It’s another season about to begin, and yet another year where they’re picked to be on top.
That’s been the story for the FGCU women’s soccer team for the last several years, picked once against to finish atop the Atlantic Sun conference in the preseason coaches’ poll after winning the conference for the last seven straight years, and making the NCAA Tournament every year but one since becoming eligible in 2011.
“I don’t know if it’s a secret,” FGCU coach Jim Blankenship said about the team’s recipe for success. “The blueprint works, and we’re fortunate to have a very high-level group of kids. They buy into the system, they buy in to ultimately what we’re trying to teach. It’s a proud group, and they’re very dedicated to the hard work that it takes to be successful.”
The season begins Friday for the Eagles with a pair of road games, first against Georgia Southern, then on Sunday against No. 4 South Carolina. There’s also a western swing in early September against Arizona and Arizona State, followed by a trip to Central Florida.
“It’s pretty crucial that we come out ready to go, winning, putting everything we have on the table because it will show teams that we’re not the underdogs, because every time we go into a match teams underestimate us,” senior midfielder Nikki Hudson said.
Expectations are high around the program, but with the high standards come the understanding what needs to be done to keep the long streak of titles going, senior defender Ashley Parks said.
“Our coaches always tell us that we don’t want to be the first ones to lose it for us,” Parks said. “We’re expected to win, work hard every single day to make sure that happens.”
The road trip to open the season will help team chemistry, senior midfield Meaghan Mulligan said.
“It’s an opportunity for you to get to know other players, bond with each other over dinner, over meals, over film sessions. With new people it’s an opportunity to know teammates on another level.”
One major piece that will need to be addressed for the Eagles is up top, with the graduation of superb forward Tabby Tindell, FGCU’s – and the ASUN’s all-time leading goal scorer. That kind of production won’t be easy to replace.
“She’s not an average player,” Blankenship said. “Best player probably in the history of the conference. She’s not somebody you just tray and replace. I think our group is pretty knowledgeable, but everyone is going to have to pick up the pieces a little bit.”
A player who will be part of the effort is incoming freshman and local product Zoey Spitzer. Spitzer was a star for Gulf Coast, mostly putting in work up top, but is likely to see play all over the field this season.
“It was different at first, running every day but I’ve gotten used to it,” Spitzer said. “I’m willing to play any position. Where ever the coach needs me.”
Hudson, Parks, and Mulligan were all named to the preseason all- conference team.
“It’s only preseason, we have to prove ourselves in the season,” Mulligan said.
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