BY BEN DUNNING – STAFF WRITER
After a historic 2014 season, the Centre women’s soccer team is primed and ready to make history yet again in 2015. Last year, the Colonels finished their season with a 16-6-3 record. Following up an SAA Championship and a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight, the 2015 team enters the season with a preseason ranking of 21st in the country, the Colonel’s fifth consecutive National Soccer Coaches Associate of America (NCSAA) Top 25 ranking. The expectations for the Colonels will be even higher this fall, with eight returning all-SAA players looking to capture a fourth consecutive SAA Tournament Championship, as well as a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
Three all-SAA first teamers are the notable returners of the 2015 women’s soccer team: senior midfielder Alex Combs, junior defender Tori Dillard, and junior goalkeeper Olivia Alford. Combs, a 2014 All-Region selection, was second on the team in points last fall with 28 while scoring 10 goals to pair with her eight assists. Dillard is the reigning SAA Defensive Player of the Year and started all 25 games for the Colonels in 2014. Goalkeeper Alford ranked second in the conference last season with a 0.74 goals against average.
Also among the all-SAA players returning this fall are second teamers senior Shelby Ratcliff and junior Katie Upton. Junior Shannon Murray and sophomore Nancy Ingham earned Honorable Mention honors, while junior Destinie Graves was awarded SAA Newcomer of the Year.
The Colonels will have plenty of experience on the roster beyond the 2015 season, as six of these eight returning all-conference players are playing in their junior or sophomore season. Head coach Jay Hoffman is also entering his 12th season at his alma mater, and has a record of success since taking the position in 2004. With an impressive overall record of 79-21-9 (.775 winning percentage) in the past five years, Hoffman has coached 43 all-conference players, 12 all-region players and three all-Americans. Coach Hoffman and the 2015 Colonels will be looking to build on these numbers this season.
With all the talent and past success this team has had in recent years, senior Alex Combs still recognizes the importance that they progress even further this year.
“It’s great to have that momentum on which to build this season,” Combs said. “It is a different year though and we have a different team dynamic. It’s important that we don’t try to mimic who we were last year, but look to build our new identity as a team this year.”
She is looking forward to new team chemistry between the more seasoned Colonels and the talented incoming class.
“The individual achievements we accumulate come from the fact that we are a successful team,” Combs said. “It’s nice to see that we have so much of the same experience on the field that we had last year, and its cool to see that mix with all of the new talent this year.”
So far this season, the talented and experienced Colonels have gotten off to a blazing start with a 5-0 record, outscoring opponents 18-2. Graves is second in the SAA in goals with six and third with 13 points. Dillard leads the conference in assists with five, while Alford has been lights out in the net and has only allowed a single goal to opposing teams, also good second in the conference. Sophomore midfielder Nancy Ingham has also added five goals on 17 shots.
Centre’s next matchup will be Saturday, September 19, at Denison University.