BATON ROUGE - If there was ever a doubt about LSU's claim as being one of the premier programs in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers put it to rest in 2009 by capturing their third-straight SEC Western Division championship and earning a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row.
In fact, the Tigers enjoyed their most successful campaign in program history with a runner-up finish in the final SEC standings for the second-straight season, while matching the school record for wins with a 15-4-5 record and finishing one point out of first with an 8-2-1 mark in SEC play.
There is no question that LSU has enjoyed its time in the national spotlight in each of the last three seasons and is poised to build on its success while competing for its first overall conference championship and qualifying for a spot in the NCAA Women's College Cup.
The mastermind behind LSU's meteoric rise to national prominence is veteran head coach Brian Lee, who enters his sixth season leading a program that has quickly developed a reputation as one of the true contenders for the SEC championship year in and year out.
The 2010 campaign is sure to be more of the same as the Tigers are set to kick off the season with a roster reloaded and ready to take on the nation's elite once again.
While LSU returns six full-time starters from a year ago, the side also welcomes a crop of freshmen that ranks among the best in the NCAA for the Class of 2010. Among those wearing the purple and gold uniform for the first time are five TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 100 recruits, giving the team a perfect blend of youth and experience to continue in their championship tradition.
"We're excited about how far this program has come in just a few short seasons, and we expect to make another run at an SEC championship again this fall with the nucleus of players we have returning in the fall," Lee said. "I think that a big key for us this fall will be how quickly our young players adapt to the college game. We need them to step up in support of our veterans who have already experienced tremendous success at this level."
The Tigers were crowned SEC West champions for the third year in a row and finished runner-up in the final SEC standings for the second time in as many seasons on the strength of the league's most prolific offensive attack that scored a league-leading 56 goals and 162 points in 2009.
If it hopes to join the SEC title race again this fall, LSU must replace 32 goals and 93 points from last year's team. Sophomore Carlie Banks is the team's top returning scorer from a year ago as she scored seven goals and dished out four assists for a total of 18 points while being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team as one of the league's up-and-coming forwards. She was impressive in conference play while scoring all seven goals against SEC opponents.
Courtney Alexander, the team's lone senior this fall, is preparing to make the transition to the front line after competing as LSU's starting left back for much of the 2009 campaign. After scoring just two goals a season ago, Alexander emerged as a rising star in the attack while scoring a total of three goals in just four matches during the 2010 spring season.
Junior Kellie Murphy is the team's top returning scorer in the midfield in 2010 after setting a pair of career highs with five goals and 11 points last fall. Junior transfer Natalie Martineau is a welcomed scoring threat for the Tigers in the midfield as she joins the program following a career at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. A veteran of the Under-20 Canadian National Team, Martineau won NSCAA/adidas All-South Region and All-Peach Belt Conference honors in 2009.
LSU has also added the services of one of the top midfield recruits in TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 100 selection Nina Anderson (68).
"We take great pride in our ability to play an attacking style of soccer that is able to put a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing defenses. We have a good nucleus of players coming back, but a number of fresh faces who will need to step it up if we hope to have the same level of production," Lee said. "Cojo (Alexander) will be a leader for us in the attack this season."
The Tigers also have the potential to compete with a strong defense again this fall, led by a pair of juniors in Second-Team All-SEC defensive midfielder Allysha Chapman and goalkeeper Mo Isom. The duo helped anchor one of the SEC's leading defensive units in 2009 as the team set a school single season record 0.71 goals against average. Each has experience on their side with a combined 67 starts to their credit. Isom has started 43 of 44 matches in two seasons at LSU, while Chapman cracked the lineup in all 24 matches a year ago.
Isom will be pushed by one of the leading goalkeeper recruits in the country for the Class of 2010 as freshman Megan Kinneman ranked No. 96 in the TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 100 this spring and is the No. 9-ranked goalkeeper recruit in the NCAA.
Perhaps the unit hardest hit by graduation following the 2009 season is the back line, with LSU needing to replace a trio of four-year starters in three-time All-SEC performer Chelsea Potts, Nikki Bush and Katherine Lagow. Not only that, but the Tigers must replace Alexander, who will make the switch to the front line after playing primarily as a left back last fall.
Two-year starting midfielder Taryne Boudreau will slide back into defense to fill a void in the middle, while redshirt sophomore Hannah Jobe is also pushing for a starting role on the back line. Freshmen competing for time in the midfield and in defense include Emily Cancienne, Shannon McLain, Danielle Murphy, Kendall Narum and Alex Ramsey.
"While we have some holes to fill in defense, we've got some talented players back again this year and some talented players coming in to help fill those holes," Lee said. "Allysha Chapman is one of the best defensive midfielders in college soccer and Mo Isom provides us with the experience and leadership we need in goal. The back line is where we're going to need people to step up big for us this season, perhaps more than any other position on the field."
In order to prepare for a run at the SEC championship, the Tigers will compete against an imposing non-conference scheduled that features road matches against four NCAA Tournament teams from 2009, including BYU, Memphis, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. LSU also travels to face Big 10 Conference power Illinois in the non-conference.
The Tigers will then compete against an SEC schedule that features five fixtures against a NCAA Tournament team from a year ago. They welcome the four-time defending SEC champion Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers to the LSU Soccer Complex this fall, while they must go on the road to face Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina in a trio of challenging matches.
There is no question that the LSU soccer program has firmly established itself among the nation's elite with its performance over the last three seasons, and the Tigers are hungry for more as the 2010 season opens at home against South Alabama on Aug. 22.
When Lee took the helm in December of 2004, he committed himself to "build a program that annually contends for the SEC, qualifies for the NCAA College Cup and competes to win a national championship." With LSU's performance over the past five years, his goals are now well within reach for a new generation of Tigers.