LSU’s soccer team entered the final three weeks of the 2013 season riding atop the Southeastern Conference standings with an undefated mark through six games and seemingly destined for postseason play.
That was until disaster struck. The Tigers (9-9-2) didn’t win another match, suffering five straight conference defeats to close the regular season and were eliminated in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Auburn 1-0 in extra time.
Without a trip to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season, there was time for coach Brian Lee to reflect on his program, which made the postseason four of the previous five years.
“It’s not fun to go home and be done with the season and have friends at schools that are getting ready for postseason play,” LSU senior midfielder Alex Arlitt said at the team’s Media Day on Tuesday.
“This is my last year. I don’t want to have that feeling again. I’m going to do everything in my power, and I think I have some teammates that are on the same page as me that are going to do that with me.”
Motivation aside, this year’s LSU team has the makeup of a team better equipped to sustain the three-plus month grind of a season that gets underway with a home match against Troy at 7 p.m. Friday.
Lee, who begins his 10th season, has an infusion of eight talented freshmen — a class ranked seventh nationally — to meld into a solid foundation of seven sophomores, giving the Tigers 15 underclassmen on their 23-player roster.
“We can’t wait to get the year started here,” Lee said. “We feel very good about our team.”
With six of his top seven scorers returning it’s easy to understand Lee’s optimism.
Forward Summer Clarke of Richmond, British Columbia, and midfielder Emma Fletcher of Victoria, British Columbia were both freshman All-SEC selections a year ago.
Clarke was the team’s leader with 10 goals to go along with three assists, earning second team All-SEC honors, while Fletcher produced a school-record and conference-high 12 assists, landing on the league’s second team as well.
LSU’s trio of all-conference freshmen — a first for any school in SEC history — also included left back defender Megan Lee of Massey, Auckland, New Zealand, a second-team selection, who was limited to 11 starts in 13 games but had three assists and a goal.
“We feel they’ve all gotten substantially better in the last year,” Lee said.
Lee said local players — sophomore defender Gracie Campbell of Denham Springs (one assist in 20 games) and sophomore striker Lexi Gibbs of Dutchtown (one goal in 12 games) — will once again have significant roles and should contribute more this season.
Two areas where Lee’s highly regarded recruiting class is expected to augment this year’s team will be in scoring and in the midfield where additional height will help LSU become more adept at winning balls in the air.
The gem of the class, though, is national signee Jorian Baucom of Scottsdale, Arizona — the nation’s No. 3 rated forward — who brings a wealth of national team player pool experience beginning at the U-15 level and should help the Tigers immediately with her versatility.
“We rated her as the top-rated recruit in the country, for us the top striker,” Lee said. “We want her to come in and take some pressure off (Clarke) where a defense can’t necessarily focus on her alone anymore. By the end of last season she was getting lots of attention.”