(Featured Image Credit: Michael Rincon)
Victoria Franklin (Freshman, SMU, Brisbane)
Franklin may be yet to lace up the boots for a competitive college soccer fixture, but the freshman has already tasted collegiate competition on the water as part of Southern Methodist’s rowing team which finished second in the AAC championships earlier this year. By far the tallest defender on the Mustangs roster, Franklin’s height will bring an aerial presence to an SMU team that had little trouble banging in the goals, averaging two per game, but had the tendency to ship multiple goals, finishing the season with five clean sheets but giving up more than one goal six times in 2018. That time with the rowing team will also have helped Franklin learn how to juggle study and athletics, giving the Queenslander a leg-up over most freshmen, who will come into their first season with little to no time to adjust to the machinations of the life of a student-athlete.
Sandra Hill (Junior, Grand Canyon, Canberra)
A regular at fullback for Grand Canyon, Hill has compiled not only 29 appearances for Grand Canyon over the last two seasons, but also a handful of outings with the Cambodian national team, including one against the Young Matildas in the 2018 AFF Women’s Championship. Adept at getting forward from her wide position in defence, Hill was rewarded with the first goal of her college career in Grand Canyon’s WAC Tournament loss to Utah Valley last season, rattling home a sublime strike from just outside the area. The Antelopes are yet to secure a winning season since their move to NCAA Division I in 2013, and Hill is now one of the senior players on a team looking to fill the gaps left by four starters who graduated after the 2018 season. The fullback will no doubt be looked to as one of the leaders, particularly in the defensive line after the loss of a starting defender and goalkeeper following last year’s campaign.
Abi Jordan (Freshman, UMBC, Wollongong)
If a teenager can also be a veteran, then that is a perfect description for Jordan, who has already racked up 50 NPLNSW appearances for Illawarra Stingrays’ first team prior to her move to UMBC. A championship winner at both NPLNSW and Futsal Premier League 2 level, Jordan has also represented both state and country at schoolgirls level, and heads to Baltimore with the kind of pedigree that could see her slot straight into the starting lineup from day one. Having finished 2-15 last season, the Retrievers do need to improve in all areas, but shoring up the defence looks to be the main priority at this point, and Jordan appears well-placed to be a major part of that rebuild as Australian head coach Vanessa Mann dips into her homeland’s stocks to bolster her roster.
Teal Kilbride (Freshman, UMBC, Central Coast)
The second of two Australians to sign for countrywoman Vanessa Mann at UMBC, Kilbride will be hoping to step in and form a new centre back pairing with fellow freshman Abi Jordan as the Retrievers look to shore up a defence that leaked the best part of three goals per game in 2018. Already a teammate of Jordan’s with the Australian Schoolgirls team that toured the United States in 2018, Kilbride is a real chance of playing alongside her fellow countrywoman from the outset, particularly given the lack of experienced defenders on the Retrievers’ roster and the team’s leakiness at the back in 2018. The UMBC attack will need to vastly improve last season’s output of 0.88 goals per game if the team is to make a significant improvement on last season’s record of 2-15, but building out from the back with an improved defence can only serve to help the team going forward, both figuratively and literally.
Ashleigh Lefevre (Sophomore, Illinois, Melbourne)
The most credentialed member of last year’s freshman class, Lefevre came in with Young Matildas experience under her belt, and managed to compile 15 appearances off the bench for Illinois last season, most of which came as cameos of 10-20 minutes. The Illinois defence this year returns three seniors but no juniors, meaning that Lefevre will be among the most experienced players in the Illini backline in 2020. This makes 2019 a year for Lefevre to turn those brief cameos into extended stints or even starts, and consolidate her position in the rotation. With nine defenders in the squad, minutes won’t just be handed to the sophomore, but given that Lefevre made 15 appearances in 2018, the Illinois coaching staff do appear to see the fullback as a member of the rotation going forward.
Sam Roff (Senior, Fairleigh Dickinson, Canberra)
A permanent fixture in the All-Northeast Conference selections during her time at Fairleigh Dickinson, Sam Roff has but one thing to achieve in her final season with the Knights: a conference championship and the NCAA Tournament berth that comes with it. Whilst Roff may not be the kind of defender that gets forward to put up assist and scoring numbers, the fact that Fairleigh Dickinson are yet to concede more than nine goals in their eight conference games in a season during her time with the team speaks volumes about the senior’s defensive ability, and the Knights will once again be leaning on their captain to lead the defence. Whether that translates into silverware remains to be seen, but in Roff the Knights have one player that they know will bring it each and every night.
Siena Senatore (Senior, Southeast Missouri State, Canberra)
Senatore played 29 games across two seasons for Southeast Missouri State in 2015 and 2016, but since that time, the Redhawks defence has been deprived of their rock at the back from Canberra. Whilst the Southeast Missouri State side has featured a solid defence throughout the last few years, there is no doubting that Senatore’s presence made them even better, with the major question now surrounding whether the redshirt senior can return to the form that she showed prior to her injury problems. If she can, and the Redhawks’ attack can find a few more goals after a down year in 2018, it could spell a remarkable turnaround for a team that had won at least eight games in each of the last five seasons before finishing 4-8-5 in 2018.
Kate Swartwout (Senior, Western Carolina, Gold Coast)
A rock at the back when employed in defence for Western Carolina, Swartwout is able to fill a number of positions and has done so with aplomb in her three seasons in Cullowhee. Born in Australia but raised just a two-hour drive from Western Carolina’s campus, Swartwout is in the unique position of being the only Australian currently in Division I to have also played her junior football in the US. Although the Catamounts are yet to win more than nine games in a season in Swartwout’s time with the team, the senior has been part of a defence that has improved over the last couple of seasons, and now features a number of upperclassmen that can set the platform for a more successful 2019 campaign. Whether Swartwout slots into the defence or higher up the pitch remains to be seen, but with a skillset that belies her imposing physical presence, the senior is set to have another impactful year in her final college season.