SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For the first time since 2011, UNC Greensboro is the preseason favorite to win the Southern Conference women’s soccer title in voting of the league’s 10 head coaches. The Spartans edged Furman 2-1 in the 2018 Southern Conference Championship to claim their second straight tournament title.
The coaches also selected an 11-member preseason all-conference team, with UNCG and Samford picking up a league-best three selections each, while Furman claimed two and ETSU, Mercer and Chattanooga each placed one on the team.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams or players in the balloting.
UNCG, which garnered six first-place votes, finished with 77 points. Samford, the 2018 regular season champion, was second with 76 points, earning the remaining four first-place votes and narrowly missing being the favorite for the fifth consecutive season. The Bulldogs have won at least a share of the regular-season title in each of the last five seasons. Furman, who played in the championship contest for the first time since 2013, finished third with 66 points. While the top three teams in the poll separated themselves from the pack, the middle of the poll was tightly packed. ETSU had 50 points to finish fourth, while Mercer (47), Chattanooga (42) and Western Carolina (41) were separated by just six total points and were picked fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively. The Citadel was picked eighth with 23 points to edge Wofford (17) by six points, while VMI rounded out the poll with 11 points.
UNCG went 15-5-1 overall last season and 7-2 in league play, finishing second in the regular season. The Spartans return nine starters from that squad, including 2018 SoCon Player of the Year Cienna Rideout and Freshman of the Year Nicole Souply. Rideout was named to the preseason all-conference squad for the second straight season and is joined by defender Marissa Ferrantino, a 2018 All-SoCon first-team selection, and goalkeeper Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper, who boasted a .896 save percentage in conference play a year ago.
Samford put forward Caroline Orman and defenders Taylore Miller and Taylor Meneide on the preseason all-conference team. Led by SoCon Coach of the Year Todd Yelton, the Bulldogs were 12-6-1 and 8-0-1 in 2018, last losing a regular-season conference game in 2016. Orman was a first-team all-conference pick last season, while Miller and Meneide were both all-conference second-team selections in 2018.
Furman finished the 2018 campaign 12-7 overall and 5-4 in conference play, tying for third in the league standings. Midfielders Isabella Gutierrez and Caitlyn Reilly represent the Paladins on the preseason all-conference team. Gutierrez scored both goals in Furman’s 2-0 win over top-seeded Samford in the semifinals of the 2018 SoCon Championship, while Reilly was a first-team All-SoCon selection last year.
ETSU, which made an appearance in the tournament semifinals last season, put forward Sarah Connolly on the preseason all-conference squad. Connolly, who tied for fourth in the SoCon in goals scored with eight in 2018, was a second-team All-SoCon selection.
Mercer’s Abigail Zoeller and Chattanooga’s Chloe Arnold round out the preseason 11. Zoeller, who was second in the league in points a year ago (28), was a first-team All-SoCon selection, while Arnold, also a first-team All-SoCon performer last season, was second in goals (11).
The 2019 regular season begins on Thursday, Aug. 22, as seven teams are in action with ETSU, Mercer, UNCG, Samford, VMI and Wofford hosting matches and The Citadel playing at Bob Jones University. Furman and Chattanooga kick off their seasons on Friday, Aug. 23, while Western Carolina gets the 2019 campaign underway on Sunday, Aug. 25.
The 2019 SoCon Women’s Soccer Championship begins with first-round matches between seeds 7-10 on campus sites on Oct. 30, followed by quarterfinals on campus sites on Nov 2 or 3. The semifinals and final will be played at the UNCG Soccer Stadium on the campus of UNC Greensboro on Nov. 8 and 10, respectively.
2019 Women’s Soccer Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. UNCG (6) 77
2. Samford (4) 76
3. Furman 66
4. ETSU 50
5. Mercer 47
6. Chattanooga 42
7. Western Carolina 41
8. The Citadel 23
9. Wofford 17
10. VMI 11
() denotes first-place votes
2019 Women’s Soccer Preseason All-Conference Team
F Sarah Connolly, ETSU
F Cienna Rideout, UNCG
F Caroline Orman, Samford
F Chloe Arnold, Chattanooga
MF Isabella Gutierrez, Furman
MF Caitlyn Reilly, Furman
MF Abigail Zoeller, Mercer
D Marissa Ferrantino, UNCG
D Taylor Meneide, Samford
D Taylore Miller, Samford
GK Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper, UNCG