SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For the fourth consecutive season, Samford is the preseason favorite to win the Southern Conference women’s soccer title in voting of the league’s 10 head coaches. The Bulldogs, who edged 2017 tournament champion UNCG by just one point in the poll, have won at least a share of the regular-season title in each of the last four seasons.
The coaches also selected an 11-member preseason all-conference team, with UNCG picking up a league-best three selections and Furman, Samford and Western Carolina claiming two each.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams or players in the balloting.
Samford, which garnered three first-place votes, finished with 75 points to top the poll for the fifth time in the last seven years. Defending tournament champion UNCG was second with 74 points despite earning five first-place votes, narrowly missing being the favorite for the first time since 2011. Furman, which tied with Samford for the regular-season title last year, finished third with 68 points and the remaining two first-place votes, and Western Carolina, which fell to UNCG in the tournament final a year ago, was picked fourth with 56 points.
While the top four teams in the poll separated themselves from the pack, the middle of the poll was tightly packed. ETSU and Mercer tied for fifth in the poll with 39 points apiece, and Chattanooga was right behind with 38 points. VMI earned 25 points to edge Wofford by two for eighth place, while The Citadel rounded out the poll with 13 points.
Samford went 13-6-2 overall last season and 8-0-1 in league play for a share of the regular-season SoCon title. The Bulldogs return seven starters from that squad, including 2016 SoCon Freshman of the Year and 2017 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Allie Lourie, but must replace two-time SoCon Player of the Year Jermaine Seoposenwe and three-time all-conference keeper Anna Maddox. Taylor Meneide, also a first-team All-SoCon selection last season, joins Lourie in the defense on the preseason all-conference team.
UNCG put forward Cienna Rideout, midfielder Heida Vidarsdottir (second-team All-SoCon a year ago) and defender Emily Jensen, a first-team All-SoCon pick in 2017, on the preseason all-conference squad. The Spartans were 11-8-3 overall last year and went 5-2-2 in SoCon play. UNCG was two games under .500 with two weeks to go in the regular season but rallied to win six straight before dropping a 1-0 contest to No. 3 Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Led by SoCon Coach of the Year Andrew Burr, Furman went 13-3-2 overall and 8-0-1 in the SoCon for a share of its first regular-season title since 2013. Midfielder Erin O’Hearn and keeper Kellsey Weaver represent the Paladins on the preseason all-conference team. Weaver, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago, allowed just one goal in league play for a miniscule 0.12 goals against average and a .967 save percentage.
Western Carolina, which made its first appearance in the tournament title game since 2008, put forward Megan McCallister and midfielder Sayres McKenna on the preseason all-conference team. Both were second-team all-conference picks in 2017.
Wofford’s Hayley Younginer and ETSU’s Eleonora Goldoni round out the preseason 11. Younginer was a first-team All-SoCon selection and led the nation in goals (21), goals per game (1.11) and points per game (2.42) and was second in total points (46) a year ago. Goldoni was a second-team All-SoCon pick last season.
The 2018 regular season begins on Thursday, Aug. 16, with ETSU and Samford hosting matches. The other eight SoCon teams open the following day. The 2018 SoCon Women’s Soccer Championship begins with first-round matches between seeds 7-10 on campus sites on Oct. 24, followed by quarterfinals on campus sites on Oct. 27 or 28. The semifinals and final will be played at Mercer’s Bear Field in Macon, Georgia, on Nov. 2 and 4, respectively.
2018 Women’s Soccer Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Samford (3) 75
2. UNCG (5) 74
3. Furman (2) 68
4. Western Carolina 56
T5. ETSU 39
T5. Mercer 39
7. Chattanooga 38
8. VMI 25
9. Wofford 23
10. The Citadel 13
() denotes first-place votes
2018 Women’s Soccer Preseason All-Conference Team
F Eleonora Goldoni, ETSU
F Cienna Rideout, UNCG
F Megan McCallister, Western Carolina
F Hayley Younginer, Wofford
MF Erin O'Hearn, Furman
MF Heida Vidarsdottir, UNCG
MF Sayres McKenna, Western Carolina
D Emily Jensen, UNCG
D Allie Lourie, Samford
D Taylor Meneide, Samford
GK Kellsey Weaver, Furman