A pair of in-season tournaments including one at home, road trips to two Southeastern Conference powers and an 11-match conference slate highlight the 2009 women’s soccer schedule for the defending Southern Conference Champion Western Carolina Catamounts, released today by head coach Tammy DeCesare. Four teams, including the opponent in the pre-season scrimmage, all advanced to the NCAA tournament a season ago.
“Every year we try and compile a schedule that is challenging outside of our conference slate to better prepare our team to make a run at the league championship. I feel that this year’s non-conference schedule is the most challenging since my arrival,” said DeCesare, who is entering her fifth season in Cullowhee. “We have built upon the schedule from last season and I believe that the challenges and level of play we will face early in the year will best prepare us.”
After reporting to campus in early August, Western will receive a true test in its lone preseason exhibition scrimmage in the middle of the month. The Catamounts will host the Charlotte 49ers, which finished ranked 25th nationally and sixth in the southeast region according to Soccer Buzz Magazine, at the Catamount Athletic Complex (CAC) on August. 18.
WCU will remain at home to open the ’09 season hosting both Gardner-Webb (Aug. 21) and East Tennessee State (Aug. 28) on consecutive Friday’s before taking to the road for the first-time on Sunday, Aug. 30. The Catamounts will travel down I-26 to Columbia, S.C., to face the South Carolina Gamecocks, who fell victim a season ago in the WCU program’s first-ever victory over a nationally-ranked squad. USC concluded last season ranked just ahead of Western in the Southeast region rankings in 13th.
Four of the seven scheduled matches in September – all coming in succession and all following three-straight on the road – will be played at the friendly confines of the Catamount Athletic Complex in Cullowhee.
Western will take part in a four-team set tournament in Miami (Fla.), which includes the first-ever meetings with both the host Hurricanes (Sept. 4) out of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Dayton Flyers (Sept. 6), which finished seventh in the Great Lakes Region according to Soccer Buzz with a 15-6-1 overall record in 2008.
The three-game road swing concludes with a visit to Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday, Sept. 13.
WCU opens its four-straight home matches to close September as it hosts SoCon-foe Elon, mountain-rival UNC Asheville and Jacksonville State Sept. 18-20 in the Catamount Classic, a home tournament. The four-game tourney will pit WCU against both UNCA and Jacksonville State, with two additional games featuring Elon against the same two non-conference schools, all played at the Catamount Athletic Complex.
The 2009 Catamount Classic represents the first time Western has ever hosted a home tournament.
As September comes to a close, the Catamounts can turn their attention solely to the SoCon slate as the final 11 contests of the season will all be in league play. The home slate includes visits from Davidson (Sept. 25) and Georgia Southern (Sept. 27) before hosting defending regular-season champion, UNC Greensboro, for a special Thursday night match on Oct. 8. UNCG was ranked 10th in the final Soccer Buzz Southeast region rankings.
Additional home matches include visits from the College of Charleston (Oct. 16) and The Citadel (Oct. 18) for Senior Day amidst Homecoming 2009 festivities before closing the regular season against arch-rival, Appalachian State on Friday, Oct. 30.
The Catamounts will travel to two of the teams it downed en route to the 2008 tournament championship, visiting Samford on Oct. 2 and Elon on Oct. 11. Additional league road stops include Chattanooga (Oct. 4), Furman (Oct. 23) and Wofford (Oct. 25).
The Southern Conference Women’s Soccer Championship will take a new look in 2009 as only the top four teams from the regular season finish will advance to post-season play. The top seed will reserve the right, if the facility permits, to host the other three qualifiers on their home field.
“There are realistically six-or-seven teams that could potentially contend for the top spot in the conference this year. Keeping that in mind, plus the smaller field vying for post-season play makes every match vital,” said DeCesare. “Add in the `home-field advantage’ reward for winning the title during the regular season and this is perhaps going to be the most competitive season in SoCon women’s soccer in a while.”
Western Carolina, which was ranked 58th out of the 64 teams that qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament – which was narrowed down from 318 NCAA Division-I programs across the nation, returns 18 letter winners and nine starters from a year ago when the Catamounts finished second in the SoCon and won the conference tournament.
Among the top returning players are nine seniors, including first-team All-SoCon selection Shanna Schmoker, and junior goal keeper Caitlin Williams, the 2008 SoCon tournament MVP. WCU returns both of its leading scorers from a balance attack last season as both senior Bri Cunningham and sophomore Kayla Beauduy, who was named to the inaugural All-Freshman team a season ago, are back along the front line.
“With the talent and experience that we are returning to the field this season, I am hopeful that we will be able to show steady performances against every opponent. Our focus is to create a standard of play that we will perform at regardless the level of our opponent,” concluded DeCesare.