DII women's soccer: Western Washington highlights 5 teams to watch this season
Not much changed in Division II women's soccer this offseason. The powerhouses seem to still be in command behind little movement from the final 2016 poll to the 2017 preseason poll.
RELATED: United States Coaches Poll
With the season opening in just a few days, let's tale a look at some of the teams to watch.
2016 record: 24-0-1
Head coach: Travis Connell
WWU ended the three-year reign of Grand Valley State, defeating the Lakers 3-2 in the national championship for the program’s first national title. The Vikings season saw them capture the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking in mid-October en route to their fifth-straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference title. Despite losing five seniors, the squad returns seven starters.
Players to watch: The WWU success starts with senior defender Sierra Shugarts. The 2016 DII Player of the Year was one of the best defenders in the land. She even chipped in four goals, two of which were game winners. Junior forward Gabriela Pelogi — who led the Vikings in goals and points last season — returns, but will shoulder a bigger load with seniors Caitlyn Jobanek and Elise Alyward gone. Ashley Homer returns in net after posting a 23-0-1 record last year.
Grand Valley State
2016 record: 23-2-1
Head coach: Jeff Hosler
The Lakers have been to seven of the last eight national championships, winning five of them.
The Marti Corby era came to an end in the championship loss to Western Washington last season. She will still go down as one of the greatest DII women’s soccer players in its history, earning two Player of the Year Awards and taking the Lakers to four straight championship games.
The Lakers lost a lot of fire power, as four of their top five scorers graduated. There is still plenty of firepower in GVSU’s tank though, and they should contend all the way to the finish once again.
Players to watch: In 2016, senior forward Gabriella Mencotti led DII with 29 goals, nine of which were game-winners, second in the division. Her 71 points were the best in DII, and she will be called upon for even more this season. Senior midfielder Dani Johnson was an All-GLIAC first-teamer last season as was defender Shannon Quinn. Both will continue to anchor a GVSU defense that ranked third in goals against in 2016. The Lakers also see their keeper Jennifer Steinaway return to net. She finished second in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in save percentage (.923) and goals-against-average (0.26) in 2016.
2016 record: 21-3
Head coach: Jay Entlich
Columbus State has long been a power in DII women’s soccer. Last season, the Cougars cruised to their third-straight Peach Belt Conference championship. Unfortunately, CSU’s season came to an end in the semifinals against Grand Valley State.
That’s how the Cougars' season opens. CSU — ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll — faces off against No. 2 GVSU on Friday September 1. Not too shabby an opening night.
One would think that losing two All-Americans and one of the most decorated players in school history could put a team at a disadvantage. That’s not the case for the Cougars, who return six starters, three of which are All Americans. It should come as no surprise that CSU is the early favorite for the PBC title.
Players to watch: Junior forward Olivia Jarrell is one of the trio of returning All-Americans. She set the school record for goals in a season (19) as a sophomore. Senior All-American Hugrun Elvarsdottir anchors a solid defense that features four returners, including All-PBC sophomore Tehgan Anguilm. All-American senior midfielder Cassandra Wade chipped in 12 goals last season to DII’s top scoring team (4.0 goals per game).
2016 record: 21-2
Head coach: Lewis Theobald
The Jennies have been a dominating force in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association for close to a decade. UCM has won seven straight MIAA titles and nine of the last ten. With ten returning starters, that trend should continue.
Defense is the name of the game for the Jennies. They led DII in goals against (.304), shutout percentage (.826) and save percentage (.937). CMU has keeper Ana Dilkes returning in net, so little should change.
It’s a good thing that defense is intact. They have an opening day matchup with Great American Conference preseason favorites Southwestern Oklahoma State. SWOSU returns two of the top scorers — sophomore All-Americans Alimata Rabo and Sandra Nabweteme — so the defense will be put to the early test.
Players to watch: Dilkes, the Jennies’ senior keeper, has earned at least a share of the MIAA Goalkeeper of the Year in each of her three seasons. She has been one of the most dominant keepers in DII the past two seasons with consecutive All-American campaigns. Offensively, CMU returns three of its top four goal scorers. Junior Jada Scott was the best of the bunch, leading the Jennies with 16 goals and 40 points.
2016 record: 19-3
Head coach: Brian McManus
McManus has been at the helm of the Tritons' squad for three decades. During that time, he has won an NCAA DII-record 484 victories. That has resulted in four trips to the DII women's soccer national championship game, and back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001.
To say another winning season is expected is an understatement.
UCSD returns seven starters and are the preseason favorites to take its third straight California Collegiate Athletic Accosiation title. The Tritons had a balanced attack last season, pairing the No. 12 scoring offense in DII (2.68 goals per game) with the tenth-best goals against average in DII (.498). UCSD had four players score 20 or more points last season, and three of them return. Two of its first four games are against opponents either ranked or receiving votes, so the Tritons have a tough test right out of the gates.
Players to watch: Senior forward Katie O'Laughlin was the leader of the Tritons offense last year. She tallied a team-best 41 points and 16 goals, including six game-winners. Joining her on the front line of attack is junior forward Mary Reilly, who was second on the team with 13 goals of her own. UCSD appears to be modeled on unselfish play, as both O'Laughlin and Reilly registered nine assists. The team leader in assists, however, was senior midfielder Jordyn McNutt. The third-team All-American led the CCAA in assists for the third season in a row.
Keep your eyes on the PSAC:
Three Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference teams are in the Top 20, two of which broke the Top 10.
Kutztown, West Chester and East Stroudsburg will have quite the battle for PSAC superiority. West Chester has found its way atop the standings the past three seasons, but lost five key players, including Alex Srolis, who registered more shutouts than any other keeper in PSAC history. Kutztown had a historic season for both the program and conference, becoming the first PSAC school to reach the semifinals. All East Stroudsburg has done is win the last three PSAC tournament championships.
East Stroudsburg opens against West Chester, while Kutztown opens the season out of conference, on the road against preseason No. 24 Charleston (WV). The three teams are wasting little time in their march to the top.