Two-time defending women’s soccer champion Liberty University has been voted the preseason favorite in the annual Big South Conference preseason poll by the league’s head coaches, announced by the conference office. In addition, the coaches voted Lady Flames’ senior forward Jennifer Knoebel (Warrenton, Va.) the Preseason Attacking Player of the Year and High Point senior goalkeeper Alex Hank (Estero, Fla.) the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
The Lady Flames, under the direction of first-year head coach Lang Wedemeyer, collected eight of the 10 first-place votes and 98 total points in being voted the preseason favorite for the fourth consecutive season and ninth time overall. Last season, Liberty went 14-8-0 overall and finished second in the Big South with a 7-2-0 league record. The Lady Flames, who return 10 starters and 23 letterwinners, won the Big South Championship for the third time in four seasons in 2016.
High Point, last year’s regular-season champion, was voted second behind Liberty with 92 points and collected the remaining two first-place votes. Campbell totaled 68 points to finish third in the poll. Radford (64 points) was fourth, followed by Longwood in fifth (62 points) and Gardner-Webb in the sixth spot (56 points). UNC Asheville claimed the seventh spot with 44 points, while Charleston Southernlanded in the eighth position with 31 points. Winthrop (ninth, 24 points) and Presbyterian College (10th, 11 points), rounded out the poll.
Knoebel was named the 2016 Big South Tournament MVP after she tallied three goals and two assists in leading the Lady Flames to the conference title. A Second-Team All-Big South selection last season — her third career All-Conference honor — Knoebel scored seven goals with seven assists for 21 points in 20 appearances during her junior campaign. Her 21 points was her second consecutive season with at least 20, and she ranked third overall in the Big South in scoring. Knoebel tallied four goals and a league-best five assists in conference action in 2016, and had three games with at least five points. In the preseason voting, she picked up nine first-place votes and 27 total points to finish ahead of High Point midfielder Becca Rolfe (one first-place vote, 15 total points) and Radford midfielder Jasmine Casarez (eight points).
Hank, who was the 2015 Big South Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, was a Second-Team All-Big South honoree last season after recording a 0.99 goals against average in 21 appearances for the Panthers. She was 12-6-2 overall with a .780 save percentage and a school-record 10 shutouts. In Big South play, Hank led the conference with a 0.22 GAA — allowing just two scores in nine games and 822:00 minutes of action — and posted league-bests of six shutouts and a .922 save percentage. Hank, who enters her final season third all-time in Big South history with a 0.83 career goals against average, collected six first-place votes and 24 points in the voting to become HPU’s first Big South Preseason Defensive Player of the Year honoree since the award began in 2010. Liberty outside back Sami Santoswas second with 11 points (two first-place votes), followed by Longwood defender Sydney Wallace (two first-place votes and nine points).
The 2017 Big South women’s soccer season begins Friday, Aug. 18, with nine of the league’s 10 teams in action, while conference play opens Saturday, Sept. 23. The 2017 Big South Women’s Soccer Championship tournament is slated for Oct. 27-Nov. 5, with quarterfinal games at the home sites of the top four seeds the weekend of Oct. 27-29, followed by the Semifinals (Nov. 3) and Finals (Nov. 5) at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C. The top eight teams qualify for the tournament, with the champion receiving the Big South’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
2017 BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE PRESEASON WOMEN’S SOCCER POLL
|Rk – Team (first-place votes)||Points|
|1 – Liberty (8)||98|
|2 – High Point (2)||92|
|3 – Campbell||68|
|4 – Radford||64|
|5 – Longwood||62|
|6 – Gardner-Webb||56|
|7 – UNC Asheville||44|
|8 – Charleston Southern||31|
|9 – Winthrop||24|
|10 – Presbyterian College||11|
Note: points are based on a weighted system, with first-place votes receiving 10 points, followed by 9 points for second-place, and so on.