ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University women's soccer team will launch its 2008 campaign today when it hosts Dominican University at 2 p.m. in Ashland.

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University women's soccer team will launch its 2008 campaign today when it hosts Dominican University at 2 p.m. in Ashland.

Led by third-year head coach Jon Clement, the Raiders have a roster that features seven returners, 13 freshmen and not one player with more than a year of college playing experience.

The Raiders, who missed out on a Cascade Conference playoff spot by a game last year and finished ninth with a 3-5-1 league record, have been picked to finish third this year by the league's coaches despite their youth.

"Most (of the younger players) have already played at higher levels before coming here," says Clement. "I don't think the transition will be that hard on the field. Transitioning to their new lives off the field will probably be the toughest for them."

SOU is versatile and deep, says Clement, and it's loaded with great "technicians" of the game. His assistant, Marissa Gillingham, concurs.

"The level of soccer is higher than it has ever been," says Gillingham. "We're struggling to find a top 11 because they're all very solid."

Last Friday, Southern Oregon hosted an exhibition match against NCAA Division II Humboldt State. In three 30-minute periods, leading returning goal-scorer Auika Muragin of the Raiders struck for the only score. SOU was without eight players due to injury.

"It was a brave effort," says Clement. "I thought our soccer was pretty good in the early stages, which speaks volumes about our potential considering all the missing players. But as we became tired, it was more of a brave effort."

Muragin, a sophomore forward and native Hawaiian, led the Raiders in goals (four), points (10), shots on goal (26) and shots-on-goal percentage (.667) while starting all 16 matches she appeared in last season.

Highly touted freshman goalkeeper Jessica Kuehlwien, who earned all-state kudos last year at Oregon City High, also impressed coaches and teammates as she yielded no goals in her first debut.

"Jessica was awesome," says Gillingham. "She was confident and solid and played like she belonged out there."

The Raiders also return junior captain Dianne Uehara, who was forced to sit out her sophomore season with a knee injury. Uehara, a defender from Kailua, Hawaii, is the only player left from Clement's first Raider squad of 2006.

Sophomores Mo Costello, Stacy Szeto, Sara Switzer and Kelly Clark will also add experience as returning starters.

Chelsey Muri, who will take a stab at soccer for the first time in college after claiming the Cascade Conference MVP award for women's basketball last year, is the team's only senior.

"This is a team, not a group of new players and old players," says Clement. "It's one big group, and there's a lot to be done. We're not the best team in the conference, so there's work to be done."

The Raiders will follow their opener by taking a four-game road hiatus starting next week and will return home on Sept. 21 to host Holy Names.

Conference action begins Sept. 24 at Northwest Christian.