FLORENCE, S.C. – Fielding its most experienced squad in several years, the 2004 Francis Marion University women’s soccer team will look to improve on its 11-win season of 2003 and challenge for the Peach Belt Conference crown.
The Patriots open their 2004 campaign on Friday when they host the fourth-annual Francis Marion Invitational Tournament. On Friday, FMU will face Lees-McRae College at 4 p.m., preceded by the University of North Florida meeting Carson-Newman College at 1 p.m. FMU and UNF will swap opponents on Sunday with FMU again playing the second match at 4 p.m.
Second-year FMU head coach Martin Beall welcomes back 13 letterwinners, including eight starters, from last year’s 11-7-1 squad that tied for fourth during the PBC regular season. Five of the squad’s losses were by one goal and the other two were to eventual NCAA Division II national champion Kennesaw State University.
However, KSU has moved its program to Division I status and the Peach Belt welcomes two new participants to its women’s soccer family: Columbus State University and Georgia College & State University. FMU was tabbed to finish third in the PBC’s annual preseason coaches’ poll.
Beall must replace four-time All-Conference performers Katie Roberts, the career-scoring leader for both FMU and the PBC, and Jessica Skarzinski. Roberts led FMU with 12 goals, seven assists, and 31 points in 2003. She missed only one match during her career and ended her playing days as the school’s career leader in shots (220), goals (47), assists (35), and points (129). She also holds the PBC career marks for assists and points and shares the career record for goals. She and Skarzinski helped Francis Marion to a four-year mark of 55-21-3, one PBC Tournament title, and one NCAA Division II national tournament invitation.
To overcome these losses, Beall will look to junior forward Katie Riley, the team’s second-leading scorer in 2003 (10 goals, six assists), 2003 team most valuable player Brittany Rothenbach and a group of five seniors.
Junior goalkeeper Jackie Bateman, a part-time starter in 2003, returns and will be pushed for playing time by freshman Megan Corker (Richmond, Va.). Bateman recorded a 1.14 goals against average in 11 matches last season and recorded two complete match shutouts. “Jackie has improved immensely from last season, and has played great during the preseason,” Beall said. “The addition of Megan, who has proven to be a quick learner of the college game, gives us two quality keepers.”
At the forward positions, senior Cyprian Gillingham, sophomores Ashley Fortune and Morgan Harwood, redshirt sophomore Alese Tremmel, and freshman Stacy Smith (Leesburg, Va.) will join Riley. Gillingham is a three-year starter with 12 career goals, while Fortune is a transfer from Texas Christian University, where she earned Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors in 2003 after recording four goals and three assists. Tremmel returns to the field after missing all of 2003 with an injury, while Harwood tallied three goals and three assists in 18 matches as a freshman last season.
“Over the past few years, teams were able to focus their defense on Katie Roberts, but this season that won’t be the case. We have good team speed and a cast of capable scorers,” Beall added. “We should be extremely dangerous going forward with the ball. We must work on our physical play, and winning the 50/50 balls.”
In the midfield, Beall has six quality players, including junior playmaker Mollie Jones (one goal and five assists in 2003); Rothenbach; senior Megan Harwood; and junior Elizabeth Gallacher. Redshirt sophomore Keri Barton and true freshman Melissa Hadick (Dayton, Ohio) add depth to the squad’s midfield corps, and Beall pointed at Hadick as the freshman who could make the biggest impact in 2004.
In the back, the Patriot defense will feature senior Kristi Eyler, who moves from the midfield to center back and will replace Skarzinski; juniors Kate Anderson and Sara Wilson; senior Nicki Fell; and sophomores Jody Rhoderick and Diane Weishuhn. Freshman Ricci Sheridan (Chester, Va.) will also battle for playing time in the back. From her midfield spot, Eyler tallied five goals and six assists last season.
“We are a seasoned squad, with 17 of 21 players having some collegiate experience, and we have depth, speed, and athleticism. The key to our success will be that each player understands her role and executes it 100 percent,” Beall admitted. “To succeed, we must work together as a competitive team unit.”
“We play a tough schedule that includes most of the top teams in the region. The Peach Belt race should be a wide-open battle. We were picked third in the preseason PBC coaches’ poll, and I feel as though we should be in the mix for the conference crown.”
The 2004 Patriot schedule lists 18 matches, including nine home matches. Francis Marion is 67-10-2 all-time on the FMU Soccer Field.
Francis Marion outscored its opponents 51-22 last season and held a 123-60 advantage in corner kicks.