Liberty Women's Soccer Head Coach Jessica Hain (center) enters her fourth season with the program.
High expectations surround the Liberty women's soccer team heading into the 2011 season. The Lady Flames return 20 players to the roster, including 8-of-11 starters from last year. Liberty closed out the 2010 campaign with an 8-10-3 record and was eliminated from the Big South Championship on penalty kicks for the second-straight year. This season, head coach Jessica Hain and the Lady Flames are looking to climb over the hump in search for a Big South Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. LibertyFlames.com sat down with Hain to discuss the upcoming year and break down each position. The Lady Flames will open the 2011 season on the road, Friday, against No. 6 Virginia for the fourth consecutive year. Game time in Charlottesville, Va., is slated for 7 p.m. Forwards Headlining the Lady Flames' front line this season are two senior returnees – Aimee Luurtsema and Silvia Betancourt. Luurtsema led the Lady Flames with 13 goals and 31 points last season, ranking her 21st and 29th nationally in each category. The Grandville, Mich. native's totals also allowed to her to finish second in the Big South Conference in goals and points. Luurtsema concluded the year tied for second in the program's annals for the most goals in a single season and third on Liberty's single-season points list. Along with receiving second team Big South all-conference honors, she also earned a VaSID all-state selection. During the regular season, she was named Big South Player of the Week on two occasions, as well as ECAC Player of the Week. Luurtsema became just the second player in program history to finish with more than 30 points, with Nancy Davis being the only other Lady Flame to accomplish the feat. Luurtsema's 13 goals also tied her for second on Liberty's single-season scoring list. "Aimee is a strong leader and really smart forward," Hain said. "We originally recruited her as a defender, but she's such a competitor that we found she does a really good job up front." Betancourt finished second on the team in goals (8) and points (18), despite missing the final six games, including the Big South Championship. The forward's absence was not due to injury, but rather an opportunity to play for her country of Costa Rica in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers. "For her to have a chance as a believer to go have an impact on an international stage like that we felt was an awesome opportunity for her. To have her in Big South Conference play this year and have her healthy will hopefully greatly impact our front line." Two newcomers could play a role up front this season. In Liberty's exhibition game against Davidson on Aug. 16, a pair of freshman accounted for all three Lady Flames' goals. Alanna Dunkle finished the contest with two tallies, while Geena Swentik also chipped in a goal. Midfield Much like the front line, Liberty also has two experienced veterans returning in the midfield. Redshirt senior Laura Nyholt will take the field as a team captain, this year. Last season, the Brampton, Ontario, Canada native posted one goal and three assists for the Lady Flames. Also returning to the midfield is junior Madison Short, the Lady Flames' assist leader, who finished second in the conference with eight helpers. Short's assists placed her second all-time on Liberty's single-season assist listing. The Dallas, Texas native is currently tied for third in the program's annals for most assists in a career with 10. "We also have some incoming freshmen that are very strong and will be great in the midfield," Hain noted. One newcomer who could make an immediate impact is two-time National Christian School Athletic Association (NCSAA) Player of the Year Maddie Boone. This past season, Boone led Lexington Christian Academy to the Kentucky state championship, finishing her high school career as the program's assists leader (54) and second in scoring (72). The midfielder capped off her tenure with a team-leading 20 goals and 21 assists. In addition to being a member of the all-state tournament team four straight years, the Kentucky native is also a four-time state champion at the club level (Mockingbird Valley, S.C.). Defenders Liberty will be missing one of its key pieces on defense with the absence of two-year starter Ariana Espinoza. Last season, the San Jose, Costa Rica native was one of four Lady Flames to garner all-conference honors. "[Arianna] is not cleared to play due to a fracture in her foot," Hain stated. With Espinoza missing from the back line, Liberty will rely on experienced juniors such as Heather Bentley, Emily Hoy and Lauren Stell to hold down the fort on defense. However, Hain notes that other members of the Lady Flames could play a role on the defensive end. "In the back line we have veterans, but it's not a veteran unit," Hain said. "We're still looking to sure up those open spots on the back line." Goalkeepers After overcoming injury, Karen Blocker returns to the net for the Lady Flames' this season. A 2009 Big South first team all-conference selection, Blocker started 17 games in the Liberty net two seasons ago. Before suffering a season-ending forearm injury in Liberty's game against Radford (Oct. 25, 2009), Blocker posted a 1.16 goals against average and a .845 save percentage in 1320.53 minutes of action. Blocker also racked up 93 saves on the year and went nearly 500 minutes in her final six games without allowing a single goal. However, due to the severity of her injury, Blocker missed the entire 2010 season. The redshirt junior netminder returns to the field fifth all-time in school history with 162 career saves. "Having [Karen] back this year will be huge, but it's been a year and half since she has played competitively," Hain stated. "It's a challenge for her, but it's a huge encouragement to the team. She is a great goalkeeper." Hain added, "We have two sophomore goalkeepers, Alexa Hormann and Kristin Horton, who are working very hard and are in a good position to support her and the team. Prayerfully, we want Karen to be healthy for this season."
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