Dec. 20, 2011
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Nearly two years ago, Stephen F. Austin head soccer coach Tony Amato arrived on campus with a vision of making the program a perennial Southland Conference powerhouse that year-after-year would contend for an SLC regular season/tournament title and make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
For some teams, that journey to the top takes longer than others. But following a 13-5-2 campaign in 2010, the Ladyjacks etched their name into the history books this year with one of if not the most memorable and successful seasons in the program's 17-year history.
SFA used an explosive offense and dominate defense on their way to tying the 2003 squad that won a school record 15 games and in doing so win the program's sixth SLC regular season title. The Ladyjacks also set a conference and school record by reeling off nine consecutive shutouts from Sept. 23-Oct. 23 and totaled 13 shutouts on the season, also a new school record.
SFA closed the regular season with a 12-game winning streak, the longest in school history, before winning their second round match against UTSA to push the record to 13 consecutive wins.
Unfortunately, the Ladyjacks saw their season fall one goal short of moving on to the NCAA Tournament, when they fell 1-0 to Texas State in the SLC Tournament Championship. Despite that loss, Amato undoubtedly feels the season was a major step in the right direction.
"To see the team achieve so much success this season was very rewarding," he said. "We have a group of players who set out to win the conference championship and were relentless in pursuit of that goal. They prepared to the best of their ability, put their talents to work for the team and made us proud to be part of the SFA soccer program."
In total six different Ladyjacks were selected first-team all-conference and five were named to the 2011 Soccer Academic All-Southland Conference first-team.
Junior midfielder and future South Africa Olympian Kylie Louw had an all-around year for the ages by being named the Southland Conference Player of the Year for a second straight season and the Southland Conference Student Athlete of the Year. She tallied 28 points on 14 assists (school record) with seven goals and set the new school record for career assists (28). Louw was also named to the CoSIDA/All-District VI team and the NSCAA 2011 Women's Division I All-Central Team.
Despite all those accolades, it was her team's performance and the will to win that Louw cherishes the most.
"Championship teams are comprised of players who believe they are champions, they work hard and play hard," Louw said. "We worked hard and all believed in one goal. For me this season is all a player could ask for - coaches who are passionate and are dedicated, teammates who play with heart, and support from people who believe in us. It was an amazing season that we all enjoyed thoroughly and we had fun. That's the name of the game and we are all so passionate because the game of soccer is so rewarding. It teaches us lessons in all spheres of life. It's not only an attitude, but a way of living. Our accomplishments this year are just the beginning for even more to come. I'm so proud of the girls and all the effort they put in. We deserved it."
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough player on this year's squad was freshman forward Chelsea Raymond, who plowed through the record books on her way to becoming the league's Freshman of the Year and joining Louw on the NSCAA 2011 Women's Division I All-Central Team. The Irving, Texas native set the SFA single-season record for both goals (17) and points (41).
It spoke dividends for someone so young to come in and make such an impact but for Raymond the transition from high school to the collegiate level was made easy by the environment and teammates around her.
"I didn't really know what to expect coming into the program," Raymond said. "I had never really been on an extremely competitive team where everyone was here for soccer. My nerves definitely took a toll at first. At the end of the season, looking back I really got scared for no reason. My teammates were there every step of the way."
The Ladyjacks, who climbed to No. 10 in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I Women's Poll by years end, will lose three seniors (Edwina Forbes, Jordan King, Janae Lee) going into next season who helped pave the way for where they are today. Just as was the case for Raymond, the elder seniors who were already in place when Amato arrived helped him establish a new era of Ladyjack soccer.
"I am very thankful for these seniors," Amato said. "They made my transition to SFA smooth in the last year and half through their hard work, leadership, and desire to see SFA soccer be at the top of the Southland conference. I greatly appreciate their efforts and know they will continue to be successful as they move in to a new chapter of their lives."
The hard worked has already been paved by the Ladyjacks for another run at a regular season title in 2012 and taking that extra step to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament next season. It's something Amato and his coaching staff and players are already focused on. The hardest part now is just waiting until training camp in August.
"We are striving to consistently be the top team in the Southland and advance in the NCAA tournament," Amato said. "We are hungrier than ever to achieve this and are working to get better for next season. I feel great about the steps we took this year and am looking forward to the future of our program."