When the Charlotte 49ers women’s soccer team lost to North Texas in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament in November, the 49ers felt they had some unfinished business.
Based on the conference’s preseason rankings, it would appear others feel the same.
With nine starters returning from last year’s C-USA East Division championship team, Charlotte was selected by league coaches to win the conference title in their preseason poll.
Charlotte opens the 2014 season at UNC Greensboro on Aug. 22. The 49ers’ first C-USA test is at Florida Atlantic on Sept. 26.
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The conference tournament will be at Charlotte’s Transamerica Field on Nov. 5-9.
“It’s always nice to see your work is getting recognized outside the program,” said coach John Cullen, “because obviously we’re stressing to our players that we need to make improvements and move in the right direction. We’re proud and honored to be No. l, but the biggest thing is we want to be No. 1 at the end of the year, too.”
Charlotte, hampered by several key injuries in 2013, finished that season with an 11-7-2 record (5-3-2 in C-USA).
The key losses from that team were seniors Alex Kubrick, who started 16 games in goal, and midfielder/defender Brooke Mulloy.
Among the nine returning starters from last year’s team is senior midfielder Amanda Jones, whose 10 goals were more than double any of her teammates. She was named to this year’s C-USA preseason all-conference team.
The preseason conference Defensive Player of the Year is Charlotte junior defender Monica Trickett. Like Jones, Trickett was named second team All-Conference USA in 2013, and now both are team captains.
“Maddie Kiebel (a junior) and I definitely work really, really well together,” said Jones. “We’ll be playing in the middle together. Getting (senior forward) Jess Ryan back from injury, being our top forward (will help), and playing underneath her.
“She’s very strong on the ball, and I love playing off her.”
Other key returning midfielders are senior Sara Trexler and redshirt senior Jennifer Lee. Returning up front are junior Alex Meyers, sophomore Perri Bonner and junior Tori Fubara.
Joining Trickett in the backfield are returning starters Taylor Dulaney, Shelby Hicks and Nicole Anderson, who was selected to the C-USA all-freshman team last fall. They will be protecting goalkeeper Annie McHenry, a redshirt junior who started 12 games over the last two seasons when Kubrick was injured.
In addition to overcoming injuries, the 49ers also must improve on their play before halftime of games. Charlotte was outscored by a combined score of 15-6 in the first half and was out-shot 110-98.
“I think one of our problems was starting off games really crazy and frantically and then we brought it back down and got it together,” said McHenry. “(We thought) if we started off well early and got a goal early, it will put us in better position later in the game.”
Cullen says more of an emphasis will be put on scoring this year.
“We’re going to change some things up,” said Cullen, who is entering his sixth season at the helm. “We feel we’ll have a lot more attacking people on the field this year. So we’re going to use those players. There’s no use in playing one striker if I’ve got five on the bench.
“It might make us a little more lightweight at the back of the goal, but the two things for us is we want to tighten up in the back and be more of a threat up front,” he said.
Because a couple of schools backed out of commitments to play at Transamerica Field this season, Charlotte will open 2014 with five consecutive away games.
The 49ers’ home-opener will be Sept. 17 against Winthrop.