The 2014 soccer season starts a new era for the Jayhawks, an era that begins on August 22 as KU inaugurates the soccer field at Rock Chalk Park. The 2,500-seat facility is one of the best in the Big 12 and will help the Jayhawks compete for future recruits in the top heavy Big 12. As for this season, KU has a talented group of newcomers to add to the returners. Here’s our preview of the 2014 Kansas soccer team.
Last season has to be considered a disappointment for Kansas. Coach Mark Francis’s team compiled a 7-11-2 overall record while finishing at 2-5-1 in Big 12 play, including going winless on the road in conference. KU concluded its season losing to Big 12 champions West Virginia in the conference tournament and if they’re going to avoid the powerful Mountaineers again, they’ll need a better regular season.
Key Personnel Losses
Caroline Kastor was the leading scorer for KU last season with six goals. She also led the team with three assists. The second team All-Big 12 performer will be missed and KU will have to find a way to replace her offensive production.
Defender Madi Hillis will also present a large hole to fill for KU. Knowledge and communication along the back line often takes time to materialize, so it’ll be interesting to see how Kansas does after losing Hillis who started 19 of KU’s 20 games last season.
Goalkeeper Kaitlyn Stroud returns for her senior season and could be the most important defensive piece returning for KU this season. In September (week of 9/24) last season, she was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week when KU won both games that week while only giving up one goal. Having leadership in goal is important for every soccer team and that importance is doubly important for the Jayhawks especially if they fail to replicate their offensive showing from last season.
Speaking of offense, senior midfielder Jamie Fletcher and junior midfielder Liana Salazar should pick up the goals and assists that KU will need to compete in the Big 12. Both finished the 2013 season with three goals and three assists but it was Salazar who caught the eyes of the award voters. She was named to the All-Big 12 first team. Expect big things from the junior from Bogotá, Colombia this season.
KU also returns sophomore defender Aurélie Gagnet but no one is sure when she will be available to play for Kansas. Gagnet is currently representing her native France in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada. France won their group and has since advanced to the semi-finals. They are a strong contender to win the tournament and regardless, France will be playing in either the championship or third place game on August 24, after KU has started its season. When the Montpellier, France native returns to Lawrence and gets the requisite amount of rest, expect her to pop right back into the starting eleven.
Eli Mayr could be a bright star for KU. The Brunnthal, Germany native plays her club football for Bayern Munich which won the female club title in Germany at the U-17 level during her final year in high school. Mayr scored a goal in the preseason victory over South Dakota State so she is off to a flying start.
The other members of the recruiting class are:
Lauren Breshears, Goalkeeper, St. Peters, MO
Lois Heuchan, Forward, Castle Douglas, Scotland
Hannah Lukinac, Midfielder, Olathe, KS
Miriam Melugin, Springfield, MO
Jordan Nelmark, Midfielder, Naperville, IL
Kayla Morrison, Defender, Corona, CA
Katie Rostamo, Defender, Irving, TX
Season Outlook and Schedule
Two teams in the Big 12 are ranked in the preseason polls: West Virginia at #12 and Texas Tech at #17. In the non-conference, KU faces preseason #15 Marquette, #21 Wake Forest, and #25 Denver. 2013 NCAA tourney team Oklahoma State and non-con foe Colorado received votes and could hop into the rankings by the time KU plays them.
In conference, KU gets OSU at home on October 3. Just two short weeks later, Tech and West Virginia come to Lawrence for back-to-back games on October 17 and October 19 respectively in a stretch that could well determine the Jayhawk’s season. With Wake Forest also coming to town, there is ample opportunity to see some great footie action in Lawrence this fall.
For the non-conference part of the schedule, KU has winnable games against Wyoming, SMU, Texas-San Antonio, Cal State-Northridge, UMKC, St. Mary’s, and Missouri State. My prediction is a 6-3-2 record with the losses coming to the teams ranked nationally mentioned above.
KU was picked to finish in sixth place in the nine-team Big 12 (K-State doesn’t have a program) this year. That’s two spots higher than KU finished last term, so the prognosticators must think highly of the eight freshmen that KU will field this season. If KU can beat out the teams picked behind them in the preseason poll (TCU, ISU, and OU), they will already have a better record than they had last season. I think they’ll sneak another win in there and finish the conference season 4-4 with an overall record of 10-7-2. While this is a vast improvement over the 2013 season, it won’t be enough to get to the NCAA tournament and I don’t think KU has the horses to overcome at least two of the conference powers in the Big 12 Tournament which they will most certainly have to do in order to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament.
But, with nine returning starters, KU should be able to up their win total from a season ago even in a top-heavy Big 12 and with a formidable non-conference slate. With the opening of Rock Chalk Park and with soccer’s popularity sweeping across America, let’s hope the KU soccer team can capitalize and build toward the future.