Saturday February 6th, 2016 10:42AM

Returning experience helps Piedmont women's soccer to No. 1 in preseason

By staff reports
DEMOREST -- After losing half of his starting lineup to graduation off last season's USA South championship squad, Piedmont College Head Women's Soccer Coach Stephen Andrew has spent much of the preseason looking for replacements at those key spots. <br /> <br /> Andrew knows the task at hand of rebuilding the lineup will not be an easy one, but the coach has no time to wait as the task shifted from rebuilding to reloading after the USA South Preseason Coaches' Poll picked the Lady Lions as a favorite to repeat as champions this season despite losing their top scorer, starting goalkeeper and holding mid, and three of the back four from last year's team.<br /> <br /> "We lost a group of six seniors who had all contributed in different ways throughout last year, but the positive thing is that our recruiting class last year was pretty strong," said Andrew of his team's plan to recover from the large departure. "So we feel like we have the pieces that can step in and help replace those girls straight away. It's a little bit of pressure on our returners as well to try and step in to fill the shoes of a senior class that won two conference championships in four years."<br /> <br /> Both of those conference titles that Andrew spoke of, one Great South Athletic Conference title and one USA South crown, came in the last three seasons for the Lady Lions who also saw the departure of one of their most prolific scorers in Capital One Academic All-American Laura Goodwin. <br /> <br /> The forward from Snellville posted 17 goals by herself last season which was the second most in the conference behind only USA South Player of the Year Sandra Johansson of Averett, but Piedmont does return four of its next five top scorers from last season's squad including a pair of sophomores that Andrew is looking towards as possible replacements for Goodwin's 17 goals.<br /> <br /> "It's going to be tough to replace Laura who for four years was our main attacking threat, scoring goals, getting assists," said Andrew of his team's offensive challenge this season. "However, we've brought in two or three forwards and we're hoping that Savannah Castles and Megan Hatfield can step up and fill a bigger role after strong years last season." <br /> <br /> Castles and Hatfield combined for 10 goals between them last year and each stepped up in a big moment for the 2013 Lady Lions on the way to a USA South championship. Castles scored the game-winning goal on an absolute screamer from outside the box less than two minutes into overtime in PC's 2-1 win at Ferrum in their conference opener. Hatfield had her own chance to shine in an overtime win in league play when she buried a header off a corner kick into the back of the net for a 1-0 win over Greensboro with less than a minute remaining in the first OT period in North Carolina.<br /> <br /> One spot where Andrew is confident the returning experience on his roster will help is in midfield where he brings back two of his top players in that position from a year ago with the return of senior Shayna Rogers and junior Leilani Healy. Rogers tied for the second most assists on the team last season with her six helpers on the year while Healy looks to cement her spot in central midfield after providing a highlight reel goal in 2013 on a strike from distance against conference rival Maryville. <br /> <br /> Andrew will need all the returning experience he can get from last year's NCAA tourney-bound team as they face another national tournament participant from last season in their opener this year with the Panthers of Hanover prowling for a win over the Lady Lions this coming weekend. Hanover is receiving votes in the Preseason NSCAA National Poll, but Andrew does not need that information to know that the Panthers will be a stout test of his almost brand new squad. <br /> <br /> "We wanted to try and get as tough as competition as we could in the early going," said Andrew of his team's daunting opener. "We play Hanover of the Central Region, who won their conference last season, and are picked to win it again, we know they are really good. So, hopefully it's a good way to get a gauge of where we are at."<br /> <br /> Hanover was picked to win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference this season after a stellar campaign in 2013 that included 18 wins and a run to the second round of the NCAA National Tournament. Having claimed nine of the 10 possible first place votes in the preseason poll, Hanover returns several key pieces from last year's team which carried a 16-game unbeaten streak as now junior Rachel Alvis returns to lead the Panthers after an All-American caliber year as a sophomore in '13 for Head Coach Jim Watts. <br /> <br /> Piedmont kicks off 2014 with their showdown against Hanover at the Maryville Collegiate Invitational hosted by their fellow USA South member in Tennessee. Coach Andrew's Lady Lions kick off at 5 p.m. this coming Friday with live stats provided courtesy of the Maryville Sports Information Department.
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