BATON ROUGE - After winning three-straight Southeastern Conference Western Division championships and earning three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2007-09, LSU Soccer returned to its position among the league's elite once again in 2011 by earning a fourth division crown and postseason berth as one of the premier programs in college soccer.
In fact, the Tigers finished runner-up for the SEC Championship for the third time in four seasons after posting an 8-3 mark with 24 points in SEC play to wrap up the regular season only a mere three points behind South Carolina for second place on the final league table.
Providing the foundation for another championship run was a senior quintet that wrapped up a successful four years in Baton Rouge by tying a class record with 50 wins.
And it was a star-studded senior class led by Allysha Chapman as a First-Team All-SEC selection and the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and Taryne Boudreau as a First-Team All-SEC performer in her own right as the team's offensive star. Natalie Martineau was picked as a Second-Team All-SEC selection as one of the leading assist makers in the country, while senior stalwarts Mo Isom and Kellie Murphy wrapped up their careers as team captains.
Those returning to the team in 2012 knew it would be a crucial offseason for the Tigers to continue their ascent to the top of the SEC. With only six starters returning, an opportunity was there for the next generation of Tigers to step up and make their own mark on the program.
"After graduating an impact class of five standout seniors last fall, the spring season proved crucial in the continued development and maturity of our team," said LSU's eighth-year head coach Brian Lee. "That is what provides our student-athletes an opportunity to get back into the type of competition we need to prepare for the fall. The spring was certainly a test for many of our players to see who could fill that void left by our senior class.
"Our players have completed another intense offseason program that will be a key for this team as we go through preseason training. These have been the building blocks for us as we ready ourselves for another exciting season of LSU Soccer."
The Tigers will work to replace their Canadian connection as Boudreau and Martineau combined for 16 goals and 16 assists as the team's two leading scorers during the 2011 campaign. Among those looking to fill the void in the attack are senior Carlie Banks, junior Addie Eggleston and sophomores Alex Arlitt and Kaley Blades.
Arlitt returns as perhaps the most versatile member of the squad in the wake of her rookie season in which she started all 22 matches for the Tigers a year ago while seeing action as an attacking midfielder, defensive midfielder and starting left back. She boasts the skill set to replace either Martineau in the attack or Chapman in defense as a leader of the midfield unit.
Eggleston is the team's top returning scorer from a year ago when she set her career-best with four goals and totaled 13 points on the campaign. Banks is the top returning assist maker for the Tigers after setting her career-high seven assists to rank second behind Martineau's 10 assists last fall. The trio of Banks, Blades and Eggleston teamed for nine goals and 15 assists in 2011.
The Tigers also feature a trio of All-SEC candidates to anchor the defense as junior Alex Ramsey returns as the team's starting right back with 43 career starts to her credit and sophomore Jodi Calloway continues her development as one of the league's premier center backs following a selection to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2011. Former SEC All-Freshman Team selection and rising junior Megan Kinneman is also the heir apparent in goal following Isom's departure.
While the Tigers return a solid nucleus from last year's squad, they also welcome a talented Top 10 recruiting class to campus for the second time in three seasons as each of their six incoming freshmen are sure to make an immediate impact this fall.
Headlining the class are two TopDrawerSoccer.com Top 100 recruits in the United States for the Class of 2012 and a pair of Under-20 internationals while representing Canada and Mexico during their prep careers.
Mexican U-20 international Fernanda Pina (Puebla, Mexico) will compete for a starting spot along the front line, while Canadian U-20 veteran Jade Kovacevic (Georgetown, Ontario) and Texas native Heather Magee (Colleyville, Texas) will impact the midfield as rookies in 2012. Magee joined the program as the nation's No. 31-ranked prep prospect by TopDrawerSoccer.com while freshman goalkeeper Morgan Ruhl was tabbed the No. 93-ranked recruit in 2012. Kovacevic will join the squad during the non-conference season after representing Canada at the FIFA U-20 World Cup beginning Aug. 19 in Japan.
"We certainly have some holes to fill after losing such a quality senior class following the end of last season, but we're excited to welcome another Top 10 recruiting class to campus to join a solid nucleus we have returning this fall," Lee said. "We're a young team, but we believe we've got the potential with this group to continue our pursuit of an SEC Championship."
The Tigers will kick off the 2012 campaign on Aug. 20 with an early-season road test against the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference as the two sides collide at the OU Soccer Complex in Norman as part of an exciting opener on Monday Night Futbol.
In order to prepare for another run at the SEC title, the Tigers will compete against a non-conference schedule that features six matches against teams that ended the 2011 season with a final RPI among the Top 100 teams in the country. After opening the season with a road fixture at Oklahoma, the Tigers return home to battle the likes of Florida International, Memphis, NC State, Rice and Stephen F. Austin which also finished in the final RPI Top 100 a season ago.
Memphis is the reigning Conference USA champion after posting a 22-1-1 overall record in 2011 en route to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers also welcome NCAA Tournament qualifiers Florida International and Stephen F. Austin to Baton Rouge this fall.
LSU will then compete against an expanded 13-game SEC schedule that features a pair of former Big 12 powers in the Missouri Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies.
The Tigers and Aggies kick off the SEC season on Sept. 14 at the LSU Soccer Stadium in one of eight league matches against NCAA Tournament qualifiers from a year ago. LSU's home slate is headlined by matches against such postseason veterans as Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Kentucky, while the Tigers will go on the road to battle defending SEC champion South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee in the homestretch of the regular 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 five seasons and the Tigers are hungry for more as the 2012 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 seven seasons, his goals are now well within reach for a new generation of Tigers.