HCAC Pre-season Coaches Poll: http://www.bluffton.edu/sports/womenssoccer/2012/hcacpoll.pdf
A record-setting 2011 campaign has the 2012 Bluffton University women's soccer program looking for even more success this year. After placing fourth in the regular season, Bluffton knocked off #1 seed Earlham on the road en route to its first-ever Heartland Conference championship match.
The Beavers battled a Hanover team that had won at Bluffton 4-1 one week earlier, keeping the Panthers scoreless for over 81 minutes before Hanover clinched the NCAA berth with a 1-0 victory. Ready to pick up where they left off, the Beavers sport a squad that returns seven starters from the team that established a school record with 11 wins (11-5-2).
The first order of business is to fill in the important leadership roles that were held by 2012 graduates Megan DeNoi, Lyndsay Nelson and Kourtney Lewis.
DeNoi and Nelson formed the backbone of Bluffton's stout defense the past four years, while Lewis was a scoring threat and distributor who always had to be accounted for by the opposition. With just two seniors on the roster, Coach Nussbaum will need his juniors and sophomores to assume more vocal leadership roles if Bluffton's transition is to be seamless.
Three-year starter Maddie Moore (Linn Grove,Ind./South Adams) and Kirsten Egts (Rawson/Cory-Rawson) are the two seniors back for Bluffton in 2012. Moore directs traffic from center midfield and Egts has seen important minutes during her time with the Beavers, mainly in the midfield. They will both serve as captains for their final season.
A solid junior class that is six deep will form the core for Bluffton this year. Two year starter Maggie Armstrong (Vevay, Ind./Switzerland Co.) has been a crucial member of Bluffton's defense which has established school records for goals against average the past two seasons.
All-Conference defender Aimee Whitmer (Tontogany/Otsego) is one of the strongest athletes in the Heartland Conference and she allows Bluffton's midfielders to take chances at the offensive end. Whitmer also gives the Beavers another scoring weapon on deep free kicks. After missing much of her freshman campaign due to injury, Katie Steenrod (Sidney) bounced back last season and she will add to the toughness of the Beaver defense.
Megan Moreo (Spencerville/Delphos Jefferson) and Jessica Ramirez (Archbold) have both started at forward for Bluffton much of their first two years, combining for four goals and six assists in 2011.
Sophomore forward Taylor Fultz (Camden/Preble Shawnee) topped the Heartland Conference with 11 goals in her first season, including four game winners. She was a First Team All-Heartland Conference honoree as a freshman, Bluffton's first since Kourtney Lewis in 2009. Jo Bondra (Highland Heights/Mayfield) and Kristina Reid (Midlothian, Va./Manchester) combined for 17 starts in the Bluffton backfield.
Depth is an area in which Bluffton will be much improved. Going from 21 to 28 players will allow Coach Nussbaum to incorporate more scrimmaging situations into the regular practice routine. The addition of 12 freshmen will be an adjustment for the team but its benefits long-term will be crucial to the success of the program.
Newcomers Jenni Conley (Ravenna/Rootstown), Marisa Aguilar (Taylor, Mich./Divine Child) and Laura Fish (Findlay/Liberty-Benton) are among those that are expected to have the opportunity to earn playing time early on.
"Although Bluffton may have surprised those around the conference a season ago, we are not likely sneak up on anyone again," stated Coach Nussbaum. Knocking off top-seeded Earlham and taking Hanover to the limit ensures that the Heartland Conference will have Bluffton on its radar when the Beavers kick off HCAC play on Saturday, Sept. 29, at Rose-Hulman. Bluffton opens the season at Andrews on August 31, the first of four straight matches on the road.
The home opener with Wilmington on Sept. 15 and season finale with Transylvania on Oct. 27 highlight the schedule as Bluffton has its sights set on a second straight trip to the Heartland Conference tournament.