Southeast will host Memphis at Houck Stadium tonight.
By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian
Southeast Missouri State University women's soccer coach Heather Nelson will get to see her 2004 team against outside competition for the first time today when the Otahkians play the University of Memphis in a 6 p.m. exhibition game at Houck Stadium.
"It's always nice to go up against another team," said Nelson, beginning her sixth season at Southeast. "We're looking forward to the game."
The Otahkians have been practicing twice daily, in addition to pure conditioning workouts, since last Thursday. Nelson said she couldn't be happier with the kind of shape her players are in, along with their general work ethic.
"Everything has been going great. They're working hard, and we're fitter than we've ever been," she said.
Fans will get their first look at Southeast's five heralded freshmen, who were all among the premier high school players in the St. Louis area last season: Lauren Costello (Incarnate Word Academy), Alaina Lacopo (Troy, Ill., Triad), Megan Matter (Hazelwood West), Emily Newsham (St. Charles West) and Margie Schaeffler (Incarnate Word Academy).
The rookies join a squad that returns nine starters from last year's group that went 10-5-5, including 4-3-1 for fifth place in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference.
"The freshmen are all studs," Nelson said. "They'll all play a lot this year."
Along with the five freshmen, another newcomer this season is a familiar face to Southeast sports fans as former basketball standout Carina Souza has joined the squad. Nelson said that Souza, a native of Brazil who completed her basketball eligibility last season, is challenging returning goalkeeper Amanda Wrzos for playing time.
"Carina gives us depth in goal, and she's so athletic," said Nelson, whose squad had only one keeper on the roster last season. "With her personality, she is just a great person to have on the team."
Southeast has two exhibition games prior to its Aug. 27 regular-season opener against visiting Arkansas, including Sunday's 2 p.m. home contest against Drury.
Memphis figures to pose a strong challenge for the Otahkians today, since the squads tied 1-1 in a regular-season meeting last season.
The Tigers were 5-10-3 a year ago, including 2-7-1 in Conference USA, but they suffered all seven of their league losses by one goal. Memphis returns nine starters, led by Yuiko Konno, who was Conference USA's leading goal-scorer last season with 12.
Sunday's opponent, Drury, competes in Division II for most sports but is Division I for soccer. Drury went 6-13 last season, including 1-7 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"Memphis will be a great game. When we play them, it's always a one goal difference, or it's a tie," Nelson said. "And Drury also has a good team. These should be two good games to help us get ready for the season."