BATON ROUGE - As the LSU soccer team prepares for its 2010 regular season opener now just 10 days away, perhaps the group hit hardest by graduation from last year's team is along the back line as LSU has to replace all four starters from one of the SEC top defensive units a season ago.
Gone is a trio of four-year starters in Nikki Bush, Katherine Lagow and Chelsea Potts, who combined for a total of 233 starts in four seasons with the Tigers. Losing Potts is especially difficult as she proved to be the SEC premier's center back while finishing her career with three All-SEC honors.
Add that to the fact that Courtney Alexander, the team's lone senior this fall, is moving to the wing in the midfield after starting as a left back a year ago, and it's easy to see that the Tigers will rely on some fresh faces to step up and fill the void left in defense.
"We definitely have some question marks and some holes to fill along our back line," said LSU head coach Brian Lee. "We're going to have a young group back there this fall. We've got some talented frosh coming in who have the ability to make an impact for us, but the question remains to be answered of how quickly they will adapt to the speed and pace of play at this level.
"Our back line went from being the most experienced to the least experienced group in an instant, and the camp this year is a key for us in identifying who has what it takes to step up for us and fill the void."
After playing as a defensive midfielder in her first two years with the Tigers, junior star Taryne Boudreau will slide back in defense as a starting center back to anchor the back line this fall. Boudreau, who has started 45 of 47 career matches in the purple and gold, also logged some minutes as an outside defender at the end of her sophomore season in 2009.
There is no doubt that LSU's talented recruiting class will be called upon to help fill the remaining three spots along the defensive back line, and freshman Alex Ramsey has the advantage over the rest of her true freshman classmates after enrolling at LSU in January and competing during the spring season.
A native of Rock Hill, S.C., Ramsey was the No. 1-ranked recruit in her home state for the Class of 2010, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com, and appears to have locked down a starting spot on the outside.
"Alex has really benefitted from coming in January and has a good grasp of what we are doing in defense. She is fitter, faster and stronger than she was when she arrived and has reaped the rewards of competing in spring practice and staying with our strength and conditioning program over the summer," Lee said. "I am very pleased how she has emerged as a starter for us at left back."
Five Tigers are now battling for the two remaining spots in the starting lineup as sophomore Hannah Jobe is joined in competition by true freshmen Emily Cancienne of Baton Rouge, Shannon McLain of Spring, Texas, Danielle Murphy of Lafayette and Kendall Narum of Clearwater, Fla.
Perhaps the Tigers have benefitted most from the addition of Kevin Dempsey as an assistant coach in July as he joined Lee's staff following a nine-year tenure as head coach of the women's program at College of Charleston. Dempsey has focused much of his attention during fall camp on developing the back line.
"They're working really hard and are improving every single day at practice," Dempsey said. "This is our first week of camp, and the girls are really starting to understand each other and how to play together. We have seen improvements from this group each day in camp. We're starting to develop some chemistry and cohesion at the back, which is vital for the performance of our defense.
"And the leadership that Taryne Boudreau has shown throughout the preseason has been outstanding. She has done a great job of leading such a young group as the only upperclassman on the back line."