2004 BAYLOR SOCCER: BEARS LOOK TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP
by Michael Collins
The start of the 2004 season marks the chance for the Baylor soccer team to end some unfinished business from the 2003 campaign, as a strong start to the season was over-shadowed by a pair of one-goal conference losses that caused the Bears to miss out on a berth in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and a chance to reach the NCAA Soccer Championships.
Head coach George Van Linder, entering his second year with the Baylor soccer program, believes this year will be different and will mark an important step in returning the program to the elite status it held within the conference in the late-1990's.
"We were so close to reaching several of our goals last season," Van Linder said. "We were on the cusp of some great things last year and I think this season we will have the chance to claim our goals of reaching the Big 12 Tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament."
A pair of heart-breaking one-goal losses to Kansas and Missouri last year prevented the Bears from reaching the Big 12 Tournament, a tournament in which all eight participants advanced to the NCAA Championships. Instead, the Bears finished 7-9-2 and missed the conference tournament for the first time since the program's inception in 1996.
In order to reverse the misfortunes, the Baylor soccer program will need solid contributions from the 13 newcomers to the team; a group Van Linder believes has been under-rated and will make an immediate impact.
"We have a group of strong players new to the program that will be competing with returning players for starting positions," Van Linder said. "The group will add depth to the team and should make an immediate impact."
To go along with a group of talented newcomers, the team returns several of its' leaders from a season ago. Ginny Rosario-Tull, the leading point scored from a year ago, returns at forward for her senior season. In addition, the squad returns junior midfielder Tiffany Boshers, a second-team All-Big 12 Conference selection last season.
"I think we have the right combination of youth and experience to make this season a success," Van Linder said. "It will just be a matter of whether or not we can take advantage of our improved speed and depth."
A majority of the senior leadership for the 2004 season at the position of forward, where Rosario-Tull and senior Kristin Ruef return for their final season in a Bears uniform. Rosario-Tull is looking to climb even higher in the Baylor record books, entering the season fourth on the Bears' career scoring list.
"Ginny (Rosario-Tull) is coming off an injury and should be even better this season," Van Linder said. "She and Kristin (Ruef) will play key leadership roles for the team this year."
Ruef returns after finishing fourth on the team with two goals scored. Entering the year, Ruef ranks sixth on Baylor's career goals scored list with 11.
Missy McConnell and Brittany Kuykendall return for their sophomore seasons and should continue to provide depth for the Bears. Last season, Kuykendall saw action in 15 contests while McConnell finished the year tied for third on the team with six points.
A pair of newcomers, Anna Schuch and Karen Oparaeke, should provide a spark for the forwards this season. Schuch comes to the program following an outstanding year at Saint Louis University, where she scored four goals, including three game-winners. Oparaeke comes to Baylor following an outstanding career at Plano East (Texas) High School. In addition, the Bears add Jessica Hutton, a talented newcomer from Marietta, Ga.
Although the forward position provides the most experience, it is possible the midfield position could be the biggest strength for the Bears this season. The Bears return standout Tiffany Boshers at the position, a returning all-conference selection who was second on the team with nine points last season.
Lori Viggiano, who enters her senior season, also returns for the Bears, as does April Robertson, a first-team Academic All-Big 12 Conference selection last season, and Katie Chicoine.
"I think the midfielders will be a force for us this year," Van Linder said. "With several returning players and a number of newcomers arriving, I think the play of our midfielders could determine how successful we are this season."
A pair of Baylor's most highly touted newcomers, Jennifer Martin and Margaret Kaderli, should give the Bears a wealth of talent at the position. Martin comes to Baylor from SMU, where she played her freshman season under Van Linder. Kaderli enters her first year with the program after a standout career at Fredericksburg (Texas) High School, where she earned all-district and all-state honors.
Freshmen Shea Yates, Shannon Smith and Gentry Smith round out the position for the Bears and should provide the team with a strong supply of depth throughout the year.
The defense will combine experience with talent to provide Baylor with a solid line to thwart opponent's attacks. A pair of starters from the 2003 team, Kandyce Farr and Brittani Zonker, return to a defense that helped record four shutout wins last year. Zonker, a junior, tied for the team lead in assists last season as Farr provided the team with a strong presence in the backfield last year.
In addition, Bethany Vick returns for her junior year after seeing action in 17 games last season.
"The defender position should be solid this season," Van Linder said. "We have a strong combination of youth and experience that should give us an advantage over some other teams."
Newcomers Megan Sherrell, Pat Roscovius, Rose Zapata and Laura Brock give the Bears solid depth at the position following stellar high school careers. Brock, Roscovius and Sherrell each earned multiple all-district selections, while Zapata helped lead her high school team to a North Coast (Calif.) Championship.
Finally, Laura Fox should see her first action in a Baylor uniform after red-shirting last season.
The goalkeeper position is the one unknown heading into the season, as newcomers Ashley Holder and Kristin Weegar arrive to replace departed senior Monica Housden.
"I think we have a pair of talented goalies," Van Linder said. "Regardless of who sees a majority of the playing time, it should be a strong position for us this season."
Heading into the year, Weegar has two years of collegiate playing experience under her belt after serving as Tulane's goalkeeper the past two seasons. While at Tulane, Weegar earned a spot on C-USA's all freshman team before an injury sidelined her for the second half of her sophomore season.
Holder comes to Baylor after three seasons as goalie for Granite Bay High School in Roseville, Calif. During her career, she made 316 saves while earning all-league honors following her sophomore and junior seasons.
The 2004 schedule is highlighted by nine NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago. In addition to facing eight Big 12 teams who made the tournament last season, the Bears will open the 2004 season on August 27, 2004, with a trip to South Bend, Ind., to face national-power Notre Dame.
"I think our non-conference schedule is one of the toughest in program history," Van Linder said. "At the same time, it is a schedule that will help us prepare to be successful once we begin our tough conference season."
The opening of the Big 12 Conference slate could serve as the highlight of the 2004 schedule, as Baylor will host Texas A&M and Texas to open the conference season. The Lady Bears will face the Aggies at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 24, and conclude the weekend with a meeting against the Longhorns on Sunday, Sept. 26, at 1:00 p.m.
Baylor will also face Iowa State, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska on the road in conference action while hosting Big 12 rivals Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri.
The Lady Bears regular-season schedule concludes when Baylor travels to Lubbock, Texas, to take on the Red Raiders at 7:00 p.m. on October 29.
The Bears hope the date with the Red Raiders does not mark the end of the 2004 season, as the team looks to advance to the Big 12 Tournament, and possibly the NCAA Soccer Championships.
"There was such a sour taste in our mouths at the end of last season," Van Linder said. "In the end, I think it only made us stronger. The team worked extremely hard during the off-season and I think we are ready to reach some of the goals that eluded us last year."