BATON ROUGE – There’s really only one word to describe the caliber of recruit making its way to Baton Rouge in recent seasons as LSU Soccer’s head coach Brian Lee and his coaching staff look to lead the squad into the Southeastern Conference title chase once again as he begins his ninth season at the helm in 2013.
That word? World-class.
Under Lee’s direction, the Tigers most recently earned their third second-place finish in the race for the SEC regular season championship during the 2011 season as they said goodbye to a heralded senior class featuring a trio of All-SEC performers and Canadian internationals with Taryne Boudreau, Allysha Chapman and Natalie Martineau. They were leaders of a class that scored SEC silver in 2008, 2009 and 2011 while tying a class record of 50 wins in four seasons at LSU.
Lee has certainly followed that formula in turning the Tigers into title contenders for years to come after signing nine recruits with international experience on National Signing Day in 2012 and 2013. That includes youth national team veterans hailing from Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States looking to make their mark on the program in the coming seasons.
That youth will team with a strong crop of upperclassmen to lead the Tigers into the 2013 season as they charge toward the top of the table in this new era of SEC soccer.
“The Southeastern Conference and college soccer as a whole is just so much stronger today than it’s really ever been,” Lee said. “With the success we’ve enjoyed in our time here, this program has been able to attract some of the best youth players from across the globe to remain in the championship picture year in and year out. That shows the power of the LSU brand.
“We’ve been so very close to winning our first SEC Championship and breaking through in the NCAA Tournament here these last several years. We continue to work toward that here this season and on into the future with the next generation of LSU Soccer.”
The Tigers are blessed with senior leadership on each level of the field with the likes of Megan Kinneman, Addie Eggleston and Alex Ramsey returning for their final season in the squad this fall. Kinneman reestablished herself as one of the SEC’s premier goalkeepers with her efforts a season ago, and she will look to lead the defense with Eggleston who returns to the lineup as the team’s starting right back. Ramsey will drive the engine in the central midfield.
This senior trio has combined for 143 starts in 167 career appearances for the Tigers over the past three seasons as they look to set the pace again this fall.
Arlitt is arguably the most versatile Tiger on the 2013 roster with the ability to star in attacking or defensive midfield roles or in central defense as a leader of the back line. If her performance against Nicholls State in the team’s 4-1 exhibition victory on Friday night, Arlitt will open the season on the back line as she cracked the starting lineup at center back before moving to right back in the second half.
Despite playing mostly a defensive role for the Tigers as a sophomore a year ago, Arlitt even tied as the team’s leading goal scorer with a career-high four goals on the 2012 campaign.
Arlitt turned in one of the great individual performances in the program’s history in a 3-2 overtime victory over Ole Miss a year ago when she almost single-handedly brought the Tigers back from a 2-0 halftime deficit for a historic win in Oxford. Arlitt scored LSU’s first goal for the match early in the second half, assisted the game-tying goal minutes later and drew the penalty in overtime that led to the winning spot kick in a defeat of their SEC rivals.
Like Arlitt, Calloway has also cracked LSU’s starting lineup as either a defensive midfielder or center back in all 43 fixtures over the past two seasons as she also owns a wealth of experience at the NCAA Division I level.
But Calloway is likely to find a home on the front line in 2013 after taking the pitch as LSU’s starting center forward on Friday night against Nicholls State. Calloway’s work rate was rewarded in the second half late in the second half when she netted the team’s final goal in the 85th minute in their 4-1 victory to highlight her first career appearance as a striker.
“The teams we’ve had here in recent years have all blended together a mixture of talented upperclassmen to give us the experience and leadership we need along with the younger players we’re working to integrate into program,” Lee said. “We’re fortunate to have that kind of experience and leadership once again as we prepare for a new season.”
After getting their first taste of college soccer with strong freshman seasons in 2012, Heather Magee and Fernanda Pina will help provide an experienced presence for the Tigers in the midfield as they help generate an attack as part of the strongest unit on the field.
Pina matched Arlitt’s output with four goals to tie as the team’s leading goal scorer in her debut season with the Tigers. Her 12 total points also tied for the top spot on the club’s scoresheet last season. Magee enjoyed a measure of success of her own as each of her two goals scored were game-winners to match Pina’s winning output in 2012.
And Lee and his staff certainly strengthened each level of the squad with the addition of five world-class talents on National Signing Day in February to solidify the SEC’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class and NCAA’s No. 14-ranked recruiting class for 2013 as announced by the editorial staff at www.AllWhiteKit.com.
Joining the program for the new campaign is a quartet of FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup veterans as striker Summer Clarke (Canada), attacking midfielder Emma Fletcher (New Zealand), left back Megan Lee (New Zealand) and center back Rebecca Pongetti (Canada) starting for their countries in the tournament held in the Eastern European nation of Azerbaijan in September 2012.
The Tigers also welcome a capped member of the Mexican Women’s National Team into the program as junior transfer Natalia Gomez-Junco makes her way to Baton Rouge following a two-year stint at the University of Memphis in 2011 and 2012.
Gomez-Junco, who will redshirt during the 2012 season, is an attacking midfielder with an impressive international pedigree while making seven career appearances for Mexico at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup for 2010 and 2012. She recently earned her first two international caps as a member of Mexico’s senior squad at the Algarve Cup held in Portugal this past spring.
“We’re very excited about the youth that will be featured in the squad this season,” Lee said. “Our staff has done a tremendous job of identifying and recruiting some truly world-class players into the program in these last couple of recruiting cycles, which is what we’ll need to return to contend for trophies going forward. We’ll follow up with an even stronger recruiting class again this season.”
The Tigers are set to kick off the 2013 regular season on Friday night when they play host to in-state rival Louisiana Tech with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CT at the LSU Soccer Stadium.
While preparing for a rigorous slate of SEC fixtures, the Tigers will compete against an eight-game non-conference slate highlighted by a Monday Night Futbol match with BYU on Sept. 2 as the Cougars are just one year removed from earning a No. 1 national seed and claiming a spot in the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament.
Also headlining the non-conference slate is a trip to Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 6-8 for an appearance at the Minnesota Gold Classic where the Tigers will face Minnesota and Southern California in their first road test of the season.
LSU will then compete against its 11-game SEC schedule that features five games versus NCAA Tournament teams from last year, including Tennessee and Missouri at home and Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M all on the road in a four-game stretch late in the season.
There’s no question that the LSU Soccer program has firmly established itself among the nation’s elite with its performance during the last six seasons and the Tigers are hungry for more as the 2013 season draws near. When Lee took over the program in December 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 for the past eight seasons, his goals are now well within reach for a new generation of Tigers.