Lady Tigers Look to Take Aim at Conference Crown
Aug. 14, 2006
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Memphis Lady Tiger soccer team is just two days from tasting its first live action of the upcoming season. Memphis will travel across town to face Christian Brothers University in an exhibition match at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Coming off of a school-record 12-win season in 2005, head coach Brooks Monaghan and his squad are feeling very confident about their chances for another successful campaign in 2006. This season the Lady Tigers return 10 of 11 starters from last year's team. With a highly touted signing class and a new, aggressive game plan, Memphis looks ready to make a run at a Conference USA title and the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance.
"We're really excited for the upcoming season," Monaghan said. "Our goal is definitely to win the conference tournament, and we feel that if we're clicking on all cylinders we have as good of a shot as anyone else."
One thing that the Lady Tigers will feature is a lot of depth. Memphis returns 17 of 24 letterwinners from the 2005 campaign. The squad will have also have a lot of youth with 11 returning sophomores and 12 talented newcomers all vying for playing time this fall.
"We have a lot of players that can come off the bench and give us support," Monaghan said. "If we have to go to the bench, we definitely feel comfortable doing that."
Offensively, the Lady Tigers will be moving to a new 4-3-3 system. Monaghan looks for this attacking style to increase his team's goal production from 2005. The new offense should benefit t from the leadership of talented senior Shoko Mikami, last season's Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year. Mikami returns to the center forward position to lead the attack.
"We feel like this alignment really suits our team," Monaghan said. "Shoko sees the field so well that we can run the offense through her, and the addition of Geneil Newbern on the outside should make our forward combination very tough to handle."
Newbern, a senior transfer from Georgia, should provide a jolt to the Lady Tigers' attack. As a freshman at Georgia, Newbern recorded 12 goals and six assists and was named All-Southeastern Conference honorable mention.
In addition to Mikami and Newbern, the Lady Tigers return sophomore forward Kylie Hayes. Hayes made a serious impact as a freshman, scoring 14 goals and tallying 33 points. Her exceptional speed should continue to challenge opposing defenses.
Directing the action at center midfield will be senior Melissa Savage. The Arlington, Texas, native has played in every match for the Lady Tigers during her college career, starting all but five.
"Melissa is so versatile for us at the midfield," Monaghan said. "She dominates the center of the field. She has great maneuverability and ball-handling skills, and she is an aggressive defender."
Savage will be flanked by sophomores Laura Pfeffer and Emiko Schwab. Despite being a freshman Pfeffer played in every match in 2005. Schwab burst onto the scene offensively during the last three matches of the 2005 regular season, scoring four goals in that span.
Last year, Memphis set a school record and league-high mark for its defensive efficiency. The Lady Tigers allowed just 1.19 goals per game, despite starting two freshmen and one sophomore in the backfield.
With the change in alignment, there will be added pressure on the defense this season. However, the Lady Tiger roster is stacked with defenders and the battle for playing time should be fierce. Several changes to the backfield should add quite a bit of athleticism to the defense, and an additional year of experience should give the needed maturity to keep opponents out of the net.
Senior team co-captain Nicky McLeod will move from her position at outside midfield to defender, where she will replace departed seniors Courtnee Melton and Robyn Smart. Monaghan hopes that McLeod's leadership and experience will allow his squad to continue their stellar defensive play.
"Nicky's speed up and down the line should really help us out in the backfield," Monaghan said. "She's an excellent defender and her experience will make a difference."
Among those vying for time in the backfield is junior Caroline Barrett, sophomores Elaine Sedgewick, Kate Murphy, Halley Jo Sullivan, Lindsey Joseph, Maggie Leone and Chloe James and freshmen Lia Fannin. Murphy was another freshman who played extensively last season, appearing in all 19 matches and starting 17.
Transfer Maiko Higashiyama is another player with the talent to step up immediately. Higashiyama also comes from Martin Methodist and was an NAIA All-American in 2005.
Sophomore Alexandra Atkinson will look to resume her spot in the Lady Tigers' starting lineup after being one of only three players to start all 19 games last year.
Junior goalkeeper Isabel Briones returns in net after a breakthrough season in 2005 that saw her post six shutouts and surrender more than one goal in only f ve contests. This year she will compete for playing time with newcomer Chelsea Brooks.
"Isabel continued to improve through the spring," Monaghan said. "After the way she performed last season, we feel confident that we can rely on her in goal this year."
In 2006, the Lady Tigers will face a tough slate of non-conference opponents. During the Lady Tiger Fall Tournament, Memphis will host SEC foe Alabama and 2005 NCAA Tournament participant Samford. The team will follow those matches up with a weekend road trip to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Memphis will also host Arkansas at home on Sept. 17.
The Lady Tigers will open Conference USA play Sept. 29 at Mike Rose Stadium against East Carolina, followed by another home match versus Marshall on Oct. 1. After that, Memphis hits the road for two-consecutive weekends to face UCF, Southern Miss, Colorado College and 2005 conference powerhouse UTEP. The team will return home for big matches with Rice on Oct. 20 and Houston on Oct. 22, before closing the season Oct. 27 at 2004 C-USA champion UAB.