It looked as if the numbers may be lacking slightly this season, but a late flurry of signings sees 32 Aussies start their 2018 Division I season this weekend, with 12 of those a chance to make their debut this week. We also see a couple of Aussie v Aussie matchups, including one with a difference.
Laura Farrelly may have travelled halfway around the world to continue her soccer career, but the Marshall freshman just can’t get away from the Aussies as she takes on Fairleigh Dickinson and their Aussie captain Sam Roff in their opening game of the season. Fairleigh Dickinson may play in the much smaller Northeast Conference when compared to Marshall’s Conference-USA, but it’s Roff and the Knights who are coming off a much more successful 2017, having compiled a 9-8-4 record, whilst Marshall managed just five wins last year. Marshall then face Army in their second game of the week, a team also looking to improve in 2018 after a fairly dismal 4-11-2 season in 2017.
There’ll be no bedding in period for Ashleigh Lefevre and her fellow Illinois freshmen as the Fighting Illini travel to the Southeast to take on two national powerhouses in North Carolina and Duke in their first two games of the season. It certainly is a tough start for an Illinois side looking to bounce back from a 2017 in which they finished with just four wins, particularly considering that both North Carolina and Duke will be in the mix for a national championship come the end of the season. If Illinois can pick up even a point on the road in these two games, it will certainly be a confidence boaster for a team playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation.
Claudia Jenkins spent her first season at La Salle as backup goalkeeper, but has the chance to secure a starting berth this season, and with fellow Australian, freshman Alyssa Van Heurck, in the backline, the Explorers could be heavily reliant on their Aussie pair to keep the goals out. Whilst their first game of the season will be against Syracuse, it is their match against UMBC later in the week that looms as the most interesting as UMBC’s new head coach this season is Australia’s own Vanessa Mann. For La Salle, these two games will hopefully form the springboard for a campaign that ends in a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, whilst for UMBC, they will be hoping that Mann’s reign as head coach can start on the front foot.
Of course, there are plenty of other freshmen and junior college transfers looking to kick off their Division I careers in the best way possible. Including those already mentioned, a grand total of 12 Australians could make their Division I debuts this weekend, with eyes especially focused on Tenille Harberger, Lorena Bugden, and Lauren Featherstone, who all missed out on playing in their first seasons for various reasons and will be hungry to make an impact from the outset.
Finally, the title favourite pairing of Beattie Goad’s Stanford side and Teagan Micah’s UCLA outfit kick off their seasons against a pair of in-state opponents as they begin a campaign that both teams will be hoping results in a return trip to the championship game. UCLA host Long Beach State, whilst Stanford will make the short drive north to face UC Davis. Both teams will be expected to win handsomely, and it will be interesting to see if Goad in particular can secure increased playing time in the early stages of 2018.
Akron (Freyja Murray)
This week: v Morehead State – 9am, Saturday August 18
Albany (Claire Urquhart)
This week: @ Arizona – 12pm, Saturday August 18; v New Mexico – 5am, Monday August 20
Chicago State (Sarah Clark)
This week: @ Youngstown State – 9am, Saturday August 18; at Cleveland State – 3am, Monday August 20
Colorado (Isobel Dalton)
This week: v Air Force – 10am, Saturday August 18; v Colorado State – 7:30am, Monday August 20
Drexel (Emma Heckenberg)
This week: v Rider – 9am, Saturday August 18; @ Rutgers – 7am, Monday August 20
East Tennessee State (Isabel Hodgson)
This week: v George Mason – 9am, Friday August 17
Fairleigh Dickinson (Sam Roff)
This week: v Marshall – 9am, Saturday August 18; @ Providence – 3am, Monday August 20
Georgia Southern (Hannah Allen)
This week: at Florida Gulf Coast – 9am, Saturday August 18; v Chattanooga – 3am, Monday August 20
Grand Canyon (Sandra Hill)
This week: @ Gonzaga – 12pm, Saturday August 18; @ Washington State – 6am, Monday August 20
Hofstra (Monique Iannella, Grace Watson-Carr)
This week: @ Bucknell – 3am, Saturday August 18; v Fairfield – 3am, Monday August 20
Illinois (Ashleigh Lefevre)
This week: @ North Carolina – 7am, Friday August 17; @ Duke – 3am, Monday August 20
La Salle (Claudia Jenkins, Alyssa Van Heurck)
This week: @ Syracuse – 8am, Friday August 17; v UMBC – 3am, Monday August 20
LSU (Caitlin Cantrill)
This week: v Villanova – 4am, Monday August 20
Marshall (Laura Farrelly)
This week: @ Fairleigh Dickinson – 9am, Friday August 17; @ Army – 3am, Monday August 20
Nicholls State (Tessa Calabria, Tenille Harberger, Kristy Helmers)
This week: v North Dakota – 7am, Saturday August 18; v Grambling – 4am, Monday August 20
North Dakota State (Lauren Featherstone)
This week: @ Wisconsin – 10am, Friday August 17; at Green Bay – 4am, Monday August 20
Old Dominion (Gaby Bentley)
This week: v East Carolina – 9am, Saturday August 18; v Mount St. Mary’s – 8am, Monday August 20
Southeast Missouri State (Siena Senatore)
This week: v Evansville – 9:30am, Friday August 17
St. Francis University (Shelby Milton)
This week: @ Radford – 9am, Friday August 17; v Canisius – 4am, Monday August 20
Stanford (Beattie Goad)
This week: @ UC Davis – 9am, Saturday August 18
Texas Tech (Demi Koulizakis)
This week: v New Mexico – 10:15am, Saturday August 18; v Pepperdine – 10am, Monday August 20
Towson (Jodie Burchell)
This week: @ South Florida – 9am, Friday August 17; @ Stetson – 3am, Monday August 20
UCLA (Teagan Micah)
This week: v Long Beach State – 12pm, Saturday August 18
Western Carolina (Kate Swartwout)
This week: @ Kennesaw State – 9am, Saturday August 18; v UNC Asheville – 2am, Monday August 20
William & Mary (Lorena Bugden)
This week: v Maryland – 6:30am, Friday August 17; v Dayton – 1:30am, Monday August 20
Wyoming (Annika Clayton, Jessie Gentle)
This week: @ South Dakota – 7am, Friday August 17; v Utah Valley – 5am, Monday August 20
30 players will represent Australia in NCAA Division I women’s soccer this season, including 2017 national champion Beattie Goad at Stanford and national runner-up Teagan Micah at UCLA. However, with players such as Georgia Rowntree, Alisha Bass, Harriet Withers, Nyomi Devine, Emily Hulbert, and Paige Hayward having now graduated, it is almost a new era for College Matildas.
Claire Urquhart was finally given a more extended run in the Albany side in her junior year, playing 12 games in 2017, compared to her seven total appearances in her first two seasons. The senior’s ability to slot into either midfield or the back four helped Urquhart in finding more opportunities last season, and with a number of defensive starters returning in 2018, it may again be the case that Urquhart finds herself splitting time across a number of positions. The Great Danes finished with a 6-11-1 record in 2017 and were knocked out in the first round of the America East tournament, but have scheduled a tough non-conference slate in 2018 that should leave them battle-tested and ready for an improved charge at a conference title this season and a return to the NCAA Tournament following 2016’s appearance in which they fell 4-2 to Connecticut in a tough first-round matchup.
Lauren Featherstone (Freshman, Midfielder, Central Connecticut State, Sydney)
After redshirting her first year at Central Connecticut State, Lauren Featherstone comes into her first year of collegiate play with a year of experience under her belt. What effect this has on the Sydneysider’s play remains to be seen, but there is no doubting that not having to settle into college life whilst playing her first season will be an added positive for Featherstone. Already earmarked for a starting position in the CCSU midfield, Featherstone will still have to ensure she earns that spot in preseason, but it shapes to be an exciting year for the versatile midfielder. CCSU return the majority of players from last year’s Northeast Conference tournament semi-final team, meaning that this year shapes to be one of their best chances at a conference title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Having played in just 7 times for a total of 86 minutes in 2017, Isobel Dalton will certainly be hoping that her senior year brings more playing time at Colorado. The Buffaloes return the majority of last season’s midfield, but as always there will be some new opportunities opening up with a couple of players graduating after the 2017 season. With a pair of NCAA Tournament berths in the last two seasons, both of which ended in second round defeats, there is no doubt that Colorado will be looking to, at the very least, reach the Sweet 16 in 2018 and finally get over that hurdle.
Emma Heckenberg (Senior, Defender, Drexel, Melbourne)
Heckenberg started her career at Drexel up front, but has eventually found her niche in the backline, forming part of a stellar Dragons defence that conceded just five goals in conference play. The Victorian was limited to 13 appearances last season, but if she can remain fit in 2018, expect to see Heckenberg as a mainstay in a back four where stability will be vital given former goalkeeper and program stalwart Christiana Ogunsami graduated after last season. Having reached the CAA championship game in 2016 and semi-finals last season, Drexel will once again be gunning for a spot in the conference tournament in a generally tough and evenly-matched conference. If the defence remains as strong as in 2017, there is no reason that can’t happen.
Isabel Hodgson (Senior, Defender, East Tennessee State, Adelaide)
Isabel Hodgson has played just about every position bar goalkeeper in her three years at East Tennessee State, and whilst she has been successful in every one of them, it appears that fullback will be her position going forward as the Buccaneers look to rebound from a 2017 campaign that saw the team finish with a 6-12 record and a dismal 0-8 road record. Hodgson was one of a pair of Australians in Division I to score more than one goal last season, proving that whilst her chances may not be as plentiful as when she was playing in a more advanced role, the South Australian still has the ability to get forward and join the attack when the opportunity presents itself.
Sam Roff (Junior, Defender, Fairleigh Dickinson, Canberra)
One of the first names on the team sheet for Fairleigh Dickinson, Sam Roff has been among the best defenders in the entire Northeast Conference throughout her two seasons in New Jersey. Fairleigh Dickinson finished third in the NEC for average goals conceded per game in 2017, but the majority of those goals came during an extremely tough non-conference slate that set the Knights up for a conference season that saw them reach the conference championship game before falling to Shelby Milton and St. Francis in a shootout in the decider. Roff was rewarded for her outstanding performances in 2017 with a selection in the Northeast Conference All-Conference First Team, and with still two years left in her college career, the Canberra product could yet become one of the greats of the Fairleigh Dickinson program.
Hannah Allen (Freshman, Midfielder, Georgia Southern, Brisbane)
Listed as a forward for Georgia Southern but certainly able to play multiple positions, Hannah Allen joins an Eagles side looking to continue its upward trajectory, having improved from 6-10-1 in 2016 to 8-9-2 in 2017. Having played at school level under Brisbane Roar W-League coach Mel Andreatta, Allen has no doubt benefitted from that elite coaching and will now look to force her way into the team as part of a slightly large 30-player Eagles squad.
Sandra Hill (Sophomore, Defender, Grand Canyon, Canberra)
Although Sandra Hill won 2017’s College Matildas Freshman of the Year award, there is certainly plenty more to come from the Grand Canyon fullback. Fresh off her first appearances for the Cambodian national team at the AFF Championship, including an appearance against the Young Matildas, Hill returns to Arizona with priceless experience under her belt. Having made a reasonably decent 13 appearances in her freshman year, Hill will no doubt want to increase her playing time in her sophomore season, and with three of Grand Canyon’s eight defenders in their freshman season this year, Hill is now one of the more experienced players in the backline in just her second year of college soccer.
Kiri Dale (Junior, Midfielder, Hawaii, Mullumbimby)
Kiri Dale took a risk last season by transferring from Iona to the much more highly-rated Hawaii, but the move paid off in spades as the versatile wide player secured a spot in the Rainbow Wahine’s rotation. Dale made an instant impact in 2017, coming up with the assist on an overtime golden goal in the very first game of the season. That was Dale’s only assist of the season, but the Iona transfer made her mark in other ways, making 11 starts and 17 appearances for a Hawaii team that finished 6-10-1 but whose progress was hindered by a 1-6-1 conference record. If the Rainbow Wahine can improve that conference record, it will make for a vastly improved season and 10 wins is by no means out of the question. Dale will also not be the only Aussie at Hawaii this season, with former Washington State star and Matildas representative Rachael Doyle joining the program as an assistant coach.
2017’s College Matildas Defender of the Year, Iannella has proven herself to be a weapon at both ends of the pitch for Hofstra. Her ability to whip the ball in, particularly from corners, led to six assists last season, whilst her defensive prowess has rarely, if ever, been called into question during her time with the Pride as the team gave up just 14 goals in 21 games last season on the way to an NCAA Tournament appearance in which they were somehow forced to travel to Auburn for their first-round game, where they fell 1-0. Hofstra’s senior class in 2017 was absolutely stacked with talent, so the onus will now be on the likes of Iannella and her own senior class to lead the Pride and ensure that the team remains among the top sides in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The most accomplished of the seven new additions to the list of Australians in Division I, Ashleigh Lefevre is also the only freshman joining a power conference team in 2018. A member of the Young Matildas side that finished 3rd at the 2016 AFF Women’s Championship, Lefevre tallied a goal in the side’s 20-0 demolition of Timor-Leste in that tournament before returning to play 25 games for Alamein FC in 2017’s Victorian NPL competition. The versatile defender returned in 2018 to play 12 games before heading to Illinois. The Fighting Illini finished with just five wins in 2017, their second straight season finishing below .500, but with the vast majority of the most integral parts of the starting lineup returning, the team looks to be on the upswing. But with six seniors graduating, many of whom started at least a few games, there will still be plenty of minutes up for grabs for Lefevre in her senior season even if she doesn’t secure a starting berth from day one.
Claudia Jenkins (Sophomore, Goalkeeper, La Salle, Adelaide)
Jenkins spent her freshman season playing the backup role as La Salle stalwart Larisa Zambelli saw the vast majority of minutes between the sticks for an Explorers side that won two consecutive overtime games to win the Atlantic 10 title and reach the NCAA Tournament in 2017. With Zambelli’s graduation following the 2017 season, Jenkins is now the only goalkeeper on the La Salle roster with any college experience whatsoever as the Explorers look to make a return trip to the national stage. La Salle kept clean sheets in all but three conference games last season, and return the majority of starters in defence, whilst at the other end, sisters Madison and Maci Bower combined for 21 goals last season to ensure those solid defensive efforts wouldn’t go to waste and both will return for their senior seasons in 2018.
Alyssa Van Heurck (Freshman, Defender, La Salle, Perth)
Alyssa Van Heurck becomes the second Australian on the La Salle roster this season, making the move from Perth to join the Explorers alongside Claudia Jenkins. A product of the Football West NTC program, Van Heurck will bolster a strong La Salle defence that returns most of its starters, but only five experienced players. With La Salle’s success in 2017 built on defence, Van Heurck, like Jenkins, will be expected to help maintain the team’s level at the back in 2018 as the versatile defender looks to slot straight into the lineup.
A versatile defensive player with the ability to get forward from the back, Longmore joins a Lamar side that bulldozed its way through the Southland Conference in 2017. Whilst this will be the Busselton product’s first season in Division I, Longmore is no stranger to the world of college soccer, having played the last two seasons at Dodge City Community College in Kansas, and clearly did enough to draw the attention of the coaches at a program that is clearly on the rise after winning 18 of their 23 games last season and battling #6 seed Texas A&M all the way before falling to a 1-0 defeat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
After featuring 12 times for LSU as a freshman, Cantrill managed just three appearances in 2017 and competition for playing time will be just as fierce in 2018 in a squad with 13 listed midfielders including freshman sensation Abbey Newton, who was recently named Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year. The junior will be hoping for a return to the kind of playing time she saw in her freshman year, and LSU could do with not only Cantrill but all players firing on all cylinders as they look to hit double figures for wins for the first time since 2015, a season in which the roster featured former Western Sydney Wanderers and current Utah Royals defender Alex Arlitt.
Laura Farrelly (Freshman, Midfielder, Marshall, Central Coast)
Hailing from the same club as former College Matildas Freshman of the Year, Tia Gavin, Laura Farrelly joins a Marshall side looking to make some vast strides in 2018 after finishing 5-11-1 in 2017, missing the Conference USA tournament in the process after collecting just three wins in league play. Although Farrelly is primarily an attacking midfielder, the Manly United product can slot into a variety of positions in the centre of the park, and in a team overflowing with midfielders, that versatility could prove to be the ace up Farrelly’s sleeve that secures her more playing time than a player that is only comfortable in one position. With two senior midfielders in the starting lineup this year, 2018 may very well be Farrelly’s proving ground in an attempt to secure one of those spots that will open up in 2019.
Tessa Calabria joins Siobhan Longmore as junior college transfers joining the Division I ranks this season, and the pair will face off at the top level as Calabria makes the move to Nicholls State, a Southland Conference foe of Longmore’s Lamar side. Calabria becomes the third Australian at Nicholls State, alongside Kristy Helmers and Tenille Harberger, continuing the pipeline from Australia to Thibodaux. Having established a reputation as an outstanding goalscorer during her time at Iowa Lakes Community College, the Nicholls State faithful will be hoping that this transfers to the Division I level for a team in severe need of improved scoring in 2018 after finishing 265th of 335 teams in Division I for total goals in 2017.
Helmers comes into the 2018 season as one of just two returning Australians to have scored more than one goal in 2017. However, the Canberra product will be hoping for a return to 2016’s output of 6 goals rather than last season’s 3 goals as the Colonels struggled to find the back of the net as a team in 2017, tallying just six goals in conference play. The team will no doubt be helped by the fact that 12 of their 19 games in 2018 will be played at home but will have to make sure that home advantage counts after finishing 2-5 on their own patch in 2017 despite registering a 4-6-1 record on the road against many of the same opponents they will face in 2018.
Having redshirted her first season in Thibodaux, Tenille Harberger will now look to make an impact on the pitch in 2018 after a year easing into college. Now one of three Australians on the Colonels roster, Harberger will be tasked with providing midfield service to her countrywomen in Tessa Calabria and Kristy Helmers, but will have to earn her spot on the pitch in a roster stacked with midfielders. With no less than 13 players on the roster listed as midfielders, Harberger will have to carve out her own spot in the rotation, perhaps with a view towards taking a spot held by one of the senior midfielders once they move on in 2019.
Gaby Bentley (Junior, Midfielder, Old Dominion, Adelaide)
Gaby Bentley barely saw any playing time in her freshman season, but 2017 was a vastly different affair as the sophomore midfielder developed into an integral part of the Old Dominion team. Having appeared in just two games in 2016, Bentley finished with a single goal in her 17 appearances in midfield for an Old Dominion team that finished with a 9-5-4 record, a slight improvement on their 7-12 record in 2016. Whilst the Monarchs will have to replace C-USA Defender of the Year Jackie Stroud and starting goalkeeper Krista Moisio, who both graduated after the 2017 season, most of the team’s other starters return, including Bentley, who comes into this season as one of the more experienced midfield players for the Monarchs. Having finished 6-2-2 in conference play last season, Old Dominion will no doubt be seeing this season as the time to make that final jump to secure a conference title and make an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Siena Senatore (Senior, Defender, Southeast Missouri State, Canberra)
Senatore had a year away from the game due to injury in 2017 after a solid first two seasons at Southeast Missouri State, but now returns to shore up the Redhawks’ defence in her senior season. The only Aussie on the roster following Maddy Cornell’s graduation after the 2017 season, Senatore’s return is a timely one as the Redhawks feature only five pure defenders on the roster, although two other players have been known to slot into the backline. Having been just about ever-present in the Redhawks lineup prior to her injury, if Senatore can return to the form she showed before her absence, it will be a significant advantage for a team that finished 8-8-4 last season but was let down by their play on the road, finishing 1-5-4 away from Cape Girardeau.
Shelby Milton (Senior, Defender, St. Francis, Wollongong)
Shelby Milton and St. Francis secured the Northeast Conference on penalties last season, delivering the team an NCAA Tournament berth in the process. However, the defender out of Wollongong was rarely sighted on the pitch for the Red Flash, playing just six games and 233 minutes, although two of those appearances were starts. There will be a spot opening up in the backline at St. Francis in 2018 though, as captain and NEC All-Conference First Team selection Allison LaDuke recently graduated. If Milton can return to the form that saw her feature in 19 games in 2016, that spot could certainly become hers in 2018 as the Red Flash look to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Having won a national championship in 2017, Beattie Goad and Stanford will be gunning for back-to-back titles and they will come into the season among the favourites after returning the vast majority of their title-winning team from last season. On a personal level, Goad will no doubt be hoping to secure more playing time than she managed in either of her first two seasons. Whilst the Victorian played in the majority of the games in both of her first two seasons, much of her playing time came in short stints, resulting in about 40 minutes of action in most of her appearances. There aren’t many spots opening up in the starting lineup for the Cardinal, so Goad will have to do plenty in preseason to earn a starting spot, where the junior’s improving versatility may prove to be another asset.
‘Vastly underutitlised’ would probably be the most accurate way to describe Demi Koulizakis in 2017. Having played in 18 games in 2016, Koulizakis was afforded minimal playing time her sophomore year, with most of her 10 appearances allowing her far too little playing time to have any realistic chance of impacting a game. The forward stocks aren’t quite as overflowing at Texas Tech this season, but the Red Raiders do return a number of starters from 2017 in attacking roles. Whatever the case may be with regards to Koulizakis’ playing time this season, there is no doubt the Red Raiders could use some more goals, scoring multiple goals just three times in their nine conference games in 2017 as the team finished with a 9-7-3 record and a first-round exit in the Big 12 conference tournament.
A club teammate of former Colorado and Troy star Alex Huynh at Souths United in Queensland’s NPL competition, Burchell’s addition to the Towson lineup brings the number of Colonial Athletic Association teams featuring Aussies to four, alongside William and Mary, Drexel, and Hofstra. A target player with the ability to hold the ball up, Burchell has made 16 appearances for the third placed Souths United in Queensland’s NPL competition in 2018, scoring two goals in the process with most of her appearances coming as a substitute in the last 20 minutes. Towson struggled last season, finishing with just five wins and a fairly dismal 2-6-1 conference record, scoring just 6 goals in their Colonial Athletic Association schedule. With senior Maddie Bove taking 5 of the team’s 14 goals with her after graduating following the 2017 season, the onus will be on Burchell and her fellow forwards to not only make up that deficit, but add a few more in an effort to improve on last season’s record.
Teagan Micah (Junior, Goalkeeper, UCLA, Brisbane)
Having reached the College Cup championship game in 2017 before going down to Stanford in a classic at Orlando City Stadium, only one ending will suffice for Teagan Micah and UCLA in 2018: lifting the NCAA Championship trophy on the final day of the season. Micah has been all but ever-present between the sticks for the Bruins for the last two seasons, establishing herself as one of the better goalkeepers of her class in the process and a vital piece of the UCLA lineup. The Bruins lost a number of players to graduation after last season, but return a stacked team featuring recent US national team debutant Hailie Mace, bona-fide Canadian national team star Jessie Fleming, and a range of US youth team players in front of Micah as they look to make another run to the championship game in 2018.
Kate Swartwout (Junior, Defender, Western Carolina, Gold Coast)
A starter in six of her 17 appearances in 2017, Kate Swartwout will no doubt be hoping to convert more of those appearances into starts in her junior season. Primarily a defender, Swartwout’s height is a particular advantage in the backline, standing at 6 feet tall, a full two inches taller than any other player on the Catamounts roster. However, there is more to Swartwout’s game than standing tall and heading away crosses. Solid on the ball with a history of playing multiple positions during her younger years, the Gold Coast-born but North Carolina-raised junior has tallied an assist in each of her first two seasons in college. Western Carolina came from the clouds to reach the final of the Southern Conference tournament in 2017 before falling to UNC Greensboro in the final, with that run hopefully serving as a launchpad for this season.
Lorena Bugden (Freshman, Midfielder, William & Mary, Sydney)
Lorena Bugden spent her first year at William & Mary recuperating following a serious knee injury, and returns to a vastly changed program as head coach John Daly retired and Australian assistant coach Vanessa Mann took the head coaching job at UMBC. It was a disappointing season in 2017 for the Tribe as an 8-10-2 record saw the team’s 36-season streak of winning records snapped. The former Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder has been preparing herself well for the season, spending the winter regaining her fitness playing for APIA Leichhardt in the New South Wales NPL2 competition. Whilst she may not have been able to play in her freshman year, Bugden still has as good a chance as any player of securing solid minutes in 2018 as an inexperienced Tribe midfield looks to step up in a roster that features just four seniors and a total of eight upperclassmen, two of which are goalkeepers.
With the graduation of Alisha Bass and Georgia Rowntree after the 2017 season and Jemma House’s transfer to Nova Southeastern, Annika Clayton is now one of just two Australians on the Wyoming roster. Bass and Rowntree were two of the undoubted leaders of last year’s Cowgirls side, and as a senior, Clayton will no doubt be expected to step up to fulfil that role to some degree in 2018. The senior’s role in midfield will no doubt consist more of providing service to the frontline than creating her own chances, but nonetheless, Clayton will surely be hoping to improve on last season’s tally of a single goal as the Cowgirls look to replace the six goals that Aussie pair Alisha Bass and Jemma House tallied last season which represented one-third of the team’s total scoring for the season. Wyoming finished last season on a five-game losing streak that dropped them from 6-4-2 to 6-9-2, missing out on the Mountain West Conference tournament in the process, and ensuring the same thing does not happen again will be paramount in 2018.
Jessie Gentle forms the second half of Wyoming’s Aussie duo alongside Annika Clayton, and with both players in their senior season, we may be looking at the conclusion of an extended era of Aussie presence in the Cowgirls’ squad. However, Gentle, like Clayton, is an integral member of the Wyoming side, so the Australians are unlikely to go quietly into the good night. Able to play in any wide position, Gentle has been utilised both on the front line and as a wingback in her time at Laramie and has performed admirably in all positions. Although scoring hasn’t been Gentle’s forte, tallying just one goal in her three seasons, the Woolgoolga product did pop up with two assists in 2017 to move to four for her career, and a further increase in that number would surely go a long way to helping Wyoming improve on last season’s 6-9-2 record.
Imagine this: you’ve been heavily recruited by a school, decided it’s where you want to go, you’re all set to head there and start playing college soccer, and then suddenly – not so fast. Well, that’s what happened to Lauren Featherstone as she prepared to make the move from southwest Sydney to Central Connecticut State University, with the freshman falling foul of the NCAA’s academic rules for incoming freshmen. Whilst she could still head over, she wouldn’t be playing that first season.
“Basically, I didn’t have enough academic credits,” Featherstone explains. “I didn’t do the right subjects, and I also dropped one of my classes in Year 12. I really didn’t realise about the college credits, which didn’t help my case. I basically didn’t do the right subjects.”
“It was around signing day in 2017 that I found out that was going to happen, so it was pretty late in the process. I had been talking to CCSU for about 10 months before that. It was an every week thing. I had to send them transcripts, then they’d ask for something I’d have to send to the NCAA or something, so it was pretty late.”
However, Featherstone’s journey to college started much earlier, as many of her teammates at Westfields Sports High School started heading over, piquing the midfielder’s interest.
“I’d say about Year 9 I heard about it, and then ever since then I was interested in it,” Featherstone reveals. “It was actually pretty early on during high school, because the older girls, like (former Colorado and Troy defender) Alex Huynh, they were there and they were going to college and ever since then it’s been like, a dream of mine to go to college.”
So how does a player who has been interested in college for so long end up being forced to sit out her freshman season due to academic ineligibility?
“I think the problem with me was that I was kind of naïve,” the Macarthur Rams product revealed. “I thought it would be fine, I didn’t really look into it, or think it was that much of a process.”
Although she would not be able to play in 2017, Featherstone maintained a positive mindset. Secure in the fact that Central Connecticut State had gone all-out to secure her signature, the midfielder came in knowing that even though she couldn’t impact games in her first season, she would be able to make her mark on the field in the long-term. Featherstone also had someone with plenty of experience in her corner: former Matildas midfielder and conference player of the year at CCSU Leah Blayney, who now coaches at Westfields Sports High as well as in the Matildas setup, helped kickstart the process for Featherstone.
“So, Leah helped me a lot in the recruiting process, she said that she had these three schools for me that said that they have full scholarships. It was Fairleigh Dickinson, William & Mary, and Central Connecticut State,” Featherstone revealed.
“I was emailing all three of them at first. I sent them each a highlights video and a player resume which is like a timeline of all my achievements.”
All three schools have pre-existing links to Australia. Defender Sam Roff is a rock at the heart of defence for Fairleigh Dickinson, whilst Lorena Bugden was part of William & Mary’s freshman class last season and current UMBC head coach Vanessa Mann was an assistant for the Tribe until last season. But the women’s soccer program at Central Connecticut State almost resembles an Australian embassy, with Blayney and Featherstone just two of a handful of Aussies to feature for the Blue Devils in recent seasons, including Sydney FC W-League winning goalkeeper Nikola Deiter, who started for the Sky Blues’ title-winning team in 2009 even before heading over to college.
“Leah told me about the others, and that they definitely love their Aussies over there,” Featherstone explained.
“it’s a great place for us over there, they’re really accepting. They were definitely very keen. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Central, they were very keen on me.
“Pretty early on I decided on Central. They really stood out to me, the coach seemed like he really wanted me. We did a lot of Skyping, and he showed me around the school, he just made everything really clear, and pretty early on I knew I wanted to go there.”
However, it hardly matters how much a coach wants a player to play and how much a player wants to play for the team once the NCAA gets involved. Despite this, CCSU coach Mick D’Arcy did everything he could to ensure Featherstone would get to school as soon as possible, and once she was there, the team’s newest Australian took it all her in her stride.
My coach, he really fought the NCAA on the case. He said ‘we’ll take her and she can just redshirt for the first semester’, so it was an official redshirt. I wasn’t allowed to practice, wasn’t allowed to travel, I had to stay on campus when they travelled and everything. So it was just a whole lot of sidelining for that first semester, and next semester I was back into it.
“To be honest, I didn’t really have any concerns because I knew it would happen wherever I went. It’s just credits, it’s not Central’s fault or anything,” Featherstone states philosophically. “They told me they had a lot of stuff I could do still, like I still did workouts. Even though I wasn’t allowed to practice with the team, I could still lift. So it wasn’t like I was just sitting there studying, I was still doing a lot.”
Whilst she may have been doing a lot of training, Featherstone couldn’t do any of it with the team, either on or off the field. Rather than lament the situation, the freshman chose to see the positives that she could take from redshirting.
“At first it was tough, but then I enjoyed it. I was there by myself, but I was still getting the workout in,” says Featherstone.
“I really felt like when I got back into training like my strength got up, like I had more endurance, I feel like it prepared me.”
For all that preparation though, Featherstone still had to come back into the team with a group of players who had no doubt heard about how good their new player might be, and that she’d been training hard by herself, but to whom she had yet to prove herself. It didn’t take long for the Australian to settle into the team dynamic.
“It was quite challenging at first, because they all knew me and I felt like there was a lot of anticipation to see how good I really was, and if I was as good as the coaches said,” Featherstone reveals. “But they were all very welcoming. They’re a great group of girls; I felt at home from my very first practice. The nerves were there but I felt at home.”
Whilst the playing group may have been welcoming, impressing the coaching staff can often be a completely different case. Clearly, Featherstone has the class that the coach saw when recruiting her in previous years, as shown by what the midfielder has been told during spring practice.
“Basically, they said that the midfield role is going to be my role. They did try me out at right back, so they know I can do that as well. But for this season I think I fit in pretty well in midfield, at the 6 or 8,” Featherstone revealed.
“The 8 role is probably my favourite. I can play the 10 as well, but we’ve got a really great 10 at the moment, she does a really good job there. But I said to the coach I think I’d work well in the midfield in that team, because I understand the playmaker role, distributing from defence to forward.”
They did say that I have a good chance of getting that starting role when the season comes around, but it’s obviously not just going to be given to me, I have to work for it.
“From the start of spring semester to the end we did weekly fitness tests, and I did really well. They basically said ‘you’re doing well, just keep doing that,’ and that’s basically what I have to do, keep maintaining the improvement and I’ll be in there.”
Featherstone appears to have come into the team at the perfect time. Having finished 6-2 in conference play last season and reached the conference semi-finals, and with only a small number of players graduating earlier this year, CCSU are primed for a run at the conference championship this season, and the entire team is motivated, Featherstone included.
“The last spring semester, all the senior players said it’s the hardest spring semester they’ve ever had. So, I think the coach is really pushing us this year, and he’s really motivated all of us; we really want to win the NECs and get into the NCAA Tournament. I definitely think we’re very ready for the season that’s coming up.”
If they are to win the conference championship, the Blue Devils will have to get through two teams featuring Australians. Sam Roff’s Fairleigh Dickinson reached the championship game last season, but it was St. Francis University that got past them in the final to win the championship and ultimately reach the NCAA Tournament. That St. Francis team features Shelby Milton, not just another Aussie, but someone who Featherstone knows quite well, to say the least. Although Featherstone couldn’t travel to road games last season, the pair did get to see each other when St. Francis travelled to CCSU for the conference semi-final, where St. Francis picked up a 2-1 victory.
“Shelby is actually a really close family friend, and it’s funny because they’re our rivals. Luckily, that (semi-final) was at home so I got to see Shelby after the game. It was good to see another Aussie. It’ll definitely be a funny thing, because after the game, some of the girls barely look each other in the eye to say good game, but we’ll run up to each other and give each other a hug,” Featherstone explains. When asked if she wants to get revenge on Milton and SFU, she simply laughs and says “Yeah.”
Whilst academics and athletics combined get you that college scholarship, academics last much longer than athletics and Featherstone realises this, which was the basis for her decision to go to college as she looks to achieve her long-term goals both on and off the field.
“I knew what I wanted and I really wanted to go to Central. But I did really look at William & Mary in the early stages because of how well they do academically, as that’s really important to me as well,” Featherstone revealed.
“My grades in high school were kind of up and down; they weren’t really that great. I did have some trouble outside of school that affected my grades pretty early on, but they said ‘It wasn’t the easiest path for you throughout high school, but we’ve got this study hall specifically for athletes, we’ve got tutors, we’ve got advisors,’ and it’s been great. I’m best friends with all these advisors, I go in there every day, they help me with any issues I have, and they’ve been really helpful.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to go overseas is so I could play my sport and get the degree. I could’ve done it here, but it just meshes together over there. It’s a lifestyle. I think that’s one of the main reasons, to get my degree and achieve my goals in soccer as well.”
“Basically, my main goal is to get that degree, and get a good job set up, because soccer isn’t forever. I was majoring in exercise science the first two semesters. I really enjoyed all the science stuff, but I realised I didn’t want a job from that degree so I changed to sociology. I did some research into it before I switched, and I think I’d enjoy an advisor role or a human resources officer, something like that.”
“On-field, I think my long-term goals would be to make the Matildas, get recruited into the NWSL, and just enjoy my college, win some championships, win some rings if I can.”
Whatever the future may bring, Featherstone’s first year has provided her with the opportunity to provide some sage advice for players so that they can avoid winding up in the situation that she found herself in.
“Just do your preparation, do your research, talk to the colleges, ask them any questions, they’ll tell you everything. Just don’t be scared to ask questions. It’s definitely a long process, so it’s never too early to start preparing yourself for it.”
How does a player from the coastal town of Busselton, Western Australia wind up in south-east Texas at Lamar University? If you’re Siobhan Longmore, it takes a long and winding road that detours through not one, but two junior colleges, and a little bit of guidance from your family. We caught up with Siobhan to find out more about the Dodge City Community College transfer’s journey to this point.
On the back of a glittering junior career that included state representation and a move from Busselton to Perth to continue her development, Siobhan Longmore has spent the past two seasons as an integral part of the Dodge City Community College women’s soccer team. (Yes, that’s Dodge City as in the term ‘get the hell out of Dodge.’) However, it wasn’t a truly smooth ride to get there in the first place as the Western Australian originally planned on playing at another school altogether.
“My sister, Ariana, was a freshman at Dodge City, and I was originally going to a school in Georgia called Georgia Military College. I got there, and it really just wasn’t what I expected and hoped it to be,” Longmore explained. “So the coach at Dodge City, Tim Romanello, took me in and I came here basically because my sister was here. She’s now graduated and she’s playing in California. So pretty much it’s because of my sister that I came here.”
Ariana’s presence at Dodge City may just have saved Siobhan’s career, because it wasn’t long before she was ready to leave Georgia and head back to Busselton, her college career over even before it started.
“I was going to come home three days into it; I hated it. It wasn’t what I was told it was going to be, so I was going to pack my bags and leave,” Longmore revealed. “But my family’s very supportive, they never want me to give up. My sister’s my biggest fan, I’m her biggest fan; she just said, ‘Nope, you’ve got to give it a chance.’ And I’m glad I did because I’ve made so many friends, and it’s just been amazing.”
But why attend a junior college in the first place? Longmore received interest from four year schools, but her sister’s guidance and the chance to play from the outset made the prospect of using her first two years in the US to set herself up for Division I all the more enticing.
“When I first got recruited, I got a lot of emails from four year schools. But my sister was at a community college, and she pretty much said ‘Listen, it’s going to set you up for a four-year, it’s going to give you the experience,’” Longmore explained. “For most incoming freshmen going to a four year university, it’s hard to get playing time. It was good at the community college, I mean, I played every game and I feel like it definitely has developed me to go to the next level.”
Longmore was certainly thrown in the deep end at Dodge City, though. A centre back throughout her junior years, then-Dodge City coach Tim Romanello had different plans for his newest player, moving Siobhan into a new position from the outset in what proved to be an inspired decision.
“He was an amazing coach, practices were different every day, I learnt so many new things. Honestly, I moved to America to play as a centre back, and the first day I got to America, he put me in as a centre midfielder, and I loved it,” Longmore explained. “I played centre midfield for the last two years, and it’s just developed my game. I’ve created so much more skill and strength and speed that I never had before, that I didn’t know I could have.”
“Over the last two years I’ve gained so much speed that I didn’t know I had. I’m not the best with foot skills, but I’ve got them there, and I have a very strong shot from the left side. I’m very competitive – if someone passes me, I’ll get mad about it and it’ll never happen again.”
“So now I’ve been recruited to play left defender (at Lamar), which is good because I’m left-footed and I love defence, and I also love attacking, which is what I can do in that position.”
However, the chance to play a certain position is never the be-all and end-all when it comes to recruiting, with many other factors coming into play. Hailing from a coastal town, Longmore craved a return to a beachside setting, but clearly there were other factors at play, including the opportunity to play for a team that coach Steve Holeman has turned from a 2 win team in 2016 to conference champions in 2017. However, it wasn’t Holeman who recruited Longmore, but one of his assistants.
“My whole recruiting process didn’t go through him, it went through the assistant coach Henry (Zapata), I knew the background and how (Holeman) has carried the team to be conference winners. I just think it’s amazing how you can turn around in one season. But my whole recruiting process went through Henry, and he was so good, and very open and honest about everything,” Longmore explained.
“We were talking for about a month and a half. I was going to go out and visit, but with school and stuff I couldn’t, and it got to the point where just after Christmas, I actually told him that Lamar probably won’t be a place for me.
“He came back, he offered me a full scholarship, and he pretty much made it sound like everything I wanted it to be. I have family in Texas, so at that point we took the drive up there, and I looked at the campus, and I absolutely loved it. I saw the soccer field, and I’m actually going up there in about three weeks to meet the team and watch them play one of their spring games, so I’m really excited.”
“When I came in as a sophomore, I said to everyone, ‘I am going somewhere on the beach, I don’t care where it is!’ I put it out there to schools in California and Florida, and, there was a school in Florida that I was going to go to, but Lamar came up and it was the best option for me.”
So what does the future hold for Lamar’s newest Australian? The junior certainly has big dreams, with one eye on entering the professional ranks following her two years at the top level of college soccer.
“I’m staying in America for the summer, so I’m going to be training hard, and after the two years, I know that this is big to say, but I really want to get picked up by the Houston Dash. I guess that’s kind of the dream, so I have to go hard from start to finish,” Longmore explains, slightly shyly.
“But you know, if I was to come home, I would hopefully try to get into the Perth Glory team. I’ve tried that before, but then I’ve developed so much as a player, like I didn’t even know I could develop that much. But I definitely want to continue soccer, I want to keep playing at the highest level I can.”
Interestingly, Siobhan will not be the only Australian junior college transfer to be playing in the Southland Conference, with Iowa Lakes Community College transfer Tessa Calabria joining fellow Australians Kristy Helmers and Tenille Harberger at Nicholls State. The pair even faced off in a junior college match last season, with both sides featuring a number of Australians.
“We actually have a photo together! We we played against them at the start of the season, and one of the other girls who plays on the Iowa team, I went to school with her and lived with her when I went to John Curtin College (in Perth). So it was kind of a big reunion there, and then we got together and there were four Australians on the team. I was like, ‘Let’s take a big photo of all the Australians!’. There’s another Australian on my team, my roommate, who’s also from Busselton, so we have a photo of about six of us, which was cool.”
“We’ve been in contact, we’ve been talking about it, and she told me that’s where she was going to go, and I said that’s awesome, we’re going to be playing against each other. I love playing against other Aussies, and even when I’m at basketball games and I see Australians on the other team’s roster, after the game I go up to them, I give them a hug, we have such good chats, it’s so cool.”
The Australian contingent at Nicholls State has grown to three, with junior college transfer Tessa Calabria joining Kristy Helmers and Tenille Harberger in Thibodaux. A forward out of Adelaide, Calabria spent the past two seasons at Iowa Lakes Community College, helping the team to 15 wins during her stint with the program. A First Team All-Region selection in 2016, Calabria also received an All-Tournament Team selection following her performances in the 2016 NJCAA Region XI tournament, which included a hat-trick in a 5-0 quarter-final win over Dakota County Technical College.
Nicholls State struggled to score goals in conference play last season, an area in which Calabria excelled during her two seasons in junior college. The South Australian scored over 20 goals in her two seasons in Iowa, establishing herself as one of the Iowa Lakes side’s most potent attacking threats due to her ability in front of goal. Having scored just five goals in Southland Conference play and picking up only 3 wins in 11 games last season, the Colonels’ faithful will be hoping that potency can transfer to the Division I level, and in the process turn a couple of losses into draws or wins.
Calabria will no doubt be expected to shoulder at least part of the goalscoring load left by the graduating Emily Werenskiold, who was equal second-highest scorer on the team with three of the Colonels’ 16 goals in 2017. With fellow Australian Kristy Helmers now entering her junior year with the program, Nicholls State fans will surely be hoping that the new pair of Australian attacking players can form the same link that Helmers did with Colonels legend Jess Coates prior to Coates’ graduation following the 2016 season.
Calabria is the second JUCO transfer to join a Division I team this year, alongside Lamar’s Siobhan Longmore, who joined from Dodge City Community College in Kansas. The pair actually faced off last season, with both Calabria and Longmore tallying 3 shots and 2 shots on target in a game that Dodge City won 2-1. The pair will now face off at least once in each of the next two seasons, with both Nicholls State and Lamar playing in the Southland Conference.
Junior college transfer Siobhan Longmore has re-established the link between Australia and Lamar University, becoming the Cardinals’ first Australian since Danielle Pearce finished in 2013. Longmore also becomes the second Western Australian to make the move to Division I this year, with the Busselton product joining La Salle’s Alyssa Van Heurck in commencing her career at the top collegiate level in 2018. Versatile and athletic, Longmore has been earmarked as a defender for Lamar, but can play in a variety of positions, as shown by her goalscoring exploits in junior college.
Longmore spent the past two seasons playing for Dodge City Community College in Kansas, banging home 10 goals in 18 games in 2017 as well as tallying five assists. Prior to this, the junior slotted 8 goals and picked up 4 assists in 14 appearances in her freshman season of 2016.
Speaking in an official release, Lamar coach Steve Holeman praised Longmore’s athleticism. ”Siobhan is fast, athletic, and skillful. She is a natural left-footer, which is something we didn’t have on last year’s back line,” Holeman explained. “Because of her size and speed, she will be tough to beat. She also gives us another attacking option with her ability to play short and long passes from her outside back position or simply attack on the dribble.”
Meanwhile, Dodge City Community College coach Steward Bortey pointed out the Western Australian’s mental strengths. “Siobhan is an awesome person. She is fun to work with and very coachable. She has the drive to be successful in everything she does,” Bortey explained. “She is very athletic and very fast and will not let anyone stop her. I describe her as a game changer or a difference maker. She is fun to watch because of her athletic abilities and how explosive she is.”
With no left-footed defenders in last year’s Cardinals squad, Longmore will certainly provide a much-needed point of difference as the team attempts to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament after winning last year’s Southland Conference tournament and dropping just one game in the conference regular season on the way to an overall record of 18-4-1.
Young Matildas representative Ashleigh Lefevre has become the latest Australian player with international experience to make the move to college, heading to Big Ten program Illinois.
Young Matildas representative Ashleigh Lefevre has become the latest Australian player with international experience to make the move to college, heading to Big Ten program Illinois. The versatile wide player has three caps for the Young Matildas as part of the 2016 AFF Championship squad, and also chalked up a goal in the team’s 20-0 demolition of Timor-Leste’s full national team in that tournament.
Excited to announce another addition to our #Illini family!
Lefevre spent the 2017 season playing for Alamein FC in the NPL Victoria competition, making 25 appearances and playing alongside former Florida International star and current Melbourne City W-League midfielder Amy Jackson as Alamein snuck into the finals in fourth place but fell in the minor semi-final to eventual grand finalists Geelong Galaxy United. Prior to playing for Alamein, Lefevre featured in the FFV NTC side in the 2016 NPL Victoria competition, making 16 appearances and chipping in with 12 goals as the NTC side finished 7th in the league. That NTC side also featured Melbourne Victory players Kyra Cooney-Cross and MelindaJ Barbieri, as well as Melbourne City youngster Sofia Sakalis, which speaks to the quality of the team.
Speaking in an official release, Illinois coach Janet Rayfield had the following to say with regards to the freshman. ”A multi-sport athlete who has worn the jersey for her country and has competed in the most competitive arena in Australia, Ashleigh Lefevre brings more international and national understanding to our program. Naturally left-footed, pacy and a two-sided player, Ashleigh adds to our flank defence and our flank attack. Her ability in that two-way 1-v-1 battle on the flank and the aerobic engine to go with it, Ashleigh will be able to contribute to shutouts and to goals.”
Illinois suffered through a difficult season in 2017, winning just five of their 19 games, but with a young team that loses just one regular starter to graduation, the Fighting Illini are set for improvement not only in 2018, but for the next few years as the side gains experience.