Heading into the 20th season of its existence, all under current head coach Mark Duble, the Covenant women's soccer program is getting set to start the 2013 year on Friday at Berry.
The Lady Scots are coming off an outstanding 2012 campaign that saw them claim a share of the Great South Athletic Conference regular season title and finish 15-5-1, but the program has experienced change since last season.
Covenant is no longer in the Great South Athletic Conference as the institution was officially accepted into the USA South Athletic Conference over the summer. Covenant was also admitted as active members to NCAA Division III meaning postseason and national award opportunities.
The USA South offers a step up in competition, but the Lady Scots look to be in good shape. Covenant was picked to finish fifth in the 13-team league by the conference coaches in the preseason poll.
"We are very excited to be headed into the USA South Conference where we hope to compete for the conference title and a bid into the NCAA National Tournament," said Duble. "The level of competition in the USA South is significant and we are a relatively young team, but we are very accustomed to these type of challenges and we relish the opportunity to challenge ourselves and our conference opponents for a chance for an NCAA berth."
The Lady Scots also had 10 seniors depart after last season, opening the door wide for new talent to shine on Lookout Mountain. Just two seniors in Mary Buys and Beth Wilkening are listed on this year's roster to go along with 10 freshmen.
Buys and junior Ally Jennings look to lead the team in the back line as both were key contributors to last season's success. Buys had two goals last season and Jennings recorded an assist, but the work of these two players goes beyond the box score.
Covenant also boasts two solid goalkeepers in juniors Lucy Johnson and Hannah Bales. Bales got the majority of the starts last season as she compiled a 9-4-1 record with a 0.88 goals against average. Johnson was also impressive as she went 6-1 and allowed three goals in 595 minutes at the net.
The Lady Scots received solid play from a pair of midfield freshmen last season in Ruth Terry and Anne Charlotte Strawbridge, both of whom return this year. Terry is the team's leading returning goal scorer as she netted four last season, which was good for third on the team. Strawbridge had a goal and an assist in 2012 and earned GSAC all-freshmen team honors.
Also returning this season is junior Bethany Logan and sophomores Rachel Bernard and Jenna Vreeland. All three players saw significant playing time in 2012 and look to contribute this season.
There is a wealth of incoming freshmen on the roster as well. Duble expects Natalie Smith (Johnson City, Tenn.), Kaitlyn Winking (Waynesville, Mo.), Rachel Setzer (Knoxville, Tenn.), Andrea Hunt (Greenville, S.C.), Anna Porch (Arden Hills, Minn.), Gabby Powell (Woodbridge, Va.) and Madison Smartt (McMinnville, Tenn.) to "come in with immediate impact potential and enhance an already stellar returning lineup."
Three other freshmen also joined the Lady Scots this season in Abby Horton (Ringgold, Ga.), Sophie Gianis (Sag Harbor, N.Y.) and Katherine Keller (Dyersburg, Tenn.).
Entering into a new phase of the program's history with the transition complete to the USA South and NCAA Division III, Duble is looking for his young but talented team to make the adjustment to a "higher level of play."
The schedule certainly offers the challenge. Covenant will begin the season at Berry on Friday followed with a match against Guilford on Saturday. Six times this season Covenant will play matches on consecutive days, with four of those occurrences coming inside USA South play.
Covenant will host three of the top four preseason USA South selections in Maryville (Oct. 2), Meredith (Sept. 28) and Piedmont (Oct. 30), and go on the road to preseason favorite Averett (Oct. 25).
"Overall, we are looking for our girls to make a quick transition with an eye on challenging for a conference title over the next few years," said Duble of the new conference.
In non-conference play, Covenant will face HCAC preseason favorite Transylvania along with Centre, Birmingham Southern and Sewanee, among others.