BUIES CREEK, N.C. – Regional rivalries, a pair of in-season tournaments and an 11-match Big South Conference slate highlight the 2012 Campbell University women's soccer schedule.
Nine starters return from last year's record-setting squad that finished 15-5-2 overall, 7-1-2 in conference play and advanced to the league final.
"As we look toward the 2012 season, it was very important for us to do two things with our schedule; take on some regional opponents that we have not faced in fall competition in a number of seasons and prepare our ladies for the grind of the Big South Conference," said Todd Clark, who is starting his seventh year as head coach. "As we recruit more players from within the geographic footprint of the Big South it is important that we distinguish ourselves against competition that we regularly recruit against."
The Big South women's soccer regular season schedule includes a record 11 games with the addition of Longwood for the 2012-13 academic year. Campbell will face seven schools outside league play before opening its Big South portion with 3-straight road contests.
Campbell opens its regular season with three-consecutive games at the Eakes Athletic Complex, where the Camels fashioned a 7-1-0 mark in 2011.
"We want to consistently play teams that can both punish and reward us," said Clark. "In the past our schedule has had some matches that were perhaps a little more clearly predetermined in the end result, but if we want to really be a team of impact in the region we need to be consistently tested in each contest. We could very easily win each game this season, but we could also lose them all as well! That causes our staff and players to remain sharp every night which we hope will eventually lead us to our ultimate goal of a conference championship."
East Carolina and Campbell tangle in the season opener on Fri., Aug. 17, marking the 14th meeting between the in-state rivals, but the first since 2007, Clark's second year in charge of the program.
One week later (Aug. 24), Francis Marion visits Buies Creek for a 7 p.m. kick-off. A 3-0 Camel win in 2011 – CU's third-straight shutout victory to open the year – leveled the all-time series with the Patriots at 2-2-0.
Campbell and Conference USA member Marshall square off in women's soccer action for the first time on Labor Day (Sept. 3). A year ago, the Thundering Herd finished 4-12-3, 2-7-2 in CUSA.
The Camels face host UNC Wilmington in the UNCW Hilton Garden Inn Invitational at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 7. CU and UNCW renew a rivalry that dates to 1994, but has been dormant since 2005. The Seahawks finished 2011 with a 3-16 overall mark and 1-10 record in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Campbell takes on Southern Conference member Elon on the second day (Sept. 9) of the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational. CU dropped a 1-0 decision at Elon in 2010 in the last meeting between the schools. The Phoenix fashioned an 8-8-4 record, including a 6-3-2 ledger in SoCon play, last season.
On Sept. 14, the Camels travel to the mountains to face Louisiana-Lafayette in the Western Carolina Catamount Classic. The Ragin' Cajuns finished the 2011 campaign with a 6-12-2 overall mark and 2-8-1 record in the Sun Belt Conference.
The Camels then meet the host Catamounts on Sept. 16 to close out the non-conference portion of the slate. Western Carolina has won the two previous meetings between the schools, most recently a 2-1 decision in the 2010 season opener at Buies Creek. In 2011, Western compiled a 9-10-1 record, 4-7 in the SoCon.
In 2011, Campbell was unbeaten in the UMBC Classic and the Valparaiso Crusader Classic, while dropping both games against nationally-ranked foes in the Wake Forest Nike Challenge.
"Last year the tournaments were important in putting us in a hostile away environment but also playing for something across the weekend that replicates the Big South Conference tournament," said Clark. "We are looking forward to both tournaments at UNC Wilmington and Western Carolina as we respect the individual teams, players and coaches but more importantly the tournament format will prepare us for the ultimate weekend in November when it's all or nothing. These tournaments give our players the ability to test themselves against quality teams from different conferences while it challenges our staff to manage our roster across a long weekend rather than a single match."
Campbell begins Big South Conference play with a two-game swing through Virginia to meet VMI (Sept. 20) and defending league tournament champion Radford (Sept. 22).
The Camels lost only one Big South regular season game in 2011, but finished third in the league standings, just one point behind regular season co-champs Radford and Winthrop.
"For our staff and team in 2012 the sole goal within the conference is a title and NCAA berth," said Clark. "Last year was a tremendous ride having been picked sixth and ending as runner-up in both the regular season and the tournament. Because of that not only will we not surprise anyone but we also want more. The conference is as evenly matched as ever and we will need to be incredibly sharp to reach our goal but we feel it is certainly reasonable. I would like to think with 9 starters back and so many key reserves that we are a favorite. For me, as defending champions, Radford must be a favorite as would be Winthrop but I think the reality is that any of five or six other teams on any night can win in this league so consistency is key."
Four of the five games between the Camels and VMI have ended in one-goal decisions. Last season, Ashley Clark's strike in the 60th minute was the game's lone goal at Buies Creek. CU leads the all-time series 3-2, but both teams have scored only five times in as many outings.
Campbell defeated Radford 2-1 in the regular season finale last year at Buies Creek behind strikes from Procaccini and Taylor Brown. However, the Highlanders claimed a 1-0 triumph to earn the Big South's automatic berth in the NCAA College Cup last November at Charleston, S.C.
"In 2011, we were very strong at times in beating both Winthrop and Radford who eventually shared the (regular season) title but we lost points elsewhere that cost us the championship," said Clark. "We hope that lesson is learned and we can finish the job and take home the regular season title by not only finishing individual games, but also recognizing how each game is as important as the one before or after."
A third-straight road match to start league play falls on Sept. 27 at Gardner-Webb. Leppikangas' hat trick provided the margin in a 3-0 regular season win last year over the Bulldogs. Campbell then eliminated GWU 3-1 in the conference quarterfinal round as Annabelle Gibney scored twice and added an assist on Brown's goal.
The Camels return home on Sept. 30 to begin a five-match home stand against league foes with a 2:00 p.m. kick-off vs. Winthrop. Last season, CU's only blemish at the Eakes Complex was an overtime setback against Towson. The Camels reeled off five wins in as many outings against Big South competition in Buies Creek and outscoring their league foes by an 11-2 margin at home during the 2011 campaign.
Kirsty Meyer, Leppikangas, Clark and Procaccini provided the goals in a 4-1 win at Winthrop during the 2011 regular season. Gibney, Leppikangas and Clark struck in a 3-2 Camel triumph in the Big South semifinal that matched the league's top two scoring teams of 2011.
The home stand continues Oct. 4 against UNC Asheville and Oct. 6 vs. Presbyterian. CU earned a 2-1 win last season over the Bulldogs, then drew 2-2 two days later at PC. Clark and Leppikangas scored in both outings for CU.
Longwood visits the Eakes Complex for the first time as a Big South member on Oct. 11. Campbell owns a 4-2-1 edge in the all-time series, including a 3-1 triumph in the 2010 season finale at the Eakes Complex. Longwood finished the 2011 campaign with a 7-7-4 overall record and was 1-2-1 vs. Big South teams.
The home stretch concludes on Oct. 13 with a 7 p.m. kick-off against Liberty. In 2011, the Camels claimed a 2-1 triumph over the Flames at Lynchburg to run their advantage in the all-time series to 4-1-0.
Campbell plays at Coastal Carolina Oct. 18 and Charleston Southern Oct. 20 to round out the regular season road ledger. Last season, Meyer scored twice and Line Berntsen once in a 3-1 Camel win over Coastal at Buies Creek.
The Buccaneers handed Campbell its lone setback in league regular season play last season at Charleston, a 1-0 decision.
High Point comes to town Oct. 23 for the final home game of the year as five Camels – Jeannie Borda, Brown, Meyer, Cissy Nitz and Ryann Torrero – will make their last playing appearance at the Eakes Complex. The Camels and Panthers battled to a scoreless draw last year in High Point, leaving Campbell with a 4-0-1 all-time mark against their closest Big South competition.
The top eight teams in the Big South standings will advance to the league tournament, which opens on Sat. Oct. 27 with the four highest seeds hosting quarterfinal round matches.
UNC Asheville will host the Big South semifinals (Nov. 2) and championship (Nov. 4) with the winner receiving the league's automatic berth to the NCAA College Cup.
"Having been so close last year shows us we are capable, but the parity of the Big South makes it a very difficult conference to win. However, we'll do our very best," said Clark. "Ultimately our schedule is built to both challenge and prepare us for a long and difficult season, but also one that is rewarding. We know we play some great programs and we respect each and every one of them. At this point we are just ready to get pre-season started and begin competition."
A trio of first-team all-conference performers returns from the 2011 side in sophomore Ashley Clark and seniors Taylor Brown and Kirsty Meyer. Clark ranked second among Big South scoring leaders a year ago with 29 points on 11 goals and 7 assists while also adding all-freshman team honors.
Brown was a league all-tournament and all-academic team choice as she played all but 13 of 2037 minutes in the central defense during the 2011 campaign. Meyer finished 7th among conference scoring leaders with 20 points on 7 goals and 6 assists.
A two-year starter in goal, Ryann Torrero, returns for her senior season after ranking second among league leaders in goals-against average (1.02) and save percentage (.816) in 2011.
Among the losses from last year's club are seniors Pirjo Leppikangas and Annabelle Gibney. Leppikangas was a first-team all-league and all-tourney choice after she tied for third among league scoring leaders (10 goals, 8 assists, 28 points). Gibney tied for 4th with Meyer among Big South assists (6) leaders and earned a spot on the all-tournament team.
Campbell will also prepare for the regular season with an exhibition match Aug. 9 at Appalachian State.