Entering the 2013 season as reigning American Midwest Conference regular season and tournament champions, the Park University women's soccer team faces a tough task in its quest to repeat facing a major rebuilding year.
"It's always fun and interesting going from one year to the next," said Park head coach Ken Hefner, entering his ninth season with the Pirates as the 2012 AMC Coach of the Year. "You think you know what you have with returners and newcomers coming in but you really don't know what you have until you play your first game."
The Pirates are without nearly 75 percent of its scoring from its NAIA National Tournament team in 2012 that finished 12-7 overall and a perfect 8-0 in AMC play. A pair of NAIA All-America Honorable Mention selections in Dana Hemmingsen (AMC Player of the Year) and Juneille Watkins graduated along with AMC All-Conference First-Team honorees Nichole Hemmingsen, Melanie Brewer, and J'Vonelle Simpson.
"This season is going to be interesting because of what we lost," added Hefner. "Those are large numbers to replace and we are trying our best to find combinations to work. We are going to keep the same system and style of play and I think we will still be in the hunt at the end of the season meeting the expectations we have of our women's soccer program."
Seniors Cara Lightle (Shawnee, Kan.), a 2012 AMC All-Conference First-Team selection after earning honorable mention honors in 2011, and Jen French (Lenexa, Kan.) anchor the Pirates' back line. The duo combined for nine goals and 29 points from their defensive positions last year.
They are joined by junior Christina Harold (Harrisonville, Mo.), who has made 27 career starts in two seasons at Park, and junior college transfer Carrie Colville (Lee's Summit, Mo.) from MCC-Maple Woods.
"We have to expect our younger players to step up in all areas, not just physically on the field," said Hefner. "It could be mental or any little thing. It is going to take an entire team effort and it's a long haul, but will be well worth it."
Those younger players give the Pirates their most depth in the middle of the field where three sophomores return led by Mikayla Fisher (Rose Hill, Kan.), who ended her freshman season with four goals and eight assists for 16 points ranking fifth on the team. Fisher provided the most dramatic goal of the season scoring in overtime of the AMC Tournament championship sending Park to the NAIA Tournament.
Kathryn Dykes (Excelsior Springs, Mo.) and Libby Gale (London, England) are back after combining for 13 points a year ago and will be joined in the midfield by two transfers and two incoming freshmen.
Junior Bridget Steiner (Overland Park, Kan.) and sophomore Caitlin Foreman (Asheville, N.C.) add collegiate experience to the Pirates from Johnson County Community College and Mars Hill College, respectively, while Emily Key (Wolverhampton, England) and Sydney Patterson (Lee's Summit, Mo.) improve the list of versatile players.
Park's lone forward returning after tallying five goals and three assists in 2012 is Shnell Briscoe (Clarendon, Jamaica). Freshman Jessenia Lopez (Kansas City, Kan.) joins her up top hoping to add a spark to the lineup.
"All of our players have shown the ability to step into roles and fitting in to challenging spots. It will just take some time to adjust," added Hefner.
Alisha Hoskins (Platte City, Mo.) returns for her junior season as the lone goalkeeper for the Pirates after making six appearances and four starts a year ago, including an appearance in the national tournament.
The Pirates' 15-match schedule features three teams ranked in the NAIA Women's Soccer Coaches' Top 25 Preseason poll, including No. 16 Graceland, No. 19 Benedictine (Kan.), and No. 23 Baker, their season-opening opponent at Julian Field Wednesday (Sept. 4).
"The non-conference schedule is tremendous with nationally-ranked teams and other regional rivals along with good competition within the conference," said Hefner.