Cougars counting on core to challenge for conference again
The Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville women’s soccer team won the Ohio Valley Conference championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year.
Now head coach Derek Burton is counting on some core returning players to stay competitive.
“We are returning a lot of experienced players, and a lot of our offense is returning,” Burton told the Metro East Sun. “We brought in quite a few really talented players. I think we are as deep as we’ve ever been -- just a little less experienced in certain areas.”
The Cougars lost a few key players on defense, but Burton said the team will be able to adapt thanks to its strong core.
“Last year we were inputting a lot of new elements to how we were playing and what we were doing tactically,” Burton said. “It took a little longer to feel comfortable and find the right mix of players on the field. Once we found that, we really started to have some consistent success. Our core players are returning, and I think that we should still have a competitive team.”
Senior Emily Grahl is one of those players. Last season, Grahl was named to the OVC second team all-conference team, scored three goals and led the team with six assists. Another senior, forward Caroline Hoefert, had five goals last season.
“Caroline Hoefert really started to emerge last year and ended up really blossoming as the year went on,” Burton said. “She capped off the conference tournament with being named the tournament MVP. “
The Cougars will open the preseason on Aug. 9 against the University of Evansville, then return home on Aug. 12 for their first home game, against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
SIUE's first regular season game will be a tough test, Burton said.
“The game against Clemson is a big one,” Burton said. “That is a highly regarded program and it will be a great game for our players.”
Burton added that the team is looking forward to the annual rivalry games against St. Louis University and Missouri State, but he also expects every conference game to be a test for the Cougars.
“The schedule is a great blend of our traditional regional nonconference opponents with a couple out-of-region teams," Burton said in a press release. "They will all be great tests for us in the first half of this season. Starting off the regular against Clemson and Cal Poly is a tremendous challenge which will be a thrill for us all and an exciting kick off to the fall season.”