Alabama soccer looking to build on successful 2011 season
When the next school year rolls around in Tuscaloosa, it will be a short while before the football season begins. Students will settle into their classes, new friends will be made and Tuscaloosa will have a little bit of time to feel the anticipation for the 2012 football season. However, there is another sport that will already be competing when the school year begins on August 22nd.
Alabama’s soccer team will begin play on August 11th in an exhibition in Clemson and will open the season just under a week later against Kennesaw State in Atlanta. On August 24th, the Tide will return home to the Alabama Soccer Complex to kick off its home schedule against the Samford Bulldogs at 6 p.m.
The Tide enters the 2012 season on the heels of its first winning season in a very long time. Coach Todd Bramble’s squad made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 last season before falling to the University of Miami in double overtime.
Bramble’s 2012 squad returns a load of players that contributed vital minutes during the 2011 season. Sophomore phenom Pia Rijsdijk will be looking to improve on her magnificent freshman campaign. The striker from the Netherlands was one of only five freshman in the entire country to be named to the NSCAA All-South Region third team last season. She finished her first season with 14 points, five goals and four assists. All of those were second-best on the team.
Sensational goalkeeper Justine Bernier graduated and has moved on to a bright future outside of collegiate soccer, so Alabama will be looking to junior Shelby Church or freshman Emily Rusk to fill Bernier’s shoes. Church is a 5-foot-11 goalkeeper who previously played for the University of Southern California. She started for two seasons at USC and posted a record of 13-6-3 in the games she started.
The Tide also will see another Dutch player join its squad for the upcoming season. The talented Dutch international and U19 captain Merel van Dongen spent time playing for the Dutch club team ADO Den Haag, the same team Pia Rijsdijk played for, and scored two goals. She will join the Crimson Tide as a freshman this season. Her already established chemistry with Rijsdijk should only help the Tide continue to grow as a team in 2012.
Alabama will be replacing a few vital components this season, though. Most of the Tide’s back line of defense graduated and only senior Ashley Willis remains from last season’s starting group. Junior Sophie Campise, a transfer from the University of Texas, is one player who could contribute quite well for the Tide. Senior Megan Peterson saw action towards the end of last season and she performed quite nicely. Peterson will likely be another contributor on Alabama’s back line in 2012.
One player who is surely hoping to continue the dominance she displayed during her freshman season is sophomore Laura Lee Smith. The 5-foot-7 forward was a force to be reckoned with for the Tide during the first half of the season. She scored four goals and one assist during her freshman campaign. She suffered a broken collarbone in the middle of the season, and that injury put a bit of a halt to Smith’s momentum. However, she should be more than able to continue building on what she started when the season rolls around.
Bramble’s team made a load of strides during the 2011 season, and with the additions to the roster in 2012, the Tide should have another exciting season ahead of it. With non-conference games against UAB, South Alabama, Mercer and Maryland before conference play begins, the Tide should gain vital experience — the same experience that Bramble said helped Alabama become successful in 2011 — during the early part of the 2012 season.
Conference play will not get much easier with the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the schedule, but the Tide will benefit from playing its hardest opponents at home. Traditional SEC powerhouses like Florida and South Carolina will both play in Tuscaloosa this season. If Alabama can continue to grow as a team and play the same type of defensive, methodical soccer that the Alabama coaching staff likes to play, the Crimson Tide should have yet another successful campaign in 2012 and hopefully another winning season.
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