Georgia Soccer Season Preview
Junior midfielder Nicole Locandro will again play a big role in 2012.


Junior midfielder Nicole Locandro will again play a big role in 2012.
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Aug. 16, 2012

By Matthew Pearce, UGA Sports Communications

ATHENS, Ga. --- After missing out on the postseason in 2010, Georgia returned with a bang in 2011, defeating Kansas 2-0 in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national runner-up Duke 3-1 in Durham, N.C. With the 2012 season approaching, head coach Steve Holeman said that the Bulldogs’ goals for 2012 are set much higher than last season’s fourth-place finish in the SEC East.

“I think every year we expect to compete for championships, and this year is no different,” Holeman said. “Our goal, first and foremost, is to win the conference title, and that’s something that’s eluded us since the inception of the program. We want to be the first team to win that championship and bring a trophy back to Athens.”

The Bulldogs begin their quest for the elusive championship this weekend with a two-game homestand. They will face UNC Greensboro on Friday night at 7 p.m. before completing the weekend against Furman on Sunday at 2 p.m.  Georgia’s Southeastern Conference schedule begins on Sept. 14 when Vanderbilt visits the UGA Soccer Stadium.

In total, the Bulldogs will play 11 teams that reached the NCAA tournament in 2011 while also facing four teams ranked in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) preseason poll. Those teams are No. 14 Texas A&M – brand new to the SEC, No. 21 Florida, No. 24 South Carolina and No. 25 Auburn.

The Bulldogs will return 23 players, including 16 letterwinners and 9 starters from the team that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That group includes seniors Ashley Baker, Jenna Buckley, Susannah Dennis and Rebekah Perry.

Holeman said he is looking to his four seniors to take on significant roles on the field as well as off it.

“One of the things that our seniors provide is leadership, and certainly Ashley Baker, who was a captain last season, Susannah Dennis, Rebekah Perry and Jenna Buckley provide great leadership,” he said. “Our program can’t be successful without good leaders.”

Baker was one of four Georgia players named to the SEC’s preseason watch list last week, alongside junior defender Nikki Hill, junior midfielder Alexa Newfield and sophomore forward Jenna Owens.

Newfield returns to Georgia after breaking school records last in year in both shots (102) and points (40). She scored 16 goals and recorded eight assists to lead the team in both categories, also topping the SEC in shots, points and goals. Newfield has been named as one of 38 women on the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List, in the running for the award widely regarded as the Heisman Trophy of collegiate soccer.

“She’s a special player,” Holeman said of Newfield. “I think she has the ability to build on what she did last year. She improved from her freshman to her sophomore year and I think she’s even that much more polished now. I think she’s ready to take her game to another level.”

Holeman enters his third season with the Bulldogs having built a 24-13-6 record in his two years at the helm of the program. “The Dean” of Southeastern Conference coaches begins the 2012 season just 11 wins shy of the 200th of a career that has spanned three SEC teams in Ole Miss, Auburn and now Georgia.

“Obviously I inherited a good program here,” he said. “After two years they’ve learned our system, they know what our philosophy is, they understand how to play within the confines of what we’re trying to teach them. I think it’s getting a little better each year.”

The Bulldogs welcomed eight freshmen to a team that lost only four players from the 2011 squad. The incoming freshmen include Mackin D’Amico, Mariah Dickey, Andie Fontanetta, Elizabeth Johnson, Tori Patterson, Liliana Rios, Cara Smith and Emma Sonnett. Despite having relative depth throughout the team, Holeman said that he expects at least a handful of the freshmen to contribute in their first seasons with the Bulldogs.

After spring exhibitions and preseason camp, the Bulldogs have a competitive match at the end of the week and the Georgia head coach said that, even after 15 years in the league, the excitement at the start of a new season never subsides.

“It’s hard to believe it’s here. It’s real, this is it, this is why we coach, this is why you play soccer – for the season,” Holeman said. “This is the most important time of the year for us. It’s fresh, it’s new, there’s a lot of energy, everybody’s excited and ready to take the field and play an outside opponent.”

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