ATHENS, Ga. ----- The 2010 Georgia soccer season marked the debut of first-year head coach Steve Holeman. Holeman, who brought 15 years of experience from his days at Ole Miss, became the fourth head coach in program history and introduced the team to a 4-3-3 system and a renewed work ethic.
2010 marked the first season for assistant coach Dan Blank, who accompanied Holeman in the move after spending the previous three seasons on the staff in Oxford. It also marked the first season for Georgia's highly touted 14-member freshman class, chock full of All-Americans, national team members, and state champions.
The new-look Bulldogs finished the season with an overall record of 11-6-4 (5-3-3 SEC), advancing to a familiar place: the semifinals of the SEC Championships for the third time in four years. Georgia may have been narrowly left out of the NCAA Tournament field, but when 2011 rolls around, the scene will no longer be a new one for Holeman and the young nucleus. "While we do lose some key seniors we have a great group of young players coming back," Holeman said. "I think we relied heavily on our freshmen this year in the scoring output with our three leading scorers [Alexa Newfield, Meghan Gibbons, Nicole Locandro] all being freshmen." "They're only going to be better next year. This year we may have been a little inconsistent because of how young we were, but it will be huge for this group to come back with experience. We'll definitely be a more veteran team when next fall rolls around."
After dropping a close 1-0 result to No. 24 Duke in the season-opener, Georgia took care of business in its next four non-conference outings to move to 4-1 early on. The Dogs then headed out to California with a chance to make a huge statement to the rest of the country in the Stanford Nike Invitational Sept. 10-12, and the Bulldogs did just that. Ranked No. 23 at the time, Georgia took a 1-0 lead up to the 79th minute of play before surrendering the tying goal and then the winner in overtime to No. 2 Stanford, but proved they could play with any team on a given Friday. The following Sunday match saw the Bulldogs earn a 1-1 tie with then-No. 9 Santa Clara to complete the statement. A couple of ties that could have been wins plagued Georgia's early SEC slate, but the Bulldogs did not lose a game between Sept. 10 and Oct. 17, a string of nine games. On Oct. 15, Georgia rolled into Columbia, S.C., and came away with a 1-0 victory over the No. 14 Gamecocks before heading to Gainesville, where they took a 1-0 lead at the Gators up until the 82nd minute. In similar fashion to the Stanford game, the Bulldogs would allow the game-winning goal to UF in overtime, but again showed their prowess against a top-15 opponent. Despite losing their last two of the year - at home to Auburn and on the road at Tennessee - Georgia ended fourth in the SEC East and overall to head into the league championships in Orange Beach, Ala., for the sixth consecutive year and 13th time overall.
Georgia got revenge on the Tigers in the first round of the SEC Championships in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller, then scored first on the Gators again in the semifinals before falling, 3-1, to face elimination. With the NCAA Tournament field compiled largely on the basis of RPI rankings, some of Georgia's ties came back to prove costly and the Bulldogs were affected by other results, as the committee evaluates factors like strength of schedule and quality wins. In the end, Georgia was left on the outside looking in. "I have a lot of thoughts on this season," Holeman said. "I think ultimately we fell short of our goals. To finish fourth in the SEC would by a lot of standards seem not bad, but we were a team capable of winning the SEC title and we fell short of that. We would have loved to extend our season into the NCAA Tournament, and we're disappointed, because we were very close, not to see our name up there." "I do think we proved a lot this season."
Among the highlights of the 2010 campaign for the Dogs was the play of first-year starting goalkeeper, redshirt sophomore Ashley Baker. Baker led the SEC in numerous statistical categories throughout the season, but perhaps her most impressive figure was her string of four straight shutouts and a total of over 561 minutes of scoreless soccer, good for the longest such streak in SEC play in school history. Baker earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors Oct. 11. Baker was one of three Bulldogs to receive conference recognition in 2010 as rookies Alexa Newfield and Nicole Locandro were named Freshman of the Week in back-to-back announcements during the first two weeks of the season.
Other awards for Georgia in 2010 included Susannah Dennis on the TopDrawerSoccer Team of the Week (Aug. 30), Kelli Corless as Collegesoccer360.com Primetime Performer of the Week (Sept. 13), and a foursome of Bulldogs landing on the SEC end-of-year lists. Headlining was Newfield, who snagged first team All-SEC as well as All-Freshman honors. Baker and defender Rebekah Perry were named secondteam All-SEC while defender Torri Allen joined Newfield on the All-Freshman squad. Four selections tied the Georgia record, who also had four players honored in 2007 and 2008.
The Bulldogs spent the majority of the season ranked in at least one of the major polls, with their highest coming at No. 17 in back-to-back weeks in the NSCAA poll Sept. 20-27. The 2011 Georgia team will return 25 players, including eight regular starters and nine who made at least 10 starts. It returns a keeper who stopped over eight of every 10 shots sent her way. It returns 89 percent of its scoring. "The fact that we didn't get into the tournament this year will help next year," Holeman said. "It was certainly a teachable moment. You want to learn that every game matters and I think we'll be hungrier next season."