In Campbell University's first year returning to the Big South Conference, the Fighting Camels women's soccer team saw immediate success, contending for the conference championship. Coming off a runner-up title in the 2011 Big South tournament and third place regular season ranking, the team looks to take the top spot in the 2012 season.
2011 was the most successful thus far in Buies Creek for head coach Todd Clark at 15-5-2 (7-1-2 Big South). The Fighting Camels outscored opponents 45-23 on the season, and had a nine-game unbeaten streak against seven conference teams as well as Valparaiso and IUPUI in the heart of the schedule. Campbell had the best conference home record in the Big South, perfect at 6-0, and only lost one at home to Towson.
The Camels return nine starters from 2011, led by seniors Jeannie Borda, Taylor Brown, Kirsty Meyer, Cissy Nitz, and Ryann Torrero. Campbell lost two of its top four point-earners in Annabelle Gibney (18 points ) and Pirjo Leppikangas (28 points), but will see Ashley Clark, the points-leader (29 points), and Meyer (20 points) return. The team will have 14 total letter-winners return, and will welcome nine newcomers in the fall.
"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.
"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."
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.
Winthrop 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."
The 2012 Fighting Camels boast the best corps head coach Todd Clark has had at the school. Ryann Torrero, a senior from Burbank, Calif., returns as one of the top keepers in the Big South. She started all 22 games in 2011 and posted a1.02 goals against average, the second-best in the conference. Recording six shutouts, she finished with a save percentage of .816.
The Fighting Camels return their entire defensive line from 2011. Seniors Jeannie Borda (Dayton, Ohio), Taylor Brown (Raleigh, N.C.), and Cissy Nitz (Greensboro, N.C.), and junior Hilliary Gupton (McKinney, Texas) will lead the team from the back line.
Brown, Nitz, and Gupton started all 22 games, while Nitz started in 18. Nitz and Borda registered one assist each, whie Gupton added three and Brown scored two goals. Kellsey Costello-Mays, from Woodbridge, Va., Bailee Johnston, from Cary, N.C., and McKenzie Porter, from Raleigh, N.C. will all see time in the back as well. Costello-Mays played in nine games in 2011 and Johnston started in 17. Porter returns from a two-year hiatus due to injury, and will contribute significantly. Freshman Cydney Smith, from Fayetteville, N.C. will also see time on the back line.
The midfield will see a mix of veteran players and freshmen this year. Juniors Caitlin Schneider (Southlake, Texas) and Porter will be leaders on the middle line, along with Brown, who will see some playing time on the attack. Sophomores Alexis Prada (Laurel, Md.) and Michelle Procaccini (Olney, Md.) will also contribute significantly, as each appeared in all 22 games in 2011. Costello-Mays and freshmen Anna Naples (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Anna Natt och Dag (Stockholm, Sweden) will also contribute time in the midfield.
Schneider played in all 22 games and started 12 in 2011, notching one assist for the Fighting Camels. Coach Clark will look to Brown to hone her attacking skills and have a greater impact on the offense this year. Procaccini enters 2012 having scored three goals in 2011, and Prada returns with one assist.