2015 Player Previews

With no less than nine freshmen joining the NCAA Division I ranks this season, there are now 24 College Matildas doing Australia proud in the US. Unfortunately, Ellie Papalexiou (Pacific) will not be playing this season due to injury, but 23 players is a sizeable increase on the 18 that played last season. With plenty of players with W-League and Young Matildas experience, this season should provide plenty of excitement, and hopefully a whole host of players find success both at personal and team levels.

Shelbi Vienna-Hallam (Senior, Defender/Forward, Alabama State, Hobart)

The reigning College Matildas Player Of The Year, Shelbi’s first season at Alabama State (following two seasons in junior college) saw her start the year as a rock at the back of a stingy defence, before being moved up front, where she managed to perform even better. Shelbi racked up 7 goals and 11 assists, contributing either a goal or an assist in 9 of Alabama State’s last 11 games as the Hornets reached the SWAC tournament semi-finals for the second season in succession. Look for Shelbi to improve on these numbers in 2015 as she spends an entire season up front, following an off-season spent playing in the WPSL for Seacoast United in Maine.

Claire Urquhart (Freshman, Defender, Albany, Brisbane)

A two-sport star (soccer and cross country) in high school, Claire made the rare decision to move to college early, and has been at Albany since January, affording her an extra 8 months to settle in and train with her new teammates. This extra time with the squad will give Claire a headstart in the fight for playing time in a group of young defenders which features two freshmen and two sophomores. With one defender already serving as a team captain, though, the fight for the other backline positions will intensify with one position already locked away.

Dylan Holmes (Freshman, Midfielder, Colgate, Adelaide)

One of the more exciting prospects to move to college this year is Dylan Holmes, a Young Matilda who is on her way to Colgate, a program which is definitely on the rise after coming incredibly close to securing a national tournament berth last season. As well as representing the national under 20 side, Dylan has also been a member of Adelaide United’s W-League squad and has also won multiple awards playing in NPL South Australia for Fulham United.

Kahlia Hogg (Senior, Defender/Midfielder, Colorado, Canberra)

After two seasons spent mostly on the bench at Florida State, Kahlia transferred to Colorado and the move immediately paid dividends as the former Canberra United player was thrust straight into the starting lineup of a side looking to make amends after narrowly missing out on a NCAA Tournament berth in 2013. Kahlia cemented her spot in the side early on as Colorado managed to secure a national tournament spot following a 3rd place finish in the Pac-12. Kahlia was afforded the opportunity to play higher up the field at times, often on the wing, and rewarded coach Danny Sanchez’s faith with 4 goals and 3 assists as the Buffaloes reached the second round of the national tournament, before falling in overtime to powerhouse North Carolina. For her efforts last season, Kahlia was awarded College Matildas Breakout Player Of The Year, and a repeat may give her a chance at more awards this season.

Alexandra Huynh (Junior, Defender, Colorado, Sydney)

The second half of Colorado’s Australian duo, Alexandra has been a fixture in the Buffaloes’ defence since her first game for the side two seasons ago. Colorado’s defence has improved markedly over these two years and at least some part of the credit must go to Alex. Despite breaking her foot midway through last season, Alex was immediately placed back into the starting lineup once she recovered, and played the majority of minutes in the national tournament. Alexandra will again be relied on to be a large part of a team that will be looking to at least get to the Sweet 16 this year after last year’s second round finish.

Anastasia McCleary (Senior, Midfielder/Forward, Creighton, Gold Coast)

After two seasons in which she flourished at Alabama State, Anastasia found playing time a little harder to come by as she stepped up a level in her junior season, transferring to Creighton. The Tweed Heads-born midfielder came off the bench in fifteen games in 2014, playing 359 minutes and scoring two goals, but a change of coach in 2015 could well see Anastasia’s playing time rise in her senior year as she looks to go out with a bang.

Emma Heckenberg (Freshman, Forward, Drexel, Melbourne)

A former teammate of Hofstra sophomore Emily Hulbert, Emma will now become Hulbert’s conference opponent as she joins Drexel, who, like Hofstra, play in the Colonial Athletic Association. Emma has played for a variety of Victorian Women’s Premier League team, and this season has played 11 first team games for Bundoora United. With two seniors already playing in the same position, this may not be Emma’s season to shine, but as one of four freshmen fighting for a spot that will open up next season, the opportunity is there for the young Victorian if she wants to take it.

Isabel Hodgson (Freshman, Midfielder, East Tennessee State, Adelaide)

Like Dylan Holmes, Isabel is a Young Matilda from Adelaide who spent last season with Adelaide United in the W-League and also played NPL for Fulham United. With 65 goals since 2011 at NPL level, Isabel has established a deserved reputation as having an eye for goal, and with 35 of those goals coming in 2013, a W-League spot was never far away. With two W-League seasons and an AFC U/19 tournament experience under her belt, Isabel will be more than ready to step up and fight for a starting spot in her first season in college.

Emily Hulbert (Sophomore, Defender, Hofstra, Melbourne)

After winning a W-League title with Melbourne Victory in 2013/14, Emily made the move to Hofstra and quickly established herself as a key member of the Pride defence. With an ability to make things happen at both ends of the field, and some stunning goalscoring form lately for Victorian Women’s Premier League side Box Hill, Emily is set to lead Hofstra in their charge for a national tournament bid, which they narrowly missed out on last season. On a personal level, Emily was the College Matildas Defender of The Year in 2014, and may very well repeat in 2015.

Kiri Dale (Freshman, Defender, Iona, Mullumbimby)

Palm Beach continue to churn out the college recruits, with Kiri Dale becoming the fourth player in the last two seasons to make the move into NCAA Division I. Kiri has been a mainstay of the Palm Beach defence for the last two seasons, firstly in the Southeast Queensland WPL, and now in NPL Queensland as the team has been there or thereabouts throughout Kiri’s time in the first team. With the Iona squad short on returning defenders, Kiri will be a real chance of slotting straight into a first team position for the Gaels.

Laura Johns (Junior, Forward, Massachusetts, Adelaide)

After two seasons at Massachusetts in which she has seen some decent playing time but few starts, this season is the time for Laura to step up and secure a starting berth in the Massachusetts side. Her progress over her first two seasons points to this being a possibility though – after managing only 228 minutes in 10 games in 2013, last season saw the former Adelaide United W-League player manage 6 starts and 757 minutes in 19 games, and she also picked up her first assist as the Adelaide utility player alternated between playing in defence and up front. It may well be Laura’s ability to play various positions that could see her playing time continue to rise this season.

Nyomi Devine (Sophomore, Defender/Midfielder, Murray State, Gold Coast)

Nyomi came to Murray State in 2014 with fellow Palm Beach player Harriet Withers, and quickly made a name for herself, playing in 17 games and starting 13 in her freshman season despite the presence of several more experienced defenders. This year, the Racers’ defence is a lot younger and a lot more responsibility will fall on Nyomi’s shoulders. With a season of college experience under her belt, though, Nyomi is well-prepared to be a mainstay of the Racers’ side this year.

Harriet Withers (Sophomore, Forward, Murray State, Gold Coast)

Like Nyomi Devine, Harriet came to Murray State last season and was also able to quickly establish herself as one of the side’s primary attacking threats. With 6 goals in 20 games, of which she started 12, Harriet was second in the Murray State goalscorers list, and with last season’s scoring leader Julie Mooney having graduated, Harriet will become the side’s main attacking option. Six goals won’t cut it again this season for Harriet, but she’ll surely be given far more chances to use her trademark pace and finishing skills this season.

Jess Coates (Senior, Midfielder, Nicholls State, Sydney)

A leader from the moment she arrived at Nicholls State, Jess was officially named captain for her junior season, and led from the front – both literally and figuratively – as she tallied 5 goals and 7 assists in 19 games, of which she started 18 as the Cowgirls reached the Southland Conference tournament semi-finals before running into top seed Stephen F. Austin. With top scorer from last season Spencer Valdespino also in her senior year, expect to see Jess racking up the assists once again this year, and hopefully managing a few goals of her own.

Ellie Papalexiou (Sophomore, Defender, Pacific, Gold Coast)

After starting the season in and out of the starting eleven for Pacific in 2014, Ellie forced her way into a starting spot towards the back end of the campaign before being struck down by an ACL injury which will unfortunately see the sophomore defender miss the 2015 season. Ellie is making strides in her rehab though, and looking forward to 2016 where she will look to regain her starting spot on the left side for the Tigers.

Jenna Collingridge (Senior, Midfielder, SE Missouri State, Cootamundra)

Jenna has been a mainstay of the Southeast Missouri State side since her freshman days, but it was 2014 that saw the Cootamundra midfielder really cement her place in the Redhawks’ midfield as she started all 16 games in which she played. 2014 also saw Jenna score her first collegiate goal, and she did so in style, notching a brace against Jacksonville State for what proved to be her only two goals of the season. As one of just four seniors in the Redhawks’ squad this season, Jenna will be counted on to be a large part of any success that Southeast Missouri State have in her final collegiate season.

Maddy Cornell (Sophomore, Defender, SE Missouri State, Nowra)

Maddy spent the 2014 season in and out of the Southeast Missouri State side, playing in 9 games and starting 3, but she will return a better player than when she first arrived in 2014. Whilst the competition for places in the Redhawks’ squad remains, Maddy would be expected to see at least as much playing time as she did last season, especially when her ability to play up and down either side of the field is considered.

Siena Senatore (Freshman, Defender, SE Missouri State, Canberra)

The youngest of the three Australians at Southeast Missouri State, Siena joins the college ranks after spending time with the Under 17 national team, as well as training with the Canberra United W-League side in 2014. Despite being a freshman, Siena’s versatility combined with her obviously high skill level could see her grab significant playing time, especially in a defence littered with freshmen and sophomores.

Tia Gavin (Freshman, Forward, Washington State, Sydney)

Fresh off her first season as a W-League player where she played for Western Sydney Wanderers, Tia joins Washington State as a highly touted striker who helped lead Football NSW Institute to the 2014 NPLNSW Women’s 1 championship with 14 goals in 27 regular season games. Tia has backed up last season’s good performances with 7 goals in 7 games for Manly United in this season’s NPLNSW Women’s 1. Washington State’s current roster does have 3 senior forwards, but that certainly will not deter Tia, who undoubtedly has the class to perform at this level.

Alisha Bass (Sophomore, Midfielder, Wyoming, Sydney)

After redshirting her first season in Wyoming, Alisha finally had the chance to play for Wyoming in 2014, and quickly emerged as one of the side’s standout players, starting every match and tallying five goals as she alternated between midfield and forward positions. With W-League experience for both Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers, and a 2013 season spent with the Young Matildas, Alisha is developing into a player that could help lead Wyoming to the next level both in the short-term and over her college career.

Annika Clayton (Freshman, Midfielder, Wyoming, Sydney)

From one university to another, Annika joins Wyoming from Sydney University’s NPLNSW Women’s 1 club side, where she has been a vital cog in the side’s midfield, playing 38 games and scoring 3 goals in the last two seasons for a side that reached the semi-finals last year and is currently sitting in second position. Annika has also played for the Australian Schoolgirls side, and was named Player Of The Tournament at the national schools tournament in 2014.

Jessie Gentle (Freshman, Forward, Wyoming, Woolgoolga)

A former national tournament representative for Northern NSW, Jessie brings the number of Australian players at Wyoming to five. Despite being listed primarily as a forward, Jessie can also play as a defender, and with the Wyoming backline being stacked with younger players, this may be where Jessie finds the majority of her playing time in her freshman year, especially when the fact that the likes of reigining Mountain West Offensive Player Of The Year Kaitlyn Lomsnes will be leading the line for the Cowgirls.

Georgia Rowntree (Sophomore, Goalkeeper, Wyoming, Sydney)

Nobody could have predicted how successful Georgia Rowntree’s freshman season would become as she started the season firmly as the number 2 behind senior Alex Boehm. However, Georgia quickly established herself as worthy of time between the sticks, playing in 9 games, starting 7, and playing one complete game. Georgia will go into this season as the starting goalkeeper and no doubt the added confidence from last season’s performances will aid the sophomore as she bids to entrench herself as the starter for this season and into the future.

Candace Sciberras (Sophomore, Midfielder, Wyoming, Sydney)

Like Alisha Bass, Candace came to Wyoming in 2013 and immediately redshirted her first season in Laramie, training with the side in preparation for beginning her 4 years of eligibility in 2014. And, as with Alisha, this was a masterstroke, as Candace played in 19 games, of which she started 9. Whilst she scored 4 goals and had 2 assists throughout the season, there is no doubt that it was the equaliser in the Mountain West Tournament semi-final against New Mexico that sent the game to overtime, which Wyoming won, that was the highlight of Candace’s season. With a first season under her belt, Candace should be primed to make a starting berth her own in 2015.

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