The women?s soccer team will open its season Sunday against Utah at 1 p.m. at the USF Soccer Stadium.
The Utes return all 11 starters from a team that is looking to build on its 13-7-1 record from a year ago. Opening their season Friday at Florida, the Utes will lean on their experience to try and become the first team in school history to push for a national ranking and an NCAA Tournament bid in this, their seventh season.
Bulls coach Logan Fleck did not seem overly impressed.
?They must feel pretty good about themselves coming across the country and scheduling (#18 ranked) Florida. They?ve got a solid team with older players and we?ll see more of them on Friday when we go scout them (in Gainesville).?
Some players to watch for the Utes are the triple scoring threat of senior Amy Kofoed, and juniors Shauna Gurr-Bingham and Katie Tate.
Kofoed led the team with 36 points, comprising of four assists and 16 goals, which left her four goals shy of the school record (38 by Staci Burt). Utes? coach Amy Winslow had nothing but praise for her star.
?Amy should break the record early in the season. She?s a great athlete and deserves the record,? she said.
Gurr-Bingham led the team with 12 assists to go along with five goals, while Tate finished second on the team both in points with 30, and goals with 12.
The Utes? weakness lies on the defensive side, where the team was dominated by sophomores in 2000. They also will start the season with a battle to see who will defend the goal between incumbent starter and All-Mountain West second team selection Courtney Hills and sophomore Lynnsey Asay.
Despite the questions on the defensive end, Winslow was confident.
?We?re a young enough team that athletes won?t play just because of seniority. This team is mature and talented. If we avoid any major injuries, we are going to be very good,? she said.
Utah won?t be the only team competing Sunday with a little uncertainty at goalkeeper.
Fleck said the Bulls don?t have a clear starter at goalkeeper either.
?Right now it?s between freshman Breck Bankester and two year starter, junior Valerie Wetzel. Every time they train, they?re trying to prove who should be taking over. I think they?re going to fight for it a while.?
According to Fleck, most of the starting spots on the rest of the team are still up for grabs as well.
?We?re gonna be here a long time tonight,? Fleck said.
Some newcomers showing promise are freshmen midfielders Laura Tucker and Kim Martins, whom Fleck said have worked very hard and well together. Tucker is ?very quick with distribution and connection? according to Fleck, and Martins ?gives us some outside wide right speed.?
On the defensive end, Fleck noted the play of freshmen defenders Lyndrea Sutherland, Jill Blatti and Tara Escribano. Fleck also mentioned he liked what he had seen from freshman forward/defender Stacci Sastre.
Two other notables from Fleck include freshmen Rachel Thjomoe and Christine Koester, who has a strong left foot according to Fleck. Both are from Oslo, Norway, home of Siri Nordby, former All-American for the Bulls.
The Bulls will need to find someone to replace the ball-handling skills of senior midfielder Tia Opliger. Opliger injured the fifth metatarsal of her left foot during the summer severely enough to where she was red-shirted for the season Tuesday.
?She is an impact player and it?s a great loss to the team,? Aleia Long, a junior forward, said. ?But we have people that hopefully can step up and fill that position.?
Long, junior midfielder Amy Wallsmith and junior defender Jamie Anderson will be looked upon as the leaders Fleck needs on the field.
?This team this year is a lot more competitive than it was last year,? Wallsmith said. ?We have a lot more inner battles for positions, which is really good, what you need on the team. So we have a lot of youth on the team, but we have a lot of enthusiasm.?
Chris Lemke covers women’s soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org