Fall camp is underway for the Boise State soccer team as they prepare for one of the earliest openings ever August 17 against New Mexico State. The Broncos were 2-4-1 in their debut season in the Mountain West Conference and 8-11-1 overall. Boise State finished fifth in the conference during the regular season, dropping a 2-0 decision to UNLV in the conference playoffs. Seven of the Top 10 scorers and 10 players who started five or more games last season return for Coach Steve Lucas.
But the defense took a major hit when star goalkeeper Liz Ruiz and defensemen Lindsay Roberts and Serena Montoya graduated. The departures of leading scorer Kati Lucas (7 goals and 15 points) and middle fielders Lauren Hickok, Ashley Walsh and Chelsea Robinson also left big holes in the Bronco lineup.
Erica Parks returns to the Boise State lineup at forward after starting 11 games last season. Parks scored just once last year but she has 15 career goals (sixth all-time at Boise State) and was a key part of the 2009 WAC championship team.
"Erica is ready to breakout again," Lucas said. "The thing about Erica is we just need her to be dangerous in whatever way. If she's not scoring goals she can help us to score goals. It's not so much that we need her to finish with 10 or 12 goals. we just need her to be in dangerous spots and get chances. If we are getting chances we are doing the right things."
Eble Harris, a transfer from UC Riverside, is expected to battle for the other starting spot with junior Ashley Hruby, redshirt freshman K.T. Clayton and true freshman Anna-Marie Popma. Harris did not score last season but did provide an assist and had nine shots on goal. Hruby had two goals and five shots on goal for the Broncos in 2011.
Clayton started for the state championship club team and scored 12 goals her senior year as an all-conference performer at Kent Mountain View High School in Kent, Washington. Popma was a four year starter at Tualatin High School in Oregon, leading her team to a 6A state championship last season. Popma was an all-conference performer in each of her four seasons including being named player of the year as a junior and a senior. Popma was named Oregon State 6A Player of the Year as a senior, when she scored the 100th goal of her high interscholastic career in the state championship game.
The Broncos are loaded at middle fielder; six players with more than five starts return for Coach Lucas. Katie Oehring, Tylyn Hughes and Gabby Garcia form a strong nucleus and Boise State is hoping to have a healthy Brandy Hickcox as well. In addition to that foursome, Shannon Schueren was second on the team in goals (3), points (8) and corner kicks (12), despite only starting three games.
Oehring started 18 games last season and had three assists and led the team with 20 corner kicks. Garcia started 13 games while Hughes started 10. Lucas would like to see both take more shots this fall. Hickcox started all 23 games as a freshman on the WAC championship team, but played just once in 2010 and just six games last year.
Rebe Wolverton also scored twice for the Broncos and will see a lot of action. Other middle fielders vying for playing time include Jenna Griggs, Brianne Favatella, Kallie Neimann, Janelle Jin, Ali Clarkson and Noelle Kolb. In addition, Lucas secured the talent of Brooke Heidemann of Rocky Mountain High School in the 2012 recruiting class. Heidemann was named the Idaho Girls Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year last season.
"Our returning set is really good," Lucas said. "They had a great spring and they are starting to form some cohesiveness. Their fitness, willingness to work and knowing where each other are will play big roles in our success."
Mikhaila Bowden started in all 20 games last season and Mandy Nader started in 16, and those pair will be called upon to bring along their new starting mate on defense. That is expected to be junior Kallie Neimann, who moves back to her natural position of defense after spending the first two years of her career as a midfielder. Avery Salisbury is the only other returning defender, and freshman Dominique Banks will also fight for playing time.
Salisbury, who started seven games last season for Boise State, helped her high school team win four league titles and she played on the same state championship club team as Popma. Banks was an all-conference player for Los Alamitos High School all four seasons and helped her club team, Legends Breakway, reach the National Championships earlier this year. Lucas brought in freshmen Kelsey Nicassio and Kelsey Witker and one or both of them could also play this fall.
"We have a good mix of experienced players and young players on that back line," Lucas said. "Between the recruits coming in this year and a few returners we will be in good shape back there."
Replacing Ruiz in the net won't be easy. Ruiz holds career records in wins, shutouts, save percentage and goals-against average at Boise State. Redshirt sophomore Maddy McDevitt will contend with senior Megan Blanchard for the starting spot. Blanchard had a goal-against average of 1.88 last season while McDevitt's was an even 2.00.
"We're a team that wants to keep the ball and that is never going to change," Lucas said. "Our athleticism and ability to do that has increased which is great. We want to be able to play faster while still keeping the ball."
The schedule may be the toughest in school history, and it is certainly one of the earliest. The Broncos take on Seattle in an exhibition August 11, then open with New Mexico State at home on Friday, August 17. The contest against the Aggies will be part of the Holiday Inn Tournament through Sunday, August 19.
Boise State makes its road debut against Washington State, one of three opponents who qualified for the 2011 NCAA Tournament (the others are Montana and New Mexico). The Broncos also have an exciting East Coast road trip to Navy and Pennsylvania.
It is a great mix of experience and talented youth, a combination that usually results in good seasons. If an aggressive offense can play ball control and the new Bronco goalkeeper is solid, Boise State should join the upper echelon in the Mountain West.