Women's soccer preview: Senior class has Mountain Lions poised for run

By Alex Cramer published September 1, 2011

It took Italian renaissance painter Michelangelo four years to create the work of art located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This year marks the fourth year since the University of Colorado Colorado Springs inaugural season in 2008 and women's soccer coach Nichole Ridenour finally has her ceiling.

With this fourth year comes the continuity and experience from which only a battle-tested team can benefit.

Seniors Kristin Preble, Julia Saenz, Lindsay Link, Jessika Williams and Jessica Escobedo are all that remains of the school's initial recruiting class. These five trailblazers have managed to start a combined 207 matches since they've been on campus. Their names dominate the newly christened UCCS records book.

"Since we started the program four years ago, this is our first senior class that has played here for the entirety of their career so we have some really good leadership this year," said Ridenour. "Girls are taking it to heart and are really fighting for the school and fighting for the team, so we have a full committed team."

That kind of experience cannot be overstated since the Mountain Lions will be experimenting with a new formation this season, the 4-3-3.

Getting away from the 4-4-2 some will allow the Mountain Lions to be more dangerous offensively but will require pinpoint communication from its backline to maintain good defensive positioning.

"Before, we didn't really have the connectivity to run a 4-3-3 because if you don't have one part of the 4-3-3 work, your defense ends up getting pounded and your forwards end up standing there," said Ridenour. "This is the first year that I feel confident that we have the players on the field, the mentality and the leadership to run it."

Senior captain Lindsay Link will be key in the middle of the defense, as the fourth-year starter should provide the type of leadership coach Ridenour is looking for.

Joining Link on defense will be returning starters Jenna Gist, Kia Jeffords and Cailee Osterman. All three saw large minutes last year as defenders and will be counted on again to provide a wall on the backline in front of Colorado Springs native Kelly Schroeder who will look to maintain the goalkeeper position.

Another team captain Meghan Royer will be sharing center midfield duties with NCAA Division I transfer Agnes Arnadottir (from Iceland via Rhode Island) and the always-dangerous Preble who finished seventh in the RMAC in goals scored (nine). Ashley Hooper and Candice Buckles will also factor into the mix as both have come on strong during the preseason.

Captaining the front line will be last season's only All-RMAC performer Saenz who finished fifth among RMAC leaders in points (24) and first in assists (0.53 per match). Alongside her will be Escobedo and quick-rising freshmen Hannah Levett and Hannah Rather of Middle Park, Colo. and Madison, Wis. respectively.

While 11 girls may start a game, Ridenour wants it to be clear that substitutions will be a vital part of this year's team. The Mountain Lions should have the depth to accommodate.

"Were trying to get people away from the mentality that they just have to stay out there and last," said Ridenour. "(As a coach) you just have to make sure that substitute is someone that can stay on and make an impact."

A new face will also be joining of the coaching staff this season as grad assistant Lauren Gilliland, formerly a player at the University of Tulsa, will be offering her services. UCCS men's coach Henry Ellis will be chipping in on the ladies side this season as well, coaching the goalkeepers. In addition, seasoned assistant coach Craig Decker returns as part of Ridenour's staff.

A sixth-place finish in the RMAC last season garnered the Mountain Lions a road playoff game that resulted in a loss at the hands of New Mexico Highlands, this year's veteran team has aspirations for a different ending. Just ask Ridenour.

"The season goal is hosting a playoff game instead of traveling for it, the last two years we've made it to playoffs and we've worked hard to make it, and then we travel on the road and don't do so hot.

"We're thinking if we work our butts off early and get into the rankings where we want to be, we can have more success in playoffs and go a little further."

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Lindsay LinkLindsay Link9DSr
Kristin PrebleKristin Preble23D/M
Jessica EscobedoJessica Escobedo6F/M
Meghan RoyerMeghan Royer10M
Candice BucklesCandice Buckles27M/F
Ashley HooperAshley Hooper25MJr
Jenna GistJenna Gist17DJr
Kia JeffordsKia Jeffords15DSo.
Cailee OstermanCailee Osterman20D
Hannah RatherHannah Rather7FSo
Hannah LevettHannah Levett18FFr
Julia SaenzJulia Saenz4FSr.
Additional News Stories
November 2, 2011Saenz, Preble named to all-RMAC women's soccer teamJulia Saenz and Kristin Preble of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs women's soccer team were named to all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference for the 2011 season.
October 30, 2011UCCS rally falls short as Colorado Mesa wins in second overtimeThe University of Colorado Colorado Springs women’s soccer team rallied back from a two-goal deficit to force overtime but were beaten in the extra period by the Colorado Mesa Mavericks Sunday at Walker Field.
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October 25, 2011Taylor named RMAC defensive player of the weekUniversity of Colorado Colorado Springs goalkeeper Jessica Taylor was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference defensive player of the week for women's soccer, the conference announced Tuesday.
October 23, 2011UCCS halts skid with win over Metro StateThe University of Colorado Colorado Springs found the back of the net for the first time in three games with a 3-1 win over the Metro State Roadrunners Sunday afternoon at Mountain Lion Stadium.
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