Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lady Braves soccer drips with talent

By Greg Mast/Herald Sports Editor | 8/13/2014

This season could be special for the Ottawa University women’s soccer team.

The Lady Braves return everybody but one starter from last year’s 13-7-2 team.

This season could be special for the Ottawa University women’s soccer team.

The Lady Braves return everybody but one starter from last year’s 13-7-2 team.

Ottawa has been successful throughout the years, playing in five of the past seven KCAC Tournament championship matches.

Ottawa won the KCAC tourney championship last year and qualified for the NAIA National Tournament for the third time in program history.

Marc Gordon, fifth-year Lady Braves coach, is the winningest coach in program history.

The 2014 season could trump all of that. Ottawa is deep with experienced and talented players.

“With all our returners, we feel pretty good about things,” Gordon said. “We’ve gained some talent that were redshirted last year.”

He expects nearly 20 players with playing experience to be on the active roster.

“It allows us to do things within the system that is more advanced,” Gordon said. “We will play [around] with another system. We will play our 4-4-3 and add some twists. We can become a better team.

“Some of our redshirt freshmen trained with us all last year and spring. They are hungry. It makes us better.”

The top returners include senior Jordan Tapia, the KCAC co-defensive player of the year two years ago.

Senior all-conference forward Autumn Surage is ranked fifth in the Ottawa career record book in points (47), fifth in goals (19), and fifth in shots on goal (64).

Senior Angelica Tapia brings back her all-around skills.

The defense is headlined by juniors Morgan Trupp, Annie Kessler and Destinee Evans.

Sam Gitmed, last year’s starter, and Erin Stengel, the starter two years ago, will battle for the starting keeper position.

“There is not going to be a lot of drop when we substitute,” Gordon said. “We are deeper than a year ago. Some of that comes from the injured players that are back. We will be fresher at the end.”

Gordon said the players come in with a winning mentality.

“The players do a good job of holding each other accountable,” he said. “It is a buy in of the players.”

The nonconference portion of the schedule is full of Heart of America opponents.

“Everything we do in our preseason is in preparation for the KCAC,” Gordon said. “Many of our counterparts in the conference are picking up those harder matches. It makes us all better in the conference.

“For us to be successful at the national tournament level, we have to play the teams we are playing. The Heart brings a lot of good teams.

“We will feel fortunate to be on their schedule. It is the best preparation leading to the conference and postseason. We want them to be used to that speed of play and continue that into conference play.”

Gordon, who has coached in the KCAC for many years, said the conference teams are stronger and Ottawa can’t have a letdown against any foe.

“We have had some stability in coaching,” he said. “There is good talent throughout the conference.”

The Ottawa-Kansas Wesleyan rivalry is hard to top in the NAIA.

“They are always good,” Gordon said. “I respect the heck out of them.

“They are fighting for the same thing we are. It is that one game in November [that matters].

“It would nice to see both of us do well enough to get an [at large] bid.”

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