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One year after a 7-12 overall record and a disappointing seventh place league finish left them out of the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament, the Lakeland College women's soccer team looks poised to improve and make itself a contender in 2008.
Despite a relatively low number of 18 players on the roster, head coach David Madsen sees the quality of play making up for the quantity of players.
"I think the roster's a little bit lower right now, but in the same respect too, I think for the talent level, it's the strongest I've seen since I've been here," said Madsen, who is in his third year coaching both the women's and men's soccer teams at Lakeland.
With the loss of five seniors, five new ones will step in and lead the team both on and off the field. Madsen is encouraged by the way his upperclassmen have responded in the preseason, especially the Muskies' co-captains, senior forward Amy Christenson (Dodgeville), senior midfielder/defender Maggie Short (Green Bay) and junior midfielder/goalkeeper Leslie Oskey (Howards Grove).
"The senior class is strong as a whole, so I think they bring a good sense of unity in that respect," Madsen said of the team's leadership. "There's still a couple that are sophomores, too, that I think can fill in. Overall, I think the balance on the team in that respect is really good. We're doing a good job of getting the freshmen comfortable."
Madsen has set up a uniquely challenging non-conference schedule to prepare the Muskies for the NAC main stretch. In the season's opening weekend, Lakeland will take on Northland Baptist on Aug. 29 in Dunbar, and return home the next day to face Philadelphia Biblical University.
Before beginning the main stretch of conference matches, the Muskies will play three teams they faced in 2007, beginning with Elmhurst College at home on Sept. 3. Lakeland will then head to UW-Whitewater on Sept. 6, followed by a home contest with St. Norbert on Sept. 11. The Muskies were winless last season against this trio of teams, including a 7-1 loss at St. Norbert.
"We've had some good battles with St. Norbert the past couple years," Madsen said. "The past couple years they've actually had our number, and we've been disappointed, because from the run of play, it seems like we're closer than the score's been showing. So I'm hoping we can come out and I'm hoping that's a game we're motivated to play for."
Two games into its conference slate, on Sept. 23, Lakeland will host Ripon College. The Muskies defeated the Red Hawks, 4-2, in 2007.
Lakeland, which was picked to finish eighth in the NAC preseason coaches' poll, will face two-time conference defending champion and preseason league favorite Aurora University on Oct. 19 in Aurora. The coaches tabbed Edgewood College, which the Muskies will face on Oct. 1 in Madison, as the preseason runner-up.
The Muskies return their top three goal scorers from a year ago to lead the team on offense. Christenson looks to be the backbone up front after leading the team with 16 shots on goal and tying for second the team with four goals in 2007. An honorable mention All-NAC player in 2006, Christenson has shown a ferocious work ethic and an ability to create scoring opportunities all over the field as a result.
"She just has a non-stop work rate," Madsen said. "Wherever I put her, if I put her up top or as the outside midfielder, she's always working as hard as she can, and the work always ends up in her creating a goal or two. She has a lot of energy to her play, especially so far in the preseason."
Two other returnees look to contribute on the offensive end. Sophomore Maria Santelli (Kenosha) also finished with four goals a year ago and was third on the team with 11 shots on goal. Junior Gina Weiss (Salem) led the team with five goals and will try for another successful campaign despite battling an eye injury sustained early in training camp.
"There were a couple games last year where we were hurting for some goals, and I gave Gina Weiss a couple starts, and she really repaid that, and came away scoring a couple goals," Madsen said. "So I think when Gina's motivated she can make that happen."
The Muskies will also rely on a talented freshmen class for offensive contributions. Kristina Borts (Greenfield) will see significant playing time at midfielder and forward.
"She's really skilled and sees the field very well, so I think she'll have a hand in creating the goals," Madsen said.
In addition, forward Lindsay Rogers, a native of Sheboygan, will look to contribute immediately on the offensive end as a natural goal scorer.
"There'll be some practices where she's just set on fire and will bang in four or five goals in a row," Madsen said." I think she's kind of more the no-nonsense type scorer. I don't know if we had that as much last year, we were kind of looking for someone to up our goal tally a little bit. So I think she might be able to bring that."
A savvy group of veterans will lead the defensive portion of the line-up for the Muskies. Seniors Jacqui Drexler and Short look to anchor the back line. Drexler, an Appleton native, was used last season as more of an attacking outside defender and is an excellent one-on-one player in the back. Short is a natural athlete who uses her speed to create scoring chances from the back, notching three goals and a pair of assists in 2007.
"We should have a pretty good balance for the offense, some good leadership," Madsen said. "Jacqui Drexler and Maggie Short, they've got a lot of experience back there, and they've been teammates for awhile, so I see that as a good thing."
Megan Andrews, another senior, also provides steady leadership against the attack. The Appleton native recorded 10 starts and logged the fifth-most minutes on the team a year ago.
"Megan's just steady and solid back there, we always know what she's going to give," Madsen said. "Last year, she ended up earning her way into the starting line-up, as the year went on. I think if she can maintain her health and be healthy the whole way through, I don't see why she would do anything different."
Another player Madsen sees making contributions on the back line is Hailey Wisner (). A sophomore, Wisner appeared in 14 games last season and could see time at multiple positions.
"She's a smart player, and I think coming in, having that year under her belt, I think that's a very good thing for her, because I think she can really be a big force in the back for the next three years," Madsen said.
At goalkeeper, it appears that both Oskey and sophomore Whitney England will see time protecting the net. Oskey is a versatile player who may also log minutes at midfield. , an Ashwaubenon native, started six contests in 2007, notching a 2.82 goals against average.
Two freshmen also look to have an impact on the defensive end. Brittney Smit (St. Cloud) is a strong ball handler who could also play offensively.
"She's got a good, strong, physical aspect to her game too," Madsen said. "She can hold the ball well, she can distribute it, and she can also score when she needs to as well. I'm excited to see how she does."
Autumn Gaylor (Ingleside, Ill.) is another player who could make an immediate impact on either end of the field, although Madsen sees her as primarily a defender.
"Her physical size is good, she's been able to get up and win a couple head balls and score some nice goals," Madsen said. "She might be something that's a positive for us, in free kicks or corner kicks."
The Muskies will rely on an effective mixture of returning veterans and first-year players in an attempt to make noise in non-conference play and vault themselves near the top of the NAC in 2008.
"I think playing level, I think we're going to see some different players, but skill-wise I think we've got some good skill players coming in," Madsen said. "It's always a challenge of balancing skill and experience.
"I think all the freshmen who have come in have definitely brought something to the table in that respect. We've got a lot of good talent coming in, I think it's just a matter of how quickly that adapts into being experienced in terms of how we can handle situations in the game."