BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern women's soccer team is getting conditioned to compete for a Southern Athletic Association championship under second year head coach David Di Piazza. The Panthers brought in 12 freshmen to complement a core of returners they anticipate being the backbone of the squad.
"A big goal in the offseason was to get girls fit and ready to compete," said Di Piazza. "We've put a lot of emphasis on fitness and competitiveness and we're really proud of our returning players and their commitment to this team and program."
BSC brings back its leading scorer in junior Taylor Andrews (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County HS). She led the team in goals and assists. Seniors Kayla Auger (Greensboro, N.C./Northern Guilford HS) and Ivy Painter (Jackson, Miss./St. Andrew's Episcopal HS) provide invaluable experience along with junior Megan Moser (Mandeville, La./St. Scholastica Catholic HS).
"Megan was kind of a cog in the middle," Di Piazza noted. "She brings great leadership. Ivy is our sole returner on the back line and Kayla has played a vital role on this team for the past three years."
Sophomore Rachel Motamed (Birmingham, Ala./Indian Springs HS) had a standout first season. She appeared in all 18 matches last year and was one of the team leaders in minutes.
The 2017 class of freshmen are expected to make an immediate impact on the pitch. Sydney Barrow (Birmingham, Ala./Indian Springs HS) and Nicole Bernal (Odenville, Ala./John Carroll Catholic HS) will be competing for time attacking on the front line along with midfielder Abby Kay Choate (Tifton, Ga./Tift County HS). And defenders Bailey Gardner (Mobile, Ala./McGill-Toolen Catholic HS), Amelia Dodds (Huntsville, Ala./Saint John Paull II Catholic HS), and Lillie Sumrall (Longwood, Fla./Lake Mary HS) have the potential to be very good attacking backs.
"Barrow has lightning speed," stated Di Piazza. "She and Bernal are proven goal scorers. Abby Kay has a dominant presence in the midfield and great vision. Collectively, Gardner, Dodds, and Lillie are good backs with good pedigrees."
Blakely Jones (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Holy Spirit Catholic HS) rounds out the defensive standouts in goal. Di Piazza described her as "a great shot stopper, good communicator, and really good presence in the field."
BSC opens the 2017 season on the road against Piedmont College on September 1 followed by a match against Maryville (Tenn.) on September 2. They return for their home opener on Tuesday, Sept. 5 to face Agnes Scott College at 7 p.m. While their SAA debut is at Hendrix on September 23, they will face Rhodes at home on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 2:30 p.m. in a doubleheader with the men's team. Among their opponents is No. 18 ranked Centre College whom the Panthers host Sunday, Oct. 8.
"Centre is going to be a big game, but we're going to try and push ourselves to finish top four in the conference," Di Piazza added. "Our top non-conference game will be Emory. It will be a good measuring stick to a team that is consistently a national tournament participant to see where we are."
The Panthers face regionally ranked Emory on the road Sunday, Sept. 17.