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Women's Soccer to Open Season Tonight
The contest will begin a new era for the Lady Flames' program, as it will be the first game under first-year head coach Jessica Celi and her assistant coach, Abby Crumpton. Celi, who became the sixth coach in Liberty women's soccer history on July 2, was previously an assistant coach with the W-League's Charlotte Eagles. Meanwhile, Crumpton has been a coach at several schools, including Michigan and Clemson, and had a highly-decorated career at Michigan, where she finished as the Wolverines' all-time leading scorer with 116 points.
The Lady Flames return 15 letterwinners from last season's squad, including 2007 all-conference first team performers Amy Oberlin and Brittany Tyson. Oberlin, a senior, has started all but one contest the past three years for the Lady Flames and has been named an All-Big South first-team member the last two seasons. Last year, she led Liberty in scoring with six goals. Tyson, also a senior, became a leader on defense, starting every game in 2007, on her way to all-conference first team recognition. The defender also scored a goal and added two assists in a 4-1 conference victory over Radford last season.
In goal, the Lady Flames have two keepers who have seen game action. Junior Lauren Kamphuis and sophomore Ashley Nyholt split time in the Liberty net last year. The two returnees are once again competing for time in goal, along with freshman Karen Blocker. Each member of the trio saw playing time in goal on Wednesday in a scrimmage at Lynchburg College.
Besides Tyson, the Lady Flames return several players who have seen playing time on defense. Among the returners are senior Emily House, junior Rachel Wisehart and sophomore Ashley Gibson. House has played in 10 or more contests each of her first three seasons at Liberty. The Lynchburg native saw action in 10 games in 2007, with five starts. Wisehart played in 16 games in 2007, after seeing action in eight contests the year before, while Gibson started 10 contests for the Lady Flames in her first collegiate season.
In the midfield, seniors Hope West and Mallory Neff, along with Oberlin will be among the several veterans on the roster this season. West returned from injury in 2006 to play in all 18 contests last season and finished the year with an assist. Meanwhile, Neff, who was a 2006 Big South All-Tournament team member, netted two goals and dished out five helpers for nine points last season.
Additionally in the midfield, Heather Bowling, Laura Nyholt and Maggie Woody are three other Lady Flame veterans who have seen a significant amount of playing time during their Liberty careers. Bowling, who has also played as a defender, saw action in all 18 contests last season, starting all but one contest. Nyholt, a sophomore whose twin sister Ashley plays goalkeeper for Liberty, played in 12 contests in her first college season in 2007. Woody, whose sister Jordan joins the Lady Flames this season as a freshman, netted two goals and assisted on two others for six points last season. She added five points in her maiden season with Liberty, scoring two goals and tallying an assist.
Junior Ally Erving and redshirt senior Ashley Braam are two of the veterans who come back to play up front for the Lady Flames. Erving scored two goals in 13 games and was named to the Big South All-Tournament team last season. The junior may also see time at midfielder. Braam returns for her senior year, after missing last season due to injury. In 2006, she was selected to the all-conference second team, after tallying four goals and two assists for 10 points through 11 games, before being sidelined due to injury.
Also, sophomores Maria Owen and Caitlyn Riley return at forward. Owen scored four goals and was named to the Big South All-Freshman team during her rookie season in 2007. Riley assisted on a goal and saw action in 11 contests last season.
Celi's club also will have 12 new faces this year. Ranked the No. 1 recruiting class in the Big South by SoccerBuzz.com, the Lady Flames have added several players who could contribute early. Among them is the aforementioned Blocker and freshman Silvia Betancourt, who had an outstanding evening in a scrimmage against Lynchburg College on Wednesday. The midfielder from San Jose, Costa Rica, set up a goal by Oberlin on a corner kick, drew a foul in the penalty area to earn a penalty kick and scored off an assist from another newcomer, sophomore Elia Lake.
Tonight's contest will be the first of 17 games for the Lady Flames in 2008. Liberty will play six home games this year, beginning Sept. 12 against Navy. Including their season opener at Longwood, the Lady Flames will play six out of their first seven contests on the road. The Big South Women's Soccer Championship will be played Nov. 6-9 at Millis Soccer Complex in High Point, N.C.