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.”
34 Australians featured on rosters of NCAA Division I programs this season, with 30 of those getting onto the pitch at some point. Some were stars, some were regular starters, and some played roles as impact players off the bench, but all were fascinating to follow throughout the year. In this article, we take a short look at each player’s season.
(Lorena Bugden, Julia De Angelis, Lauren Featherstone, and Tenille Harberger did not feature this season, and as such are not included below.)
A leader for Wyoming from the minute she stepped on the pitch in 2014, Alisha Bass rounded out her college career with yet another outstanding season. Having played just about everywhere except between the sticks in the previous three years, Bass capitalised on the chance to play in her favoured midfield role, tallying six goals for the season, eclipsing the five she tallied in her freshman year. The senior also tallied three assists as her vision and passing ability shone through in spades once again. Unfortunately, the Cowgirls couldn’t quite recover from some personnel losses and injuries throughout the season, narrowly missing the conference tournament for the first and only time in Bass’s career.
Gaby Bentley (Old Dominion) Team Record: 9-5-4 (Conference USA Tournament Quarter-Finals) Stats: 17 games, 6 starts, 1 goal
Having featured in just two games in 2016, it was certainly heartening to see Gaby Bentley feature in 17 of Old Dominion’s 18 games this season, and start six times. The midfielder was also able to pick up a goal early in the season, tallying the Monarchs’ single goal in a 3-1 loss to VCU. Draws in conference play perhaps cost Old Dominion a higher spot in the Conference USA standings, and eventually they would fall to Louisiana Tech in the 4th-5th matchup in the conference tournament. With her trajectory clearly on the up, it will be hoped that Bentley can secure a regular starting berth in 2018.
After enjoying a reasonably solid freshman season in 2016, Caitlin Cantrill unfortunately found playing time hard to come by in 2017, featuring in just three games as LSU missed the SEC Tournament. Without speculating as to the reasons, it is certainly hoped that the Canberra product can garner more minutes in 2018 as she becomes one of the more senior players in the team in a squad that featured 16 freshmen this season.
Now in her junior year, Annika Clayton once again suffered through injury issues which held her out of the early stages of the season, but played the last 12 games of the season without missing a beat to carve out a highly respectable season. Clayton started on six occasions, playing a commanding role in midfield, and tallied a single goal in the 3-2 loss to New Mexico on Senior Day. With fellow Australian Alisha Bass leaving a gaping hole in midfield following her graduation, Clayton will be one of a number of players expected to step up in 2018 and fill the gap left by the senior.
Maddy Cornell (Southeast Missouri State) Team Record: 8-6-4 (Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Semi-Finals) Stats: 19 games, 17 starts, 2 goals, 1 assist
Given more opportunities to attack in 2017, Maddy Cornell enjoyed a reasonably successful senior season, tallying her first goal since 2016 in the season opening win against Evansville, and following it up with the team’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Mississippi State later in the season. More importantly though, Cornell started 17 of the 19 games in which she featured, a vast improvement on 2017’s three starts in 18 games. Southeast Missouri State made a great run in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to reach the semi-finals, but fell 1-0 to eventual champions Murray State in a game where the Redhawks held the usually ruthless Murray State attack to just six shots.
Kiri Dale (Hawaii) Team Record: 6-10-1 Stats: 17 games, 11 starts, 1 assist
A transfer from Iona, Kiri Dale moved to Hawaii looking for a tougher challenge, but the sophomore still managed to play 17 games, the same amount that she played in her freshman year in New York. Dale started the season supremely, coming up with game-winning assist on an opening day overtime win over Utah Valley. Dale would go on to start in 11 of her 17 appearances, and will no doubt be expected to step up to be a leader in 2018 as the Rainbow Wahine lose seven seniors to graduation.
Isobel Dalton (Colorado) Team Record: 12-6-4 (NCAA Tournament Round of 32) Stats: 7 games, 0 starts
Playing just seven games in 2017, at times it seemed as if Isobel Dalton was the player one away from being part of the rotation off the bench. The junior came within a couple of inches of registering her first Division I goal after crashing a shot off the crossbar in a 6-0 win over UC Riverside, but will go into her senior year still looking to tally her opening goal. Colorado had another solid season, reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to North Carolina, but the team will no doubt want to push on and reach the Sweet 16 in 2018 after several years of reaching the tournament but falling early.
Nyomi Devine (Murray State) Team Record: 15-2-2 (OVC Champions, NCAA Tournament First Round) Stats: 19 games, 19 starts, 1 assist
A veritable wall at the back for Murray State these past four years, Nyomi Devine once again performed superbly throughout 2017 to help lead the Racers to the NCAA Tournament. The senior helped the Racers keep nine clean sheets throughout the season, but it was an attacking play that may have been Devine’s most important of the season. With the Ohio Valley Conference championship game against Eastern Kentucky finishing 0-0 after 90 minutes, the game moved into golden goal overtime, and it was Devine coming up with the assist on the game winning goal as the Racers atoned for 2016’s surprising tournament loss to win the conference title and secure their passage to the NCAA Tournament before falling to Tennessee in the first round. Devine was rewarded for her play throughout the season with a selection in the United Soccer Coaches All-South Region Third Team, a well-deserved honour following yet another outstanding season.
A former Melbourne City W-League player, Olivia Ellis enjoyed some extended runs in her opening season, playing at least half a game on three occasions. However, those prolonged shifts did not translate into more appearances as the season rolled on, with the freshman featuring in just six games all season. Despite this, Ellis will return to an Oregon State side that loses seven starters to graduation, meaning positions will really open up in 2018, and with the Beavers leaning heavily on their starters last season, the slate is almost clean for both Ellis and the rest of the team coming into next season.
Priya Gakhar came into a Grambling State side that in 2016 had won just one game in a rather sparsely populated 12 game schedule, but that all changed in 2017. Gakhar featured in 18 games, mostly in short cameos off the bench, and tallied an assist in a 3-3 draw with Prairie View A&M as Grambling won 11 games in a 20-game schedule more befitting a Division I team. The Tigers eventually reached the SWAC Tournament semi-finals, falling to eventual champions Alabama State in a penalty shootout. With only one season remaining in her college career, Gakhar will surely want to turn those cameos into more prolonged stints on the field in each game.
An impact player off the bench over the last two seasons, Jessie Gentle once again performed admirably for Wyoming, playing in 18 games but starting just five. Although the junior tallied just two assists over the course of the season, Gentle’s play far surpassed what can be gleaned from the box score. Gentle unfortunately missed the final game of the season after a freak injury after colliding with a corner post in the team’s final home game, but nonetheless put together a third solid season on a personal level to set herself up for an outstanding senior year as Wyoming look to return to the Mountain West Conference tournament after narrowly missing out in 2017.
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Beattie Goad and Stanford in 2017 as the Cardinal lost just one game all season as they stormed home to a national championship after a 3-2 win in a blockbuster of a title game against UCLA. For Goad herself, it was a year of slotting in where required off the bench, starting in just five of her 19 appearances but featuring in a variety of positions as her versatility shone through, and picking up a goal and an assist in the course of her time on the pitch. Although Stanford will lose US national team player Andi Sullivan to graduation, the midfielder is the only regular starter from 2017 that will need to be replaced, and as such things are looking good for the Cardinal in 2018 as they look to defend their tile.
Paige Hayward was once again the leader of Texas Southern’s front line, contributing goals regularly as the Tigers once again fell agonisingly short of reaching the NCAA Tournament following a shootout loss to eventual champions Alabama State in the SWAC tournament semi-finals. The senior finished the season with 9 goals to round out her career with 25 goals, and chipped in two assists in her final season of collegiate play as the Tigers finished the season with a solid 6-3-1 conference record before the unfortunate shootout loss.
Emma Heckenberg (Drexel) Team Record: 11-7-1 (CAA Tournament Semi-Finals) Stats: 13 games, 11 starts, 2 assists
After playing 19 games in 2016, Emma Heckenberg played in just 13 games this season, but with 11 of those games coming consecutively to finish the season, it was clear that once the junior found her role in the team, she excelled. Shifted between defence and midfield, those freshman days of playing up front are now well and truly behind Heckenberg as she settles into a deeper role, although the junior was able to tally two assists this year. Drexel enjoyed a solid regular season to finish second in the CAA, but unfortunately their conference tournament campaign ended in the first round at the hands of the always dangerous Northeastern.
Kristy Helmers’ goal output was slightly down this year, perhaps a function of the loss of fellow Australian Jess Coates from the midfield and the lack of the element of surprise that existed in her freshman year. However, the sophomore was still able to tally three goals and register an assist in her 18 appearances, of which 13 were starts as Nicholls State finished with six wins from 18 games. With six of 16 of the Colonels’ goals coming from seniors this year, both Helmers and the rest of the attack will have to bang home the goals with far more regularity, but Helmers has proven that if she is given the service, she can certainly put the ball in the back of the net.
Sandra Hill (Grand Canyon) Team Record: 6-13-2 (WAC Tournament Semi-Finals) Stats: 14 games, 0 starts, 1 assist
An occasional presence for Grand Canyon in her freshman season, Sandra Hill featured in 14 games in 2017 in what was a tough season for the Lopes, who won just six of their 21 games. However, in a team with 10 freshmen on the roster, the signs are promising not only for Hill, but for the team as seven of those freshmen reached double figures for appearances. Hill also tallied a single assist, setting up one of Grand Canyon’s seven goals in a demolition of Chicago State.
It was a tough season to say the least for Isabel Hodgson and East Tennessee State, falling from a 13-6-2 season in 2016 to 6-13 in 2017. However, Hodgson continued to be an ever-present fixture in the lineup, save for one match missed with a minor ankle injury, showing herself to be one of the true leaders of the side going forward. The junior also tallied two goals and a single assist, well down on her five goals and nine assists, but the team scored just 22 in comparison to their 47 goals in 2016. However, there are still plenty of pieces there for the team to put together a winning season in 2018.
Jemma House (Wyoming) Team Record: 8-9-2 Stats: 19 games, 11 starts
A goalscoring extraordinaire in her two years at nearby Laramie County Community College, Jemma House was used in a slightly different role out wide in her first season at Wyoming. Despite featuring in every game for Wyoming this season, it took a while for House to adapt to Division I soccer before coming into her own and eventually becoming an integral part of the Wyoming roster, starting 11 games. The junior also picked up her first two Division I goals early in the season, before adding two assists as the season rolled on. The Cowgirls will lose five starters – albeit one of those is goalkeeper Georgia Rowntree – from this season’s team in 2018, so House will no doubt be expected to be one of the team’s leaders next season.
Injuries had been a common theme throughout Emily Hulbert’s career, but 2017 saw the Hofstra senior put most of that to one side to play a commanding role in midfield throughout the season as the Pride dominated conference play, finishing with a perfect record to secure the CAA title and reach the NCAA Tournament. The former Melbourne Victory player tallied a goal and two assists for the season, but it was her work shielding the back four and launching attacks from deep that were of paramount importance as the senior featured in 18 games in her final season after injury had limited her to just nine in her junior year.
Monique Iannella (Hofstra) Team Record: 15-4-2 (CAA Champions, NCAA Tournament First Round) Stats: 21 games, 20 starts, 6 assists
Whilst Emily Hulbert was excellent in midfield for Hofstra, Monique Iannella was outstanding at right back for the Pride, both in attack and defence. Following a transfer from Texas, Iannella slotted straight into a Hofstra defence that dominated opponents throughout the season to finish with 11 clean sheets. Iannella was also a threat from set pieces, taking the majority of corners and finishing with six assists for the season, the most by any Australian in 2017. The junior also took a mind-boggling 25 corners in one game against James Madison, finishing with two assists in that game.
Claudia Jenkins (La Salle) Team Record: 17-4-2 (A10 Champions, NCAA Tournament First Round) Stats: 4 games, 0 starts
Despite being second in the goalkeeping pecking order behind stalwart Larissa Zambelli, Claudia Jenkins was afforded a couple of opportunities in her freshman season, experience that could prove vital as the South Australian looks to make the starting spot her own in 2018. Jenkins made four appearances in her freshman season, coming on either when the game was already secure or after Zambelli took a knock, playing 65 minutes and only being required to make two saves. Jenkins did however pick up a conference title in her freshman season as La Salle defeated VCU 1-0 in overtime in the Atlantic 10 title game.
Having featured in 18 games in her freshman season, it was hoped that Demi Koulizakis would be able to increase her minutes in 2017, but it was not to be as the sophomore featured in just 10 games in 2017. Koulizakis was afforded just 114 minutes of playing time, hardly enough for the Sydneysider to showcase her talents as she averaged just 11 minutes of playing time. The Red Raiders finished the season 9-7-3, missing the NCAA Tournament after falling to West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament.
A near enough to ever-present fixture in a UCLA lineup that reached the NCAA Tournament final before falling 3-2 to Stanford in a blockbuster of a game, Teagan Micah enjoyed a second consecutive outstanding season between the sticks for the Bruins. Ranking in the top 50 in the nation for goals against average and clean sheets, Micah enjoyed the help of a solid defence, but still put in a number of outstanding efforts to tally nine shutouts for the season and concede just 19 goals. The sophomore also came up with the decisive save in the NCAA College Cup semi-final shootout against Duke which allowed Marley Canales to step up and secure UCLA’s passage to the final.
Shelby Milton (St. Francis) Team Record: 10-8-3 (NEC Champions, NCAA Tournament First Round) Stats: 6 games, 2 starts
Shelby Milton featured in 19 games for St. Francis in 2016, but somehow her opportunities were restricted in 2017, making just six appearances for a Red Flash team that reached the NCAA Tournament after defeating Sam Roff and Fairleigh Dickinson on penalties in the Northeast Conference tournament championship game. Milton played the full 90 minutes in St. Francis’ 3-0 win over Radford, holding the Highlanders to just 3 shots all game, but that remained her only complete game appearance for the season. Fortunately, Milton has two more seasons in Pennsylvania to regain her position as an integral part of the team.
Frustrated by yet another knee injury, Ellie Papalexiou was restricted to just four appearances in her senior year after not being cleared to return until midway through the season. However, whilst on the pitch, her class was visible even when playing in an unfamiliar role in the centre of midfield, even if results weren’t always the best for a Pacific program still looking to find its feet having returned to the elite West Coast Conference in 2013 after several years in the Big West. Although she played just 28 games in her time at college due to injury, there is no doubting that Papalexiou has more than enough ability to have made a significant impact on this Pacific side, as shown in her 17 appearances in her freshman year in 2014.
Sam Roff (Fairleigh Dickinson) Team Record: 9-8-4 (NEC Runner-Up) Stats: 21 games, 21 starts
One of the stars of the Northeast Conference, Sam Roff was the undoubted rock at the back for Fairleigh Dickinson, earning herself an All-Conference First Team selection for her outstanding performances in defence. Whilst the sophomore wasn’t able to snag her first goal or assist, her efforts in her role as a defender were vital in Fairleigh Dickinson’s run to the Northeast Conference title game, where the Knights went down in a penalty shootout to Shelby Milton and Saint Francis after the game finished 0-0 following two periods of extra time.
A saviour at times for Wyoming, Georgia Rowntree often found herself needing to make more than her share of saves to keep the Cowgirls in games, with her save percentage of 76% far more representative of her ability than her clean sheet count of four for the season. The senior played all bar 72 minutes of the season, forming an almost ever-present force between the sticks, but unfortunately the Cowgirls couldn’t quite reach the Mountain West Conference tournament, with a final day win over rivals Colorado State not quite enough to secure a top six spot. Nonetheless, Rowntree carved out an exceptional career at Wyoming, with the Sydneysider leaving some rather large shoes to fill in Laramie.
Kate Swartwout (Western Carolina) Team Record: 9-10-2 (Southern Conference Runner-Up) Stats: 17 games, 6 starts, 1 assist
After making 11 starts last season, appearances in the first eleven were a little harder to come by for Kate Swartwout in 2017, featuring only six times in the starting lineup. However, Swartwout did make 17 appearances, one more than the 16 she made in 2016. Swartwout also chalked up a single assist despite being known more as a defender, setting up the equaliser in a 3-2 win over Kennesaw State. With a relatively young team that fell agonisingly short of the NCAA Tournament in 2017 following a Southern Conference championship game loss to UNC Greensboro, things are certainly looking up for both Swartwout and Western Carolina.
After reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2016, 2017 was a bit more of a rebuilding year for Albany, who finished with a 6-11-1 record, but for Claire Urquhart, it represented a vastly increased opportunity to play under new coach Nick Bochette. After featuring in just seven games across her first two seasons, the junior started in 8 of her 12 appearances, ably filling a defensive role at various times throughout the season.
As has been the case throughout Harriet Withers’ career, the senior once again banged home goals seemingly for fun at times as Murray State reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years before falling 2-0 to Tennessee in the first round. Withers tallied 12 goals in 2017, good enough for 30th in the nation, whilst her six game winning goals were good enough for eighth. The senior also led all players in shots on target per game, averaging nearly three per game, which represented just over half of her total shots. Withers was also named to the United Soccer Coaches All-South Region First Team following yet another outstanding season, as well as picking up the #1 spot in Top Drawer Soccer’s Ohio Valley Conference Top 20 players.
End Of Season Awards:
Freshman of the Year: Sandra Hill (Grand Canyon)
Sophomore of the Year: Teagan Micah (UCLA) and Kristy Helmers (Nicholls State)
Junior of the Year: Monique Iannella (Hofstra)
Senior of the Year: Harriet Withers (Murray State)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Georgia Rowntree (Wyoming)
Defender of the Year: Monique Iannella (Hofstra)
Midfielder of the Year: Alisha Bass (Wyoming)
Forward of the Year: Harriet Withers (Murray State)
Breakout Player of the Year: Monique Iannella (Hofstra)
Most Consistent Player: Monique Iannella (Hofstra)
Top Goalscorer: Harriet Withers (Murray State)
Most Assists: Monique Iannella (Hofstra)
2017 College Matildas Player of the Year: Harriet Withers (Murray State)
Conference tournaments are the focus this week, with a number of Aussie-laden teams picking up high seeds and making themselves favourites to progress and reach the NCAA Tournament, particularly in the Colonial Athletic Association and Northeast Conference.
The Colonial Athletic Association Tournament will be one to watch this week, with Hofstra and Drexel holding the top two seeds as the competition moves into the semi-finals. The pairing of Emily Hulbert and Monique Iannella and their Hofstra teammates go into the tournament as hot favourites following a perfect league slate, and take on a side with an Australian on the roster in William & Mary, although Lorena Bugden will continue to sit out this season. Hofstra defeated the Tribe 3-1 on the road earlier in the season, and with this game being played on Hofstra’s home patch, the Pride should be able to take care of the Tribe and move into the championship game.
Emma Heckenberg and Drexel take on Northeastern in the day’s first game, also at Hofstra Soccer Stadium. Drexel hosted the Huskies earlier in the season, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw, although Drexel will be wary of the fact that they were outshot 36-15 by Northeastern in that contest, with goalkeeper Christina Ogunsami making 20 saves. Surviving that kind of onslaught twice against the same team in the same season is not something that happens too often, so the Dragons will have to ensure that their defence does a far better job of shutting down the Huskies’ attack.
Travelling south, we find three Aussie seniors fighting for a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference championship game as the Murray State pair of Harriet Withers and Nyomi Devine face Maddy Cornell and Southeast Missouri State. Murray State will desperate to atone for their slip-up in last year’s conference tournament which cost the Racers an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and ended their season prematurely, whilst for Southeast Missouri State, this is a real chance for some belated revenge for the defeat to Murray State in the 2015 championship game, especially for the seniors, including Cornell, for whom it is a last chance at a national tournament.
In the northeast corner of the country, the Aussies are dominating in the Northeast Conference. Shelby Milton’s Saint Francis outfit and Sam Roff’s Fairleigh Dickinson side earned the top two seeds in the conference tournament, with Fairleigh Dickinson earning the top spot and hosting rights for the tournament. Whilst fellow Australian Lauren Featherstone is not likely to play, Milton and Saint Francis will face off against Central Connecticut State, meaning one Australian is certain to reach the championship game. On the other side, Fairleigh Dickinson take on 4th seed Bryant. Fairleigh Dickinson took a 2-0 win in the regular season meeting between those two sides, a game which was also on the Knights’ home patch, making that contest a direct replication of the regular season battle.
Whilst these are the marquee games of the week, there will no doubt be excitement across the country as conference tournaments work their way through to championships across the next few days, culminating in tickets to the NCAA Tournament being punched in quick succession.
Central Connecticut State (Lauren Featherstone)
This week: v Saint Francis – 5am, Saturday November 4 (Northeast Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Colorado (Isobel Dalton)
This week: at Utah – 6am, Saturday November 4
Drexel (Emma Heckenberg)
This week: v Northeastern – 7:30am, Saturday November 4 (CAA Tournament Semifinals)
Fairleigh Dickinson (Sam Roff)
This week: v Bryant – 2am, Saturday November 4 (Northeast Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Grambling State (Priya Gakhar)
This week: v Jackson State – 9:30am, Friday November 3 (SWAC Tournament Quarterfinals)
Grand Canyon (Sandra Hill)
This week: v UTRGV – 1pm, Saturday November 4 (WAC Tournament Semifinals)
Hofstra (Emily Hulbert, Monique Iannella)
This week: v William & Mary – 10am, Saturday November 4 (CAA Tournament Semifinals)
La Salle (Claudia Jenkins)
This week: v Duquesne – 5am, Saturday November 4 (Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Murray State (Nyomi Devine, Harriet Withers)
This week: v Southeast Missouri State – 6am, Saturday November 4 (Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Oregon State (Olivia Ellis)
This week: v Oregon – 7:30am, Friday November 3
Pacific (Ellie Papalexiou)
This week: at Saint Mary’s – 9am, Sunday November 5
St. Francis (Shelby Milton)
This week: v Central Connecticut State – 5am, Saturday November 4 (Northeast Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Southeast Missouri State (Maddy Cornell)
This week: v Murray State – 6am, Saturday November 4 (Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Semifinals)
Stanford (Beattie Goad)
This week: v California – 1pm, Saturday November 4
Texas Southern (Paige Hayward)
This week: at Prairie View A&M – 4:30am, Friday November 3 (SWAC Tournament Quarterfinals)
UCLA (Teagan Micah)
This week: v USC – 1pm, Saturday November 4
Western Carolina (Kate Swartwout)
This week: v Furman – 9am, Saturday November 4
William & Mary (Lorena Bugden)
This week: at Hofstra – 10am, Saturday November 4 (CAA Tournament Semifinals)
34 players will represent Australia in NCAA Division I women’s soccer this year, down one from 2016. With players spread as far north as New York and Connecticut all the way to Los Angeles and even Hawaii, you’re never far from a College Matilda if you’re in the US, and we take a look at each and every one of them in this comprehensive preview.
Claire Urquhart has had an interesting, albeit possibly frustrating, college career at Albany to this point. In each of her first two seasons, the Queenslander was afforded a couple of starts early in the campaign, but was then rarely seen throughout the remainder of the schedule. With previous coach Caitlin Cucchiella stepping down from college coaching altogether, a new coach may allow Urquhart more playing time as she heads into her penultimate college season. With just six natural defenders on the roster, and two of those being freshmen, Urquhart may even be thrown in the deep end from the outset as she becomes one of the more senior members of the defensive corps.
Lauren Featherstone (Freshman, Midfielder, Central Connecticut State, Sydney)
Following the likes of Erin Herd, Nikola Deiter and Leah Blayney, Lauren Featherstone continues the pathway between Australia and Central Connecticut State, joining as a freshman in 2017. An Australian Schoolgirls representative, Featherstone is a product of the Macarthur Rams program, one of the most successful NPL programs in New South Wales over recent years. Adept at fullback or in midfield, Featherstone’s versatility will no doubt serve her well as she looks to settle into the lineup at Central Connecticut State in her freshman year.
The lone remaining Australian at Colorado following Kahlia Hogg’s graduation, Isobel Dalton comes into her second season with the Buffaloes looking to make more of an impact than in her initial campaign. The former Brisbane Roar midfielder featured in seven matches in 2016, but averaged only 11 minutes per contest as the likes of star freshman Taylor Kornieck saw most of the available minutes not already allocated to the previous year’s starters. However, with minutes in midfield opening up following the graduation of a number of starters, Dalton will have a chance to fight for increased playing time in 2017.
Emma Heckenberg (Junior, Midfielder, Drexel, Melbourne)
A move from the frontline into a deeper position worked wonders for Emma Heckenberg in her sophomore season in 2016, with a spectacular transformation from fringe player to vital part of a Drexel side that reached the Colonial Athletic Association championship game before going down 3-0 to Northeastern. Heckenberg played in 19 of the Dragons’ 20 games, starting on 13 occasions. This allowed the Victorian to increase her playing time from a paltry 246 minutes in 2015 to a comparatively mind-boggling 1378 minutes in 2016. With the Dragons losing a couple of major pieces but returning even more, continuity may be key to another deep conference tournament run, with Heckenberg seemingly vital to these chances.
Isabel Hodgson (Junior, Midfielder, East Tennessee State, Adelaide)
A move out of the backline into a more advanced role worked wonders for Isabel Hodgson last year, culminating in five goals and a tie for team high with nine assists, including the opening goal of the Southern Conference championship game in which East Tennessee State eventually fell 2-1 to Samford to come agonisingly close to securing an NCAA Tournament berth. Hodgson had the most assists of any Australian in NCAA Division I last season, and also picked up the Breakout Player of the Year and Sophomore of the Year awards, and a share of the Midfielder of the Year award with Nicholls State senior Jess Coates. Hodgson is once again listed as a defender on the East Tennessee State roster, but if last season’s successes are anything to go by, the South Australian won’t be spending much time in the backline.
Sam Roff (Sophomore, Defender, Fairleigh Dickinson, Canberra)
Adept in either defence or as a holding midfielder, Sam Roff slotted straight into the Fairleigh Dickinson lineup as a freshman and enjoyed a quite outstanding first season in college. The former Canberra United training partner started 18 of the 19 games in which she played, and her defensive work saw the freshman named to the Northeast Conference All-Rookie team, a just reward for her work in a solid Fairleigh Dickinson defence. The Knights do lose one defensive starter from 2016 to graduation, meaning that Roff will pick up more responsibility in 2017, but it is a challenge that Roff has already shown glimpses of being capable of undertaking.
Priya Gakhar comes into the college ranks a little later than some players, joining Grambling State for her junior year. Primarily a reserve team player for Woden-Weston FC in the ACT National Premier League Women, Gakhar has also stepped up at times for the first team, and also has experience playing in the F-League futsal competition. In a shortened 11 game schedule last season, Grambling State managed just one win, and scored just eight goals, three of which came in their win over Alcorn State. Gakhar will be one player tasked with improving the team’s scoring output, especially as only one player who even scored a goal will be returning to the side in 2017.
Sandra Hill (Freshman, Defender, Grand Canyon, Canberra)
One of five freshman amongst the eight defenders on Grand Canyon’s roster in 2017, Sandra Hill will commence her college career with an immediate battle for a starting spot as the Antelopes head into their first season as a full member of NCAA Division I. A fairly regular fixture in Tuggeranong United’s NPL side over the last two seasons, Hill played alongside Nicholls State’s Kristy Helmers at club level, as well as former Sydney FC and Canberra United player Meg McLaughlin. Hill joins a team that has compiled seven wins in each of the past two seasons, so it is certainly becoming time for Grand Canyon to kick on and put together a 10 win season, especially now as the team is eligible for the postseason for the first time.
Kiri Dale (Sophomore, Midfielder, Hawaii, Mullumbimby)
Following two seasons at Iona, Kiri Dale has transferred to Hawaii for a challenge at a higher level, which she will certainly receive playing for the Rainbow Wahine. After redshirting her first season at Iona, Dale slotted straight into the lineup for the Gaels, starting in nearly every game of 2016. Earning that level of playing time will certainly be tougher in Honolulu, but Dale’s versatility as a defender with a certain attacking prowess may see her gain time in different positions throughout the season. However, that remains to be seen, and as is the case with any transfer student-athlete, there are a lot of questions that will be answered as the season progresses.
A mainstay for her first two seasons at Hofstra, Emily Hulbert’s junior season was unfortunately cut short due to injury. The former Melbourne Victory player played in 20 or more games in each of her first two seasons, but was restricted to just nine appearances in 2017. However, Hofstra compiled a 6-2-1 record with Hulbert on the pitch, a significant contrast to their rather indifferent 4-5 record whilst the Australian was out. Able to play either in defence or midfield and on either flank, Hulbert’s ability to get forward has seen her chip in three goals and an assist, including two game-winners, as she heads into her final season of college soccer.
Originally recruited by Hofstra before eventually choosing Texas for 2016, Monique Iannella has transferred to the Pride, where she will play alongside fellow Victorian, Emily Hulbert. Despite injury, Iannella enjoyed a relatively successful first college season, starting 12 of the 13 matches in which she played and tallying over 900 minutes of playing time as Texas finished with an 8-9-1 record in a perhaps slightly disappointing season for the Longhorns. Iannella now moves to Hofstra, where her presence will no doubt be cherished among a roster with just seven other recognised defenders, many of whom are likely to slot into the midfield at times.
Julia De Angelis (Sophomore, Midfielder, Indiana, Canberra)
Touted as one of the best Australian freshmen in 2016, Julia De Angelis has unfortunately suffered through a frustrating run of injuries since arriving at Indiana. The Young Matildas and Canberra United midfielder had the start of her college career delayed, but did manage to accumulate 15 appearances, albeit on apparently restricted minutes. Whilst on field though, De Angelis, looked right at home in the Big Ten, one of the premier conferences in NCAA Division I. However, yet another injury will see De Angelis miss out on playing this season after undergoing surgery in March.
Claudia Jenkins (Freshman, Goalkeeper, La Salle, Adelaide)
For a couple of years, there had been just one Australian goalkeeper in NCAA Division I: Georgia Rowntree. Last year, Teagan Micah doubled that number, and now Claudia Jenkins has made it a trio by joining La Salle University in Philadelphia. The former Adelaide United W-League player, who spent 17 games on the bench for the Lady Reds, has been ever-present for Fulham United in NPL South Australia over the last two seasons. Jenkins helped her side to a 2016 preliminary final appearance where they forced Adelaide City all the way to penalties, eventually going down 5-4 in the shootout. Jenkins was among a number of players with college experience in that side, including East Tennessee State’s Isabel Hodgson, former Colgate midfielder Dylan Holmes, and former Middle Tennessee State defender Nenita Burgess. Jenkins will have a challenge on her hands attempting to unseat redshirt senior goalkeeper Larisa Zambelli from the starting job at La Salle, but even if her freshman season is more of a learning experience, the South Australian will be in the box seat for a starting spot between the sticks going forward.
The lone Australian on a power conference team without W-League playing experience, Caitlin Cantrill nonetheless made her mark at LSU in her freshman season after training with Canberra United in previous years. The midfielder started the first four games of her college career and made 12 appearances in total, also picking up the first goal of her career against Julia De Angelis’ Indiana side, albeit in a game that De Angelis missed through injury. Cantrill will have to fight off the challenge of LSU’s handful of incoming freshman midfielders, but with a season of experience under her belt, the Canberran is certainly in the box seat to continue to receive playing time in her sophomore year.
Nyomi Devine (Senior, Defender, Murray State, Beaudesert)
The rock at the back for Murray State, Nyomi Devine has been a vital part of the Racers’ defence since her freshman season. From starting 13 of her 17 appearances in her freshman season, Devine started all 21 games in Murray State’s Ohio Valley Conference championship run in 2015 before 2016’s campaign was hindered slightly due to injury. As well as being an outstanding defender, Devine also added an attacking string to her bow in 2016. The Queenslander tallied the first assist of her career, whilst her only goal of the season – and her career to this point – was the game-winner against Tennessee-Martin. With 7 of her 11 shots for the season on target, her 64% clip is certainly a number worthy of any attacking player.
If Nyomi Devine is a defensive rock for the Racers, then Harriet Withers is an attacking weapon, and will be hoping to lead the line as the Racers look to atone for last year’s disappointing 2-1 overtime loss to SIU-Edwardsville in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament that cut their almost two-season long unbeaten streak at the worst possible time. An exceptional goalscorer, Withers has tallied 25 goals and 13 assists in her 58 games for the Racers to this point. A ten goal this season would not only cap an outstanding college career for Withers, but deliver the Palm Beach product the all-time goalscoring record for Murray State.
A five-sport athlete at St. Patrick’s College in Mackay, Tenille Harberger becomes the latest in what is becoming a long line of Australians to join Nicholls State. Aside from representing her school, Harberger has developed into a goalscoring midfielder in the Mackay regional competition, with 18 goals in her 22 appearances for Mackay Lions in 2016. Harberger will no doubt be hoping to pick up some of the minutes that have opened up following the graduation of fellow Australian Jess Coates, but there will be quite a fight for that spot amongst what is a young midfield corps for the Colonels.
An instant sensation at Nicholls State, Kristy Helmers comes into her sophomore season in Thibodaux on the back of an outstanding freshman year. The Canberra product was behind only fellow Australian Jess Coates in terms of attacking output, tallying six goals and five assists and starting all 16 of the Colonels’ games. Helmers received a share of the College Matildas Freshman of the Year award in 2016, and if she can handle the additional responsibility that will surely come her way following Coates’ graduation, she may just parlay that into a Sophomore of the Year award in 2017.
Gaby Bentley (Sophomore, Midfielder, Old Dominion, Adelaide)
Gaby Bentley was used sparingly in her first season at Old Dominion, and will certainly be hoping to increase her playing time in 2017. The former Adelaide United W-League midfielder featured in just two games in 2016, but was used far more in the team’s 2017 spring exhibition games, playing both in midfield and up front. A number of attacking options from the 2016 season have since graduated, leaving some playing time on the table, but Bentley will still have to fight off the challenge from the incoming freshmen if she is to pick up those additional minutes.
Lulu Pullar and Kahlia Hogg may be gone from the Pac-12’s Aussie contingent, but Melbourne City fullback Olivia Ellis has shored up the numbers by joining Oregon State. Whilst Ellis featured just twice for Melbourne City in her two seasons with the club, the young fullback featured 19 times for FC Bulleen in NPL Victoria in 2016 as the Lions finished third before going down to Geelong Galaxy United in the first week of the finals. Ellis was also involved with the Young Matildas at the 2016 AFF Women’s Championship, picking up two goals in the team’s 20-0 demolition of Timor-Leste’s full national team. With the Oregon State roster featuring just seven defenders, there will certainly be chances for Ellis to play, either as an immediate starter or off the bench, as Oregon State look to improve on last season’s 3-8 record in Pac-12 play, as well as their overall record of 8-10-2, their fifth consecutive season under .500.
After an extended stint on the sidelines in 2016 with yet another knee injury, Ellie Papalexiou returns for her senior year at Pacific desperate to make an impact on her final season in college soccer. Papalexiou’s freshman season saw her play in 17 games and become a vital part of the Tigers’ side, before injury cruelly struck the Palm Beach product down and forced her to miss the entire 2015 season. 2016 saw Papalexiou play seven games, before succumbing to injury for a second time. In her brief stints on the pitch, Papalexiou has exuded class, and it will now be a matter of putting that together for a full season for the first time since 2014 for the predominantly left-sided utility player.
Maddy Cornell (Senior, Defender, Southeast Missouri State, Nowra)
After starting her college career as a utility player who slotted in where required, Maddy Cornell has well and truly cemented her spot in the rotation up front for Southeast Missouri State heading into her final season. Cornell has played in 18 games in each of the last two seasons, and earned three starts in her junior year on her way to averaging 40 minutes per contest. Despite playing over 700 minutes, Cornell failed to find the back of the net in 2016, and this will be one facet in which she will need to improve if she is to increase that playing time yet again in 2017. Junior Lauren Kaempfe will lead the line for the Redhawks following the graduation of 12-goal striker Natasha Minor, but with Minor taking nearly half of the team’s goals with her, all of the forwards, including Cornell, will have to step up and take on more of the scoring load in 2017.
Shelby Milton (Sophomore, Defender, St. Francis, Wollongong)
After a year playing in NCAA Division II with St. Joseph’s in Indiana in 2015, Shelby Milton got out just in time as the university suspended operations earlier this year. Milton then transferred to St. Francis University in Pennsylvania, and hit the ground running with the Red Flash, making 19 appearances in her first season, and starting 9 games. Whilst the St. Francis defence was in the bottom half of the national rankings for goals conceded in 2016, they were certainly a young group last season. With a year of experience under their belts, they should see their defensive numbers improve this season and potentially improve on their 10-12 record from 2016.
Probably the most well-known of the Australian college players among the wider football community, Beattie Goad came to Stanford as a winger but reinvented herself as a fullback in the opening stages of her career with the Cardinal. Making her debut at left fullback, Goad was utilised on both sides of defence before making a move to a more attacking role later in the season for a Stanford side whose chances for a title were hindered by an injury to US national team midfielder Andi Sullivan and then extinguished by Santa Clara in a penalty shootout in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Victorian also picked up her first goal with literally the last kick of the regular season, tying a bow on a 4-1 win over arch rivals California. Having shown her ability to play in a number of positions, there will almost certainly be a spot for Goad somewhere after she made 10 starts in 21 appearances in 2016.
The reigning College Matildas Player of the Year, Paige Hayward was recently named to the All-SWAC preseason second team, a nod to her supreme goalscoring ability amongst all players in the conference. The Sydneysider banged home 13 goals in 2016, including a perfect five of five from the spot and three game-winning goals, as well as chipping in five assists in 19 appearancesto secure a spot in the All-SWAC Second Team. Alongside her College Matildas Player of the Year award, Hayward was also the top goalscorer amongst Australians, and was awarded Junior of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Most Consistent Player.
Demi Koulizakis returns to Lubbock in 2017 looking to make just as many appearances as she was able to in 2016, but perhaps turn those into more extended stints on the pitch. The former Sydney University forward featured 18 times for Texas Tech in her freshman year, but averaged only just over 20 minutes per contest despite starting on three occasions. In spite of this, things did start looking up for Koulizakis late in the season, as she played 47 minutes against TCU before rounding out the regular season with 69 minutes of playing time in a final day win over Oklahoma that clinched a Big 12 Tournament berth for the Red Raiders. The former Western Sydney Wanderers W-League player will now be aiming to ensure those extended outings become the norm, rather than the exception in 2017.
Teagan Micah came to UCLA seemingly set for a major battle for the starting goalkeeper berth at UCLA, but instead slotted seamlessly into the Bruins’ lineup, playing the whole season for a team that eventually went down to national runner-up West Virginia in a penalty shootout (that Micah didn’t take part in) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The freshman won two College Matildas awards for an outstanding season, earning a share of the Freshman of the Year award with Nicholls State’s Kristy Helmers, as well as a share of the Goalkeeper of the Year award with Wyoming’s Georgia Rowntree. Micah became the first true freshman to start a game for UCLA since 2004, and was also named Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week three times in an outstanding first season in Westwood. Recently, Micah was an emergency call-up to the Matildas squad that won the Tournament of Nations against the United States, Japan, and Brazil, filling a spot on the bench for the 6-1 win over Brazil after regular starter Lydia Williams suffered an injury.
Kate Swartwout (Sophomore, Defender, Western Carolina, Gold Coast)
Gold Coast born but North Carolina raised, Kate Swartwout slotted straight into the lineup at Western Carolina, a college that could almost be considered local for the Lake Norman product. Swartwout featured in 16 games for a Catamounts side that finished with an 8-12 record, not flash by any means, but certainly something to build on in 2017. Although primarily a defender, Swartwout does have the ability to play in midfield, and did pop up with one assist last season, helping Western Carolina to a 3-2 win over Kennesaw State. Assists are nice, but Swartwout’s main focus is keeping the ball out of the net rather than putting it in the one at the other end.
Lorena Bugden (Freshman, Midfielder, William & Mary, Sydney)
William & Mary’s first Australian recruit since fellow Australian, Vanessa Mann, became assistant coach for the Tribe, Lorena Bugden arrives at Williamsburg with significant club experience. With a season of W-League experience at Western Sydney Wanderers under her belt, and two NPLNSW titles, one each with FNSW Institute and Sydney University, Bugden has carved out quite a career even at this early stage. Having played everywhere from fullback to up top, the freshman can certainly slot in wherever she is required, but will hopefully play in her preferred advanced midfield position. An Australian Schoolgirls representative and national youth team camp invitee, Bugden will certainly be one to watch this upcoming season.
Alisha Bass (Senior, Midfielder, Wyoming, Sydney)
Whether it’s in the centre of defence, up front, or in behind the strikers as an attacking midfielder, Alisha Bass has been one of the standout players in the Mountain West Conference for the last few seasons. Having redshirted her first year at Laramie, this will be Bass’s fifth year with the Cowgirls, but the senior has long been one of the leaders of the team. Bass topped the Cowgirls in minutes played and assists in 2016, tallying four of the latter in addition to three goals, which included a stunning header with 10 seconds remaining in double overtime against Utah Valley. A highly technically adept player, Bass put nearly 60% of her shots on target last season to also lead Wyoming in that category.
Alisha Bass may be the creative force of the Wyoming attack, but Annika Clayton provides an industrious counterpoint in midfield for the Cowgirls. Ever-present in the middle of the park in her freshman season, 2016 was a slightly more stop-start campaign for the former Sydney University midfielder. Clayton was only able to garner one start in her 11 appearances as injury forced her to sit out at various times. However, Clayton was able to tally three assists for the season, which were enough for third in the team, and tallied a goal against Idaho State. With 2016’s injury problems hopefully behind her, 2017 looks to be far more promising for the Sydneysider.
An occasional starter but a regular fixture in the side, Jessie Gentle has carved out a position for herself within the Wyoming roster, being deployed in a number of positions over the last couple of years. Whether up front on the wing or in a fullback role, Gentle is now one of the mainstays of the Cowgirls’ lineup, playing 39 games over her first two seasons, 22 of those as part of the starting lineup. Although Gentle tallied just one goal last season, it was an important one: the game winner against Fresno State which earned Wyoming its first away win in conference play of the 2016 season.
Jemma House (Junior, Forward, Wyoming, Newcastle)
Already a star of college soccer in Wyoming after two emphatically successful years at Laramie County Community College, Jemma House has made the 50 mile journey to the state’s flagship university for the final two seasons of her college career. With 47 goals and 14 assists in 44 junior college games, House was a two-time All American at LCCC, and was also named to the NJCAA All-Tournament team in both 2015 and 2016. Now, House comes to Wyoming ready to fight for the chance to lead the line and potentially be on the end of some of the magical passes that fellow Australian Alisha Bass has delivered time and again for Cowgirls strikers over the last few seasons.
Georgia Rowntree came into the 2016 season fighting for a starting berth, but emerged as the primary option between the sticks for the entire season to play all but seven minutes of the season and also earn a share of the 2016 College Matildas Goalkeeper of the Year with UCLA’s Teagan Micah. Having started games since her freshman year, Rowntree sits firmly in the Wyoming top 10 lists for minutes played and career shutouts, and is also second all-time for goals against average. Her eight clean sheets in 2016 also set a single-season record for the Cowgirls, and the Sydneysider needs just four more to move into the top 3 all time for career shutouts at Wyoming. Although Rowntree will face competition from the other two goalkeepers in the Cowgirls’ squad, she certainly has the inside running at this point.
Following a year without an Australian, Central Connecticut State has reignited the connection to Australia with the announcement that Australian Schoolgirls representative Lauren Featherstone has signed on with the program. Lauren becomes the latest name in a list of Blue Devils that includes Matildas representative Leah Blayney and W-League goalkeepers Nikola Deiter and Erin Herd.
Featherstone was picked as a replacement member of the Australian Schoolgirls team which toured the UK and Ireland in 2017 after competing at the national tournament as a member of the title-winning New South Wales side. Featherstone also played for Macarthur Rams in NPL New South Wales in 2016. In a team featuring names such as Leena Khamis, Nicola Bolger, Renee Rollason, Kylie Ledbrook, and Elizabeth Ralston, Featherstone played in 16 of the side’s 19 gamesas the Rams reached the semi-finals before going down to Manly United. Former Blue Devil Leah Blayney is also involved with the Rams, meaning that Lauren should already have plenty of insight into the Central Connecticut State program.
Women’s World Cup winning coach Tony DiCicco has also been involved at times with Central Connecticut State in recent years, and if he chooses to reprise this role going forward, that will also be of great benefit to both Lauren and the entire Blue Devils squad.