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SOU ready to show off new look

ASHLAND — If it isn’t already, the Southern Oregon University women’s soccer program will soon be difficult to recognize in comparison to what it looked like at this time a year ago. And, as they prepare to open their 2014 schedule on Saturday, the Raiders are fine with that.

So what’s changed? A few things:

* The head coach, for starters. Jenni Rosenberg, an Ashland High alum and ex-player for the Raiders, left her assistant job at Cal State Stanislaus midseason to take over at SOU with 11 games left in 2013, helping the Raiders go 10-6-3 overall and 5-3-1 in the Cascade Conference. She also helped them to their first postseason win since 2008 — a 2-0 triumph over Eastern Oregon in the first round of the CCC Championships. If showing up is any indication, Rosenberg’s players got right on board, too: she brings back 19 of 20 players who were eligible to return.

* The home field. For the first time in the program’s 15-year history, the Raiders will move away from University Field and park their operation at Raider Stadium, made possible by the synthetic field turf and track being installed right now. The Raiders will call U.S. Cellular Community Park home until construction is complete, but they could be back on campus in time for their first CCC match on Sept. 25 against Evergreen.

* The roster ... kind of. Though the Raiders only lost six players, all six were starters, four had started for at least three years, and the seniors had the most successful class in program history.

That last point by itself would have made for a fresh-looking product on the field, but Rosenberg had that covered either way. After directing her first spring and preseason workouts with the Raiders, the beginning of a new era will be even more apparent now, especially on the defensive side of things if all goes according to play.

“They’re a very coachable group and they were open to learning almost a completely new style of soccer, so I got pretty lucky with these girls,” Rosenberg said.

“We’re dynamic and hard-working for sure,” she said. “I think we’ll be able to grind out some games just off tenacity. We have a lot of the tactical points down, but finally getting into some games will help us really organize.”

The Raiders, picked fourth in the conference preseason poll (defending NAIA champion Concordia is favored to win its 14th CCC title in 15 seasons), don’t return an all-conference player among the five seniors, seven juniors and eight sophomores who are back, though goalkeeper Kylie Moltzen received honorable mention. What they do possess are nine different players who scored goals, 12 who appeared at some point in the starting lineup, and a chunk of leadership remaining from a defense that helped Moltzen set the single-season SOU record for shutouts.

“There’s going to be no excuse for us not to be able to compete with anyone,” Rosenberg said. “We all believe that.”

DEFENDERS: Between seniors Paige Kilpatrick and Elise De Jesse, the defense will not be short on leadership and experience despite losing three key cogs. Kilpatrick has started 34 of the 35 matches she’s appeared in the last two years, including all 19 in 2013 when the Raiders shut out their opponents eight times. De Jesse has appeared in 54 matches during her career and for the first time will get a chance to move into a regular starting role.

“Paige has turned into a great leader and a great communicator on the field, and she’s a hard worker who knows when to tackle,” Rosenberg said. “And Elise is a super athletic player who creates a lot of opportunities, and she’s really stepped up for us.”

Juniors Avery Dutton and Jaclyn McQuiston and sophomore Megan Smith will be counted on to do the same. They all contributed in 2013, but McQuiston’s 322 total minutes led them all.

MIDFIELDERS: Rosenberg wants her midfield to be more aggressive and says she has gotten her wish so far. Three of her returners at the position — senior Jacquie Galvez, junior Allyson Ward and sophomore Presley Lambert — turned into full-time starters last year, and without putting up big numbers were still steady performers. The Raiders also have the services of Lisa Elledge, who led all returners with four goals as a reserve last year, and freshman Kelsey Randallis expected to contribute.

“They’re dynamic players, all athletic, and this is the most attacking-oriented group I’ve been around in a long time,” Rosenberg said. “They just have a bigger nose for the goal now.”

FORWARDS: With the loss of individuals who accounted for nearly half of their goals in 2013, this is the area that has seen the biggest turnover. Juniors Megan McArthur and Kendra Madaras-Kelly combined for five goals and three assists, primarily off the bench, and those numbers are expected to spike. Presley Lambert exhibited her playmaking ability while starting and scoring three goals as a freshman, Serena DeChristofaro had a pair of goals as a midfielder and will make the move to forward for her senior season, and Caylin Jackson will get more opportunities after appearing as a reserve in 16 games and starting two as a freshman.

“They’re all stronger and more fit than they were, and we needed them to be because they’re taking on bigger roles,” Rosenberg said.

GOALKEEPERS: Devon Walker sat out 2013, clearing the way for Moltzen to establish herself as a stopper in her first season. Moltzen was lauded for the job she did as a freshman, but now Walker is back on the field to give the Raiders two perfectly capable keepers.

“It’s a toss-up between them right now,” Rosenberg said. “It’s going to come down to who is the best at distributing the ball out of the back.”

SOU senior Paige Kilpatrick will help anchor the soccer team's defense as a third-year starter. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH