Beck, the Bulls were expected to rely heavily on Opliger for production and leadership on a youthful squad. But Opliger was sidelined during the summer and her injury has not fully healed. According to Fleck, Opliger had a 25 percent chance of reaggravating the injury on any one tackle during the season, and he was not prepared to risk her health.
?I don?t feel comfortable leaving her as a target for at least ? I mean, there?s no doubt ? five tackles per game that are potentially going to break or do damage to her leg again,? Fleck said. ?I don?t mind taking risks in life, but that one?s too high for me right now.?
Opliger has garnered All-conference honors in each of her three seasons for USF. In 1998, she made the First Team as a freshman, scoring nine goals and dishing out seven assists. She followed with a five-goal, six-assist year as a sophomore to gain Second Team kudos. Opliger tallied three goals and three assists last season to gain selection to the All C-USA Second Team again.
?It would be stupid if you sat there and said it?s (her absence) not going to have an impact on the team,? said Fleck. ?The question is, as I told them (the players), what kind of impact will you let it be?
?Is somebody going to step up and show that early maturation has occurred and some young, new player is going to get some opportunity? Yes. So I see it from the good side.?
Four days before USF?s season opener versus Utah at home, no clear successor has been found to take over Opliger?s play-making role in central midfield. But Opliger agreed with her coach, saying her absence will allow other players to display their talents.
?It?ll give our team this year ? an opportunity to get confidence in themselves and have in their minds that they?re going to be able to do okay, and they?re going to win some games,? Opliger said.