RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. —Following a season that culminated in the program’s third Great American Conference regular-season title, Southwestern Oklahoma State will enter 2017 as the women’s soccer preseason favorite, the league office announced on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs, who posted a 12-4-3 record last season, picked up four of the seven first-place votes. They return the dynamic duo of Alimata Rabo and Sandra Nabweteme. Each broke the GAC single-season scoring record as both tallied 53 points. Rabo became the D2CCA Central Region Player of the Year and a First-Team All-American while Nabweteme earned Second-Team All-American honors. SWOSU returns six additional All-GAC performers in First-Team picks Olivia Butler and Erica Brunet, Second-Team honorees Sarah Wilson and Lauren Williams and Honorable Mention selections – Ashlyn Collier and Shelley Mueller. The Bulldogs also welcome back Kylee Bertrand, an All-Region defender in 2015, from a medical redshirt season.
Harding, who claimed its second-straight GAC Tournament title and earned a trip to the NCAA Regionals last year, garnered three first-place votes and took second in the voting, one point behind SWOSU. The Lady Bisons feature Bethany Sutherland, a two-time All-American midfielder. She netted 14 goals, third in the GAC. In fact, they return their top three scorers as forwards Morgan Springborn and Carley Stevens each amassed 16 points. In net, Harding brings back Jessica Woessner who took home the Tournament MVP award.
Oklahoma Baptist finished third in the poll. In 2016, the Lady Bison improved by nine wins from their inaugural year in the GAC. Ruth King, who joined SWOSU’s Rabo and Nabweteme as the GAC’s First-Team forwards, netted 11 goals as a freshman. In total, Oklahoma Baptist returns six All-GAC selections in defenders Jennifer Goethe, Lara Haring-Lovett and Kelsey Bumgarner and midfielders Kerregan Edwards and Reagan Mann.
Ouachita placed fourth. The Tigers lose GAC Defender of the Year Tessa Woodcock but will bring back Goalkeeper of the Year Erin Webster. She led the conference in shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage while she ranked second in saves. The Tigers return a quartet of 2016 All-GAC Honorable Mention selections in forwards Kasey Smith and Bryson Thomas and midfielders Natalia Arteaga and Barbara Pascale.
Southern Nazarene claimed the fifth position. Senior Hannah Robinson registered six goals and five assists to earn a spot on the All-GAC First Team. The Crimson Storm features a 2016 All-GAC performer at each position in forward Meagan Chase, midfielder Kelsi Bussert and defender Brianna Evans.
East Central and Northwestern Oklahoma State filled out the poll. Tiger forward Deanna Rudasill led the team with 23 points while Yazmin Gomez paced the Rangers in scoring.
The 2017 season opens on Thursday, August 31 with five schools – SWOSU, Oklahoma Baptist, Southern Nazarene, East Central and Northwestern Oklahoma State taking to the pitch. The following day, Harding and Ouachita head to Missouri Western State for the GAC/MIAA Challenge.