The Wildcats begin the 2016 season with an experienced roster, especially along the back lines and in the midfield. ACU returns four key starters from last year’s stout defense in goal keeper Sydney Newton, defenders Kelsie Roberts and Allie Gerner and defensive middle fielder Danielle Otto.
“These seniors are a pretty tight group who have gotten to see a lot of change during their time here,” head coach Casey Wilson said. “I will remember them for being open and willing to take on some extremely tough challenges in terms of dealing with adversity and continuing to keep moving forward.”
Newton has been named to the Southland Conference commissioner’s honor roll in all three seasons, and will be looking to make it a fourth consecutive this year. She ranked 6th in the conference her freshman year with a 0.84 goals-against average. During her junior year, she finished fifth in the conference in saves with 85. She also ranked fourth in the conference with two shutouts.
“I first played goalie when I was 11 or 12 and at first I hated it because I wanted to be a forward and score goals,” said Newton. “However, when I got to middle school, that became my set position. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that even when being in the goal you can make a big impact on the field.”
During conference a season ago, the Wildcats posted the second largest goal differential at plus-14, right behind eventual Southland champion Stephen F. Austin. They also finished third with a 118 saves on the year.
This season Roberts and sophomore Sophie Standifer were named to the the preseason all-Southland Conference first team. As a freshman, Roberts earned all-conference honorable mention and was part of a defense that only allowed 12.5 shots, 0.89 goals a match, and had seven shutouts.
In her sophomore year she was first team Southland Conference all-academic, second team coSIDA academic All-District, and contributed to a Wildcat defense that posted four shut outs. As a junior, she made second team all-Southland Conference, first team coSIDA academic All-District, and third team coSIDA academic All-America.
Since coming to ACU in 2007, Wilson’s teams have emphasized possession, and Otto’s transition to the Wildcats as a Juco transfer her junior year, was crucial in that style. In 2015 she played a key role in connecting the back line of the ACU defense to the attacking position. Otto made the Southland Conference commissioner’s honor roll, while totaling 1,133 minutes of playing time and scoring the game winning goal with a penalty kick against Houston Baptist.
Finally, Gerner totaled 1,383 minutes of playing time her freshman year and along with Roberts, helped anchor a defense that allowed 12.5 shots and allowed 0.89 goals a game. As a sophomore, she was a Southland Conference honorable mention and was named Southland defensive player of the week one time. During her junior year, she started 18 of 19 matches, totaled 1,261 minutes of playing time, and helped the defense record three shutouts.
“My favorite memory from ACU has been all the friendships I’ve made through this team over these four years.” said Gerner. “A great amount of my good friends have come from playing on the soccer team.”
Over the four years, and with the added help of Otto last season, this group of seniors have helped contribute 29 wins to the program. However, beyond the win total, the stout defense of the Wildcats over the last three years has propelled the transition into Div. 1.
“Though they did not get a chance to go to the postseason, they got a great education and played an important role building the foundation for our Div. 1 future,” said Wilson.
But despite the foundation they have already laid these women know this season is going to take perseverance and focus, in order to take another step forward from last year.
“I’ve also learned to really push myself. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been tired but being on the team taught me to dig deeper and keep going,” Gerner said.
And deeper is exactly where they’ll have to dig if they hope to bring home a Southland Conference championship in 2016.