Soccer Preview Part 3: The Midfield
BATON ROUGE - The resume of Malorie Rutledge speaks for itself. A two-time consensus All-American, a two-time SEC Offensive Player of the Year and a three-time First-Team All-SEC performer in four seasons at LSU, Rutledge ended her collegiate career last season as the most decorated Tiger ever to step onto the soccer pitch.
Rutledge rewrote the record books in four seasons in Baton Rouge as she left the program as the team's all-time career leader in assists (46) and points (102), while also scoring 28 goals during her career. Add it to the fact that she was the team's leading goal scorer and point scorer a year ago while setting new career highs with 13 goals and 12 assists for 38 points in 2009.
If losing Rutledge weren't enough, the Tigers must also replace one of the most dynamic attacking threats in the midfield in the Southeastern Conference in three-time All-SEC performer Melissa Clarke, who was the team's second-leading scorer with 12 goals and 29 points a season ago.
"It's going to be impossible for us to replace two class players like Malorie Rutledge and Melissa Clarke in the midfield. That just doesn't happen overnight," said LSU head coach Brian Lee. "But we have some talented players returning to the team this year and some very talented recruits coming in that will help us continue to play the attacking style of soccer we like to play.
"Our fans will really enjoy getting to know the next generation of Tigers we have coming in this fall. We have an outstanding group of young women who are preparing themselves to compete."
Junior Kellie Murphy is LSU's top scoring midfielder returning this fall after establishing career highs for 2009 with five goals and 11 points on the season. Murphy emerged as a full-time starter for the Tigers as an attacking midfielder at the end of the season while cracking the starting 11 in the last seven matches.
Supporting Murphy in the middle will be junior transfer Natalie Martineau, who is a veteran of the Under-20 Canadian Women's National Team who has joined the LSU program following two successful seasons at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. An All-Peach Belt Conference performer, Martineau cracked the starting lineup in 41 of 42 matches with the Falcons as one of the elite players in NCAA Division II.
LSU's firepower is sure to come from the wings as Courtney Alexander, the team's lone senior, has made the transition to the left wing after starting all 24 matches for the Tigers in 2009 as a left back.
Alexander is looking to continue the momentum from a brilliant spring season in which she emerged as a goal-scoring threat with three goals in four exhibition matches. She was also a force in the attack from her position at left back a year ago as she finished the season with two goals and six assists for 10 points.
Sophomore Natalie Ieyoub is back and better than ever after seeing her freshman season cut short in 2009 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Ieyoub played in 14 matches while making four starts on the wing before her season-ending injury as she scored one goal and recorded four assists.
The Tigers have also added the services of one of the top midfielder recruits in the nation to shore up their rotation on the outside as Dallas Texans product Nina Anderson prepares for a breakout rookie season. Anderson signed with LSU as the No. 68-ranked recruit in the country in the TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 100 and is poised to take on a starting role in her first year in Baton Rouge.
LSU's defense will also start in the midfield as Allysha Chapman returns for her junior season as one of the most dominant defensive midfielders in all of women's college soccer. After opening the 2009 season as LSU's starting left back, Chapman made the move to the defensive midfield, where she earned Second-Team All-SEC honors in her first season with the program.
Chapman's reputation as a defensive leader was echoed on Monday afternoon as she was voted a member of the 2010 SEC Soccer Coaches Preseason All-SEC Team.
"We are very excited about the potential of our midfield unit this season," Lee said. "They have some big shoes to fill, but are making the necessary strides early on in fall camp to prepare for the season opener less than two weeks away. We have had some outstanding practices with intensity and competition across the board. That is exactly what we need to see from our team as we look to develop our identity.
"Natalie Martineau and Nina Anderson have been two of the standout performers in camp. We will count on them to help lead the way and generate the attack through the midfield. Cojo (Alexander) is also ready to step up for us in the attack after making the move to the wing. And when you throw into the mix Kellie Murphy, Allysha Chapman, Natalie Ieyoub and some others, you can see there's some depth there."