The expectations are a little higher for Alabama State’s soccer team this season. It’s nice that gradual improvement has finally earned them some recognition.
“Looking back on last year, we definitely left some games on the table we should have won,” ASU soccer coach Jodie Smith said. “But we’ve finally got the depth to be better than last year. We brought in a strong recruiting class, probably as far as pure talent the deepest since I’ve been here.
“There’s probably four projected starters. That provides more depth. We’ll be deeper in the back, which was our problem last year, conceding late goals. Offensively, it will take care of itself but defense will be the (focal) point where I believe we’ll be stronger.”
The signees include a pair of twins from Alaska, Aaliyah and Ariela Lewis, along with backline defenders Kayla Edwards and Ally Murphy, four players that should provide some immediate help to the defensive efforts of the soccer team.
“Another area in the back where we’ve shown improvement is with a transfer we got from Western Colorado named Emily Ziolkowski and her experience coming in is going to be more of a benefit on the backline,” Smith said. “She’s already shown she understands what she needs to do.”
Offensively, as Smith noted, the Hornets have plenty of talent returning. Alexandria Cannon was named preseason Southwestern Conference Player of the Year after leading all conference scorers with 11 goals in 2012, along with five assists that were third best in the league. Cannon was a first-team selection at forward on the preseason all-conference team, along with teammate India Pleasant. Anastasia McCleary, the SWAC freshman of the year in 2012, was a first-team selection at midfielder.
The Hornets were picked third in the East Division by coaches behind Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State. Until the Hornets find a way to stop opponents, they won’t be considered championship material.
Alabama State will hold an exhibition game with Alabama-Huntsville on Sunday at 2 p.m. before opening the season next weekend with a pair of home matches against Troy (on Friday at 7 p.m.) and South Carolina State (on Sunday at 1 p.m.) The nagging questions for Smith, as he prepares for the season opener, remain on defense.
“First and foremost, are we going to be better in the back?” he asked. “Will we lead from the backcourt? Will our goalkeeper take a position of leadership and communicate more? That’s been a point of emphasis in the spring and so far in the fall camp.
“Going forward, I’m not too nervous about it. We’re going to put pressure on teams and score goals. Can we stop them? That’s really what I’m looking for.”
Smith was also grateful for recent facility upgrades provided by interim athletic director Melvin Hines. That, along with the new soccer field which debuted in 2012, transform the Hornets’ soccer program into one that is inviting for recruits.
“It’s no coincidence that the rise in our program has coincided with an upturn in facilities,” Smith said. “Our players love playing on the natural grass. It’s a great atmosphere and that’s not an accident how we’ve turned the corner.”