Aug. 14, 2006
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - In its 11th year of existence, the UAB women's soccer team is aiming for a return to dominance and looking to regain its position atop Conference USA in 2006. After back-to-back seasons as C-USA champions in 2003 and 2004, the Blazers finished sixth in the conference standings in 2005 with an overall mark of 8-10-1 and a 4-4-1 record in league play. For a squad that is accustomed to finishing on top, that record did not suffice and the Blazers have a new hunger and desire inside of them to return to their championship ways.
"I'm excited for this season," expressed head coach Paul Harbin. "We return 11 lettermen from a team that I think was just on the verge of competing for the conference championship last year. Last season, we were young. Where we weren't young, we were inexperienced. Even our older players were inexperienced because they had not had a lot of playing time since we lost seven seniors from the 2004 team.
"This year, we got a tremendous amount of experience in the spring. We played a very demanding schedule. Overall, I'm excited about our direction. Now, we are a little bit older and more experienced. We've added some newcomers, that although they are young, they have good experience playing at the international level."
The UAB coaching staff remains in tact from the 2005 season, headed by 11th year head coach Paul Harbin. The only coach in UAB women's soccer history, Harbin brings an overall record of 139-112-14 to the table, as well as a record of 102-86-2 as the head coach of the Blazer program.
UAB has always challenged it selves with a tough schedule and the 2006 slate will be no different. The Blazers will encounter many top-ranked teams in their non-conference schedule, beginning with the season opener at Clemson. UAB will then make the long trip northwest to participate in the Oregon State tournament, which puts the Blazers against Cal State Northridge and host school Oregon State.
The Blazers will once again host the annual UAB Nike Classic during the second weekend of September. Participating schools include UAB, Alabama, Kansas and Duke, with the Blazers scheduled to take on both Duke and Alabama over the weekend.
UAB will round out its non-conference opponents with Vanderbilt, Mercer and Birmingham-Southern before diving into the always-difficult C-USA schedule. League play for the Blazers will include Marshall, East Carolina, Southern Mississippi, UCF, UTEP, Houston, Rice, Memphis and the newest C-USA member Colorado College. Conference USA's tournament will be held November 1-5 in Dallas, Tex.
"Our schedule is exciting," said Harbin. "Our players want to be challenged. They want to play the best teams in the country, so that is how we schedule.
"We want to try to get some significant wins early in the season, and if we can pull off a few wins against some of those top-ranked teams, that puts us in great shape. It also prepares us for our conference schedule. I feel like our conference has seven teams this year that has the potential to make it into postseason play in the NCAA tournament."
Sophomore Nadine Liverpool also provides additional talent up front, but serves as a versatile weapon for the Blazers, playing both forward and at midfield. UAB also welcomes three freshmen to the Blazer front line in freshmen Allison Auchter, Danya Barsalona and Toni Gockel.
"When you look to be a successful team, you need experience in goal and you need to score goals," expressed Harbin. "We have the experience in goal, and up front we are led by Sally Palmer and Jill Porto, who have been two of the leagues top scorers for two years in a row. The combination of those two up front is very difficult to stop. They are very dangerous players.
"You add to that, Nadine Liverpool when she plays up front, and that can be extremely dangerous. Freshman Danya Barsalona, who has a lot of experience playing at the international level, is extremely fit and can score. We've also got Allison Auchter from Atlanta. We feel Allison seems to be a younger version of Sally Palmer. A lot of people compare her playing style to Sally's and we think that she can be successful up top as well. Toni Gockel is another freshman that we have brought in who also adds an additional weapon up front for us."
UAB returns a plethora of experience in its midfield, including seniors Jennifer Williams and Leigh Burton. Williams has been a starter since her freshman season and looks to continue her solid play throughout her final season of collegiate soccer. Burton was a member of the 2002 and 2003 UAB soccer teams before taking a two-year hiatus to concentrate on her studies, but has decided to rejoin the squad for her senior year. A pair of juniors and sophomores plus the addition of one freshman rounds out the '06 Blazer midfielders.
"We bring back Jennifer Williams," said Harbin. "This is her fourth year starting at the center of midfield. We have Leigh Burton, who has rejoined the team after taking a couple years off. Nadine Liverpool can play at midfield, but can also play up front for us.
"On the outside of midfield, we have Caitlin Marple, who started every game last year. Katie Henricks also returns this year. She had a phenomenal spring and is the most fit player on our team right now. We also have Jenny Meyer, who is coming back from an ACL injury. She has got her fitness down and is looking to settle in to the experience of everyday playing once again. Once she does that, I think she can be dangerous, especially because of her speed.
"We've added in Rachael Axon. She is interesting because she is an outside defender for England's under 21 national team. She can also play in the back, but we see her playing in the midfield for us."
The Blazers will rely mainly upon seniors Laura Richards and Philo Mbong as well as freshman Danielle Blair to serve as UAB's last line of defense in 2006. Richards and Mbong have experience under their belts, both playing in all 19 contests in 2005, while Blair is anticipated to see a great amount of playing time during her first season as a Blazer.
"We have a new core in the back," commented Harbin. "One of our main defenders in the back is Laura Richards, who is a senior, very experienced and one of the most mature players on our team, is playing center back for us. Laura is a transformed player. She has gone from forward, to midfielder, to defender, to center back. She is capable playing from anywhere and understands the game from all aspects.
"At the moment, it looks like we will have Philo Mbong and Danielle Blair playing along side her. One of the exciting things about our backs is that we have a lot of speed. If we make mistakes, we can generally cover those mistakes with our speed. Laura, Philo and Danielle are probably the three fastest players on our team."
The goalkeeper position could possibly be one of the Blazers biggest strengths in 2006, with the return of seniors Katie Forbis and Julie McFarlane as well as the addition of freshman Kate Blankenship.
"We have two experienced senior goalkeepers," said Harbin. "We are hoping that their maturity and experience can help make us successful. We also brought in freshman Kate Blankenship, who unfortunately suffered a knee injury just two days before preseason, so she will be out this season."
Forbis has played in 56 games during her career at UAB, starting the majority of those contests in goal for the Blazers. During the 2005 season, she set a new UAB single-season record for most saves in a season with 122. With her stellar junior campaign, she also moved into second place on the career saves chart with 272 and only needs 55 to pass Lisa Nowoslawski for the record.
McFarlane will also see playing time in goal for the Blazers during her senior year. In 24 games played during the previous three seasons, she has recorded 46 saves and a 5-2 win-loss record. Blankenship will be a valuable asset for UAB in the future, but is sidelined due to an injury and will be redshirted during the 2006 season.
Senior goalkeeper Katie Forbis will be one of the backbones of the UAB women's soccer team in 2006.