“The heartbreak last season has left a lot of returners hungry,” Gordon said. “It proves to them to take things one game at a time. Southwestern is a rising team I feel, and they executed their game plan [in last year’s game].”
Despite the abrupt end to last year’s season, Gordon’s team is shaping up for another top-three finish in the KCAC, which the program has done seven consecutive times, according to the OU athletic website. The Lady Braves were picked second in the KCAC coaches preseason poll with 73 total votes and four first-place votes. Kansas Wesleyan University, whose women’s soccer program has won two consecutive KCAC regular season championships, was voted first in the polls with 76 total votes and six first-place votes.
Gordon’s squad, which finished 13-6 overall and 7-2 in conference play last season, will be led by a group of returners who all earned conference honors last season. Jordan Tapia, junior defender, anchors OU’s defense, which was 19th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics last year in total shutouts with nine. Gordon has new plans for Tapia, who was last year’s co-KCAC Defensive Player of the Year, this season.
“We are going to move [Tapia] into the midfield,” Gordon said. “Annie [Kessler, sophomore defender] will move to the defensive line. They are pretty interchangeable with what we can do with them.”
Kessler returns after a strong freshman year. She earned Honorable Mention All-KCAC honors with three goals, including one game-winning goal. Kessler had 12 shots on goal out of 32 shots last season.
Offensively, the team returns one of their best attackers from last season in Autumn Surage, junior forward.
“Autumn is one of our team captains this year,” Gordon said. “She has been a great cornerstone of our program. She carried a burden [last season] of trying to be a goal scorer and she was left being double-teamed at times. She is a strong part of our attacking success.”
Gordon also speaks highly of his recruiting class this year.
“This year’s [class] is pretty strong,” Gordon said. “If they can be as productive as we’ve seen them play in their high school program, they will see some significant playing time.”
Six freshman players are listed on the roster according to the OU athletic website. Among them are two freshmen goalkeepers, Sommer Nix and Samantha Gitmed, who will be in the mix for the starting goalkeeper position.
“It is going to be a competitive spot to fill,” Gordon said. “Erin Stengel [sophomore goalkeeper]was our starter last year. She has had a continued problem with her hip.”
Gordon said Stengel is redshirted for this season, opening up the position for the young goalkeepers along with Kaitlyn Stinson, junior goalkeeper. Gordon said both freshman bring their own skill set to the position.
“Sommer Nix brings a strength and a passion to win balls in the air,” Gordon said. “She is a very good one-on-one shot stopper. Samantha Gitmed is a little more technical in her play. She is the textbook performer of what a goalkeeper is.”
The players will be tested early as the Lady Braves’ non-conference schedule includes five of their first six games on the road. The team also plays two NAIA postseason Top 25 teams in Benedictine College (21) and Baker University (24) during its non-conference schedule.
“We will start with a top 25 team right away with Benedictine, and Baker is always very, very strong,” Gordon said. “My goal is always to give us the best competition to prepare us for conference [play].”
The conference schedule will be no walk in the park for the Lady Braves either. Kansas Wesleyan finished the season ranked 11 in the NAIA with a 20-2-0 record.
“I think there has been some stability with coaches in the conference,” Gordon said. “The coaches have established their own program so to speak.”
OU’s plays their first scrimmage at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 18 against Allen County Community College at Ottawa University. The team’s first game takes place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 against Benedictine College in Atchison. The first KCAC game for OU is 6 p.m. Oct. 5 against Bethany College in Lindsborg.
OU players selected to 2013 KCAC Women’s Soccer Preseason Team announced Thursday:
• Jordan Tapia, junior defender [2012 first team selection]
• Autumn Surage, junior forward [2012 second team selection]
• Anjelica Tapia, junior midfielder [2012 second team selection]