Young players step into starring roles on league teams
Illinois' Emily Brown worries more about building a program than filling her own trophy case.
That's a good thing. Brown is the Illini's all-time scoring leader and has been one of the top players in the country the past two years, and the junior might never be named Big Ten Player of the Year.
Penn State's Christie Welsh took the title as a freshman last year and could do it again in 2000, and more young talent is on the way.
"We definitely have a lot of upcoming players," Brown said. "I think the Big Ten started a little later than other conferences. In that way, we're younger. It's getting there."
Take a look at the Big Ten scoring statistics, and you'll see youngsters all over the top 20. There are only four seniors on the list.
"I noticed there were about seven freshmen out of the top (21)," said Iowa's Wendy Logan, who coaches sophomore star Sarah Lynch. "It speaks highly of the conference and where we're going with young talent in the league."
Last year's All-Big Ten first team featured three freshman forwards – Welsh, Lynch and Michigan's Abby Crumpton – and there were seven sophomores on the first and second teams.
This year's all-conference team, which will be announced Thursday night, also should be loaded with young guns.
"I think the way the conference has been going, being able to get these good recruits is a positive for the Big Ten," UI coach Tricia Taliaferro said. "I think with Penn State doing so well, we've attracted better players. The competition's going to bring the better players. That's kind of where we're going."
Soccerbuzz Magazine ranked the Big Ten third behind the ACC and the Pac-10 in recruiting last year. Penn State perennially is in the top 10.
Nittany Lions freshmen Stephanie Smith, Heidi Drummond and Joanna Lohman were among the top recruits in the nation last season, and Smith and Drummond are in the top 12 in league scoring.
Conference tournament qualifiers Purdue and Michigan State are led in scoring by Jennie Moppert and Tiffany Laskowski, respectively.
"I think our sport is one that's not similar to basketball or football or volleyball where it's so dependent on improving their strength and physical ability," Penn State coach Pat Farmer said. "They play so much in clubs and Olympic teams. There are more opportunities to compete at a high level before college.
"The freshmen coming in are as good as seniors. They don't need to redshirt in our particular sport."
Logan said female athletes are emotionally ready to play varsity soccer, and the talent pool has blossomed the past few years.
The players' extensive training in club systems that often play at the national level prepares them well.
"It used to be a couple of teams in each club and a part-time staff," Logan said. "Now you have clubs that have full-time staff members and an administrative office, and they have 20 teams from premier select to youth teams. It's becoming very comprehensive and competitive."
Taliaferro believes the Big Ten's elite players are on par with ACC, Pac-10 and Ivy League talent. The NCAA power rankings reflect that.
The Big Ten is ranked third out of 29 conferences. The ACC is first, Ivy League second, Big East fourth, West Coast fifth and Pac-10 sixth.
"I think our top players are right on a level with theirs," Farmer said. "I think the difference is the depth with the ACC and the Pac-10. I think that's better, especially for technical players.
"North Carolina, Santa Clara and Florida can play outdoors 12 months a year. They have more quick players. But I think our top ones are very comparable. I think it's been that way for a while."
Penn State (17-2-1)
Coach: Pat Farmer (118-33-8, 228-56-28 overall)
Top players: Christie Welsh (F, 15 G, 7 A), Emily Oleksiuk (G, 15-2-1, 11.5 SHO, .45 GAA), Stephanie Smith (F, 6 G, 9 A), Heidi Drummond (F, 8 G, 2 A).
Outlook: Penn State went undefeated in conference play for the second straight year, but the Nittany Lions won their last four games 1-0 while battling injuries. Welsh likely will not play or be limited by a stress fracture in her foot. Drummond, Leigh Hamilton and Jeannine Verdrager are out. Welsh's replacement, Kristen Mandler, sprained an ankle and Megan McKeown will have career-ending surgery next week. Farmer is down to one goalie, but Oleksiuk hasn't allowed a goal since Oct. 8 and ranks fifth nationally in goals against average. Despite all that, Penn State is ranked No. 7 by NSCAA/adidas and fourth by Soccer America and still is the favorite.
Did you know? Freshmen Joanna Lohman and Smith were members of the U.S. Under-18 National Team, and Lohman was captain for two events.
Coach: Dean Duerst (86-49-16)
Top players: Allison Wagner (F, 12 G, 7 A), Natalie Roedler (F, 3 G, 8 A), Camile Flenniken (M/D, 3 G, 6 A), Lauren Schmidt (M, 4 G, 2 A), Kelly Conway (G, 15-5-0, 7 SHO, .89 GAA).
Outlook: The Badgers, ranked No. 20 by NSCAA/adidas, are streaking into the tournament with six straight wins and 10 victories in their last 12 games. Wagner is second in the league in scoring, has been dominant down the stretch and has 40 goals as a four-year starter. First-round opponent Purdue and Penn State are the only teams to beat Wisconsin since Sept. 17.
Did you know? The Badgers played in the first three Big Ten tournament championship games, beating Minnesota in 1994 and losing to the Gophers in '95 and Indiana in '96.
Coach: Debbie Belkin-Rademacher (87-49-10, 105-60-14 overall)
Top players: Kacy Beitel (M/F, 7 G, 10 A), Abby Crumpton (F, 7 G, 5 A), Amber Wilson (M, 7 G, 4 A), Stephanie Chavez (F, 5 G, 6 A), Michele Pesiri (M, 2 G, 1 A), Marie Spaccarotella (F 4 G, 2 A).
Outlook: The Wolverines played one of the better schedules in the conference and took their lumps early with an 0-3 start against Pac-10 foes Arizona State, Southern California and Washington. They also dropped a 5-1 match to No. 1 Notre Dame a week ago. Beitel and Wilson are in the top 12 in scoring in the Big Ten. Senior Carissa Stewart and freshman Suzie Grech split time in goal early, but Stewart has done most of the work the past few weeks. Michigan upset Penn State in the conference final last year, and the Wolverines are the only Big Ten school with two tournament championships.
Did you know? Beitel set a school record with eight points – three goals and two assists – in a 7-1 win over Butler Sunday.
Coach: Tricia Taliaferro (24-14-2)
Top players: Emily Brown (M, 12 G, 4 A), Colleen Joyce (M, 10 G, 3 A), Tara Schuling (M, 6 G, 3 A), Lisa Baldwin (F, 1 G, 7 A), Rebecca Patrick (D, 0 G, 0 A ), Heidi Holtzman (D 0 G, 1 A), Sarah Anderson (G, 7-1-0, 4 SHO, 1.03 GAA).
Outlook: If you believe Soccerbuzz Magazine's online NCAA predictions, the Illini are out of national consideration unless they win the tournament. Illinois believes making the title game could do the trick. To do it, they'll need more from the Big Ten's highest-scoring offense. Maggie Kellett replaced injured midfielder Julie Schueller last weekend and could be a key player this week.
Did you know? Illinois likes to score early and often, leading the Big Ten with 27 first-half goals, including 11 in conference play.
Michigan State (12-5-2)
Coach: Tom Saxton (92-89-15)
Top players: Sara Kloosterman (G, 11-5-2, 7.5 SHO, .79 GAA), Tiffany Laskowski (M, 5 G, 3 A), Nicole LePlae (D, 1 G, 7 A), Gina Dawson (M, 2 G, 2 A), Trisha Kenny (F, 2 G, 1 A), Heidi Lutz (M, 3 G, 1 A).
Outlook: The Spartans won their first five games and were off to a school-best 7-0-1 start when Illinois beat them 2-1 on Sept. 24. Michigan State still finished with its best record since 1994, and that's with one player – Laskowski – cracking the league's top 21 in scoring. Thanks to Kloosterman, the defense ranked second in the league by allowing 15 goals all season.
Did you know? LePlae, a junior defender, sang the national anthem at the Spartans' last game.
Coach: Wendy Logan (11-8-0 at Iowa, 35-22-2 overall)
Top players: Sarah Lynch (F, 11 G, 5 A), Kate Walse (F, 12 G, 5 A), Linzy Wolman (F, 9 G, 9 A), Sarah Kiefer (M, 2 G, 9 A), Julie Atkocaitis (M, 2 G, 3A).
Outlook: The Hawkeyes won their final three Big Ten games, including a 5-1 victory over Illinois, but stumbled the final weekend of the season with losses at Colorado College and Air Force. Walse, Lynch and Wolman each are in the top five in the conference in scoring, but the Hawkeyes gave up the second-most goals in the league. Iowa lost to first-round opponent Michigan 3-2 in double overtime earlier this season, so expect a strong opening match.
Did you know? The Hawkeyes have 12 players from Illinois, two less than the Illini. Five come from seven-time state champ St. Charles High School.
Coach: Robert Klatte (24-31-0, 80-76-6 overall)
Top players: Jennie Moppert (F, 7 G, 3 A), Annette Kent (F, 6 G, 3 A), Courtney Coppedge (F, 5 G, 2 A), Jessica Baumhoff (M, 3 G, 2 A), Elizabeth Boldt (G, 12-5-0, 6.2 SHO, .84 GAA), Elise Berry (D, 2 G, 1 A).
Outlook: The Boilermakers, who are making their first postseason appearance, finished strong with three straight wins, including a 2-0 triumph over then 14th-ranked Southern Methodist. Purdue posted a school-record 12 wins and eight shutouts this season, led by Boldt, who ranks fourth in the conference. Freshmen Moppert and Kent were 14th and 17th, respectively, in league scoring.
Did you know? Defense runs in the Berry family. The sophomore defender's older brother Gary started at safety for the Ohio State football team and is a rookie backup with the Green Bay Packers.
Coach: Barbara Wickstrand (8-9-1)
Top players: Laurie Siedl (F, 7 G, 2 A), Kecia Lee (F, 4 G, 0 A), Samantha Meyers (M, 3 G, 0 A), Alison Rackley (M, 1 G, 4 A), Meghan Jones (D, 1 G, 4 A), Julie Eibensteiner (G, 8-8-0, 5.5 SHO, 1.40 GAA).
Outlook: Gophers went 5-3-1 in October to seal the final tournament spot for Wickstrand, a former All-American keeper at North Carolina State. Seidl is two points from becoming the fourth Gopher to hit 100 points for her career. Eibensteiner's 112 saves rank fourth in the conference and second all-time for the Gophers, who are 7-3-2 overall in the conference tourney.
Did you know? The Gophers, along with Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan, have qualified for all seven of the Big Ten Tournaments.