Broncos looking for elusive WAC title in 2009....
Last year the Broncos featured a young and talented team that surpassed the expectations of everyone but their coaching staff. They posted a school record 11 wins on their way to a 11-8-2 overall mark, a 3-3-1 league record to finish fourth in the standings, and advanced to the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time in program history.
The 2009 season should be no different as expectations rise for this year's group which is just as youthful. Boise State returns the bulk of last season's squad, 18 of 24 members. Like last year when the roster was dominated by 19 underclassmen, this year's team is just as young with 21 of the 28 players being either freshmen or sophomores.
That might scare some, but what many may not know about the program is that in the last three years the talent level of the newcomers has risen with each class. As a result, every year there has been a couple members of the incoming group who have stepped up and made an impact on the outcome of the season. Many have claimed starting roles or played quality minutes. This increase in talent has helped make Boise State a regular fixture in the conference race year in and year out.
In 2009 the Broncos are chasing that elusive regular season WAC title that the program has yet win. This season they hope to change that as they challenge for the league crown with a young but experienced team.
Leading the way are seven upper classmen, three seniors and four juniors. Among this group are six starters from last year; seniors Andrea Huerta (forward), Kaylea Perenon (midfielder), and Jen Burns (goalkeeper), as well as, juniors Shannon Saxton (forward), Cheyenne Jones (midfielder), and Malia Hendrix (defender). The fourth junior Tara Roetter started nine-of-18 contests and adds solid experience to this group's overall strength and stability.
Unfortunately, Huerta suffered an injury during spring workouts and will miss the season. However, the other six are quality players and should provide the leadership needed on the field for a successful campaign. The six active upperclassmen had a combined 98 starts last season and accounted for nine goals and 13 assists.
Among the sophomore class of 11 are three returning starters in Chelsea Robinson (midfielder), Lindsay Roberts (defender) and Mandy Nader (defender). Joining Huerta on the injured list from the spring and out for the 2009 campaign is Nader. That gives the Broncos seven returners for this season.
Overall Boise State returns 12 veterans that started at least eight matches in 2008. In addition, all 12 played in at least 10 matches during the campaign with nine playing in 18 or more.
Following is a position-by-position preview of the Boise State soccer team...
Senior Jen Burns has been the primary starter in goal for the Broncos over the last two seasons but will be pushed by sophomore Liz Ruiz, a part-time starter in 2008, and redshirt-freshman Megan Blanchard.
Burns has started all 28 matches she has played in since transferring to Boise State from Seattle Pacific University in 2006. The Boise native is the only keeper in Bronco history to have a winning record in goal at 14-9-4. Burns owns a career goals against average (GAA) of 1.39 since arriving at Boise State which currently ranks as a school best. Last year the senior started 13 matches going 7-4-1 in goal with a GAA of 1.04.
Pushing Burns for the starting role in goal will be Liz Ruiz. The sophomore started eight-of-nine matches played last season for the Broncos going 4-4-1. She recorded 43 saves and finished the year with a save percentage of .827, the third highest in program history. The Boise native, who attended the same high school in Boise (Capital HS) as Burns, finished the season with a GAA of 1.03.
Megan Blanchard was recruited with Ruiz as a member of the 2008 class. The Fresno, Calif., native redshirted last year breaking the two into different eligibility classes. Over the course of the past year Blanchard has shown solid improvement and should challenge the other two for playing time in 2009.
Goalkeeping should be solid again in 2009 for Boise State. Last season Burns and Ruiz combined for the second fewest goals allowed in the WAC with 22 for a GAA of 1.04 which also ranked second. This season's race for the starting position and playing time in goal should be intense with three quality goalkeepers to choose from on a weekly basis. Experience goes in favor of the senior Jen Burns, but do not be surprised if one of the underclassmen shows up periodically in the starting position.
The Broncos started three freshmen and one sophomore in the defensive line last year, arguably one of the youngest back lines in the league. Unfortunately, only two of them are available to Boise State in 2009. Starters that are back include junior Malia Hendrix and sophomore Lindsay Roberts. The duo combined for 41 starts out of a possible 42. Gone is Mandy Nader who will sit out the season due to injury. Nader started 13 of the 21 matches she played in last year. The fourth decided to transfer to one of the military academies.
This year there will be a blend of experience and youth along the back line. Junior Malia Hendrix is one of two returning starters in the back and will be looked to for leadership this fall. The former forward possesses good speed and poses a challenge to attackers on the wings.
Lindsay Roberts is also back as a starter and will play in the center where she turned in a solid debut performance as a freshman in 2008. The young defender was so impressive that she was named the team's defensive MVP and made the WAC all-tournament team.
Tara Roetter was another impact player in the back for the Broncos last season where she started nine-of-18 matches played. She possesses good pace and valuable collegiate game experience, and should factor into the starting lineup in 2009.
Hendrix, Roberts and Roetter were main stays defensively for the Broncos last season and part of a defensive unit that held opponents to a combined 22 goals, second best in the WAC. All three were new to the program last year, now with a year behind them within the system they will be looked to as leaders in 2009.
Seven other Broncos will battle for starting positions in the back as well. Sophomores Tiffany Hall and Serena Montoya played sparingly last season but should push for quality time if not starting roles this time around. Montoya did earned a start in 2008 and saw time in nine contests.
They are joined by five true-freshmen in Adrienne Lommasson from Tigard, Ore., Becca Hoiland out of West Linn, Ore., Melanie Mohr from Lakewood, Colo., Lauren Hickok of Bozeman, Mont., and Brianne Favatella from Colorado Springs, Colo. All five were standouts on their prep and club teams and possess the speed and skill to challenge the returners.
Of the 10 defenders only two are upperclassmen making this year's back line relatively young once again. The returning veterans do possess quality collegiate game experience to provide stability in the back. Add in young players and the overall quality of the group should be better than last year's. All nine will be challenged on a daily basis for starting roles and game time, which will benefit the team as the season grinds towards November.
The midfield positions have several experienced players returning this season including three of the four starters from a year ago. Senior Kaylea Perenon, junior Cheyenne Jones and sophomore Chelsea Robinson all started in the midfield for the Broncos. The trio is joined by sophomores Brandy Hickcox, Ashley Walsh and Jayne Murray who have solid experience coming in off the bench in 2008.
Kaylea Perenon is the only senior on the team who has been here for all four seasons of her collegiate career. She has been an impact player playing in 58 matches with 38 starts. The Oakland, Calif., native has a strong shot with good range. Perenon enters her senior campaign with five career goals and four assists.
Cheyenne Jones is another Bronco with experience and good pace racing up and down the left flank. In two years Jones has started in 33 of the 39 matches she has played. The junior possesses the skill and experience to provide leadership in the midfield. Like Perenon, Jones enters the season with five career goals and four assists.
Of the returning veterans Chelsea Robinson ranked second in goals score last season with three. The sophomore has solid speed and played primarily in an attacking midfield role last fall. This year expect to see Robinson make an impact by splitting time between the forward and midfield positions as the Broncos look to her in an effort to make up some of the scoring punch they lost with the injury to Huerta.
Another player expected to see quality time if not a starting role is Brandy Hickcox. The native of Boise started in eight of the 20 matches she played in last season. When she was not starting she was one of the first substitutions off the bench. She scored two goals during her freshman campaign.
In the mix for a starting role is Ashley Walsh a sophomore out of Vancouver, Wash. Walsh played more of a defensive midfield role last season when she saw action in 19 of the 21 matches in 2008, she also recorded nine starts during her freshman campaign.
Jayne Murray is a redshirt sophomore out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who played in five matches last year. She impressed the coaches during the spring workouts and could see some quality minutes in 2009.
Unfortunately, Janelle Jin a seventh veteran from last year may miss the 2009 campaign after suffering a late season injury last October. As a freshman in 2008 Jin ranked fifth in scoring with two goals and one assist. She is another player that when healthy possesses good speed and is a threat moving up and down the field.
Joining the group of six veterans are a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. Catherine Leewaye enters her second year at Boise State looking to break into the starting lineup after missing the 2008 campaign because of injury. Leewaye is one of many local players from the Boise metro area. She is a talented young player looking to make an impact this season.
The two true freshmen are Taylor Thompson from Happy Valley, Ore., and Maureen Fitzgerald out of Beaverton, Ore. The duo were standouts for their respective high school teams and are talented enough to push the Bronco veterans for major roles.
The midfield should be a strength once again for the Broncos in 2009 as they return solid experience and talent. Three starters are back and the staff has added depth to the group with the arrival of the redshirt and two freshmen. The battle for starting roles should be intense with any of the group capable of making the opening lineup on August 21.
The forward position is a mix of experience and the unknown. Shannon Saxton is the experience and the highlight of this group as she returns for her junior year as the WAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and one of the most prolific scorers in program history. She will be joined by sophomores Molly Hill and Chelsea Robinson, as well as, freshman Erica Parks.
Shannon Saxton enters the 2009 campaign ranked in 46 of 56 statistical categories in the Bronco record book. She currently holds the match record for most points (nine) and is tied for the lead for most goals (four). Saxton also owns the season records for most goals (17), assists (eight), and points (39). She is second in career goals (23) and points (59), and holds the top mark for career assists (13).
Saxton is only a junior with two more years ahead of her. This season she will continue to be the force behind the Bronco scoring attack. When teams try to shutout her down from scoring the versatile athlete is happy settling for the assist. With the loss of Huerta the team will look to Saxton for leadership up top while the younger players gain experience.
Molly Hill played sparingly last season as a freshman, but made strides during the spring workouts and is expected to battle for a spot next to Saxton in the attack. Hill has good size and a solid shot with range.
The second most experienced player up top is Chelsea Robinson who will split time between the midfield and forward positions in 2009. Last year she was fourth on the team in scoring as an attacking midfielder with three goals and three assists. Look for her up top more than in the midfield this season, but one way or another expect Robinson to challenge for a starting role on the field.
Joining the three veterans up top for the Broncos is true freshman Erica Parks. She comes to Boise State from Nampa, Idaho, where she was a standout at Skyview High recording 49 goals her last two years, 27 as a senior. Look for Park to see quality minutes at forward and possibly some as a starter.
Saxton will be the anchor for the Bronco forwards this fall. The attack for Boise State will be solid again even though there are some relatively untested players up top. The group is athletic and quick which should cause problems for the opposition's defense.
ONE LAST THOUGHT...
Even though Boise State will be young again in this season they have a solid nucleus from which to build on. Seven starters are back from last year's record setting campaign. In addition, the talent level has taken another step up with the newcomers. Add in the fact that the Broncos will be home for 10 of their regular-season matches plus host the WAC's postseason championship tournament and Boise State could be positioned for a season to remember in 2009.