Oakland has been the team to beat in the Mid-Continent Conference since the league began sponsoring the sport in 1999. The Golden Grizzlies have nabbed a pair of Mid-Con regular-season crowns, and last year, they won their first-ever tournament championship. Mid-Con women's soccer coaches don't expect a new look to the league this season, as Oakland was a convincing choice to finish first in a preseason poll of the league's coaches. The Golden Grizzlies received five first-place votes in the poll. After posting an undefeated conference record in the league's first season in 1999, Oakland (12-5-1, 4-1 Mid-Con last season) finished in a tie for the regular-season crown last year. Head coach Nick O'Shea saw his team defeat top-seeded Oral Roberts in the Mid-Con Championship match by a 2-1 score in overtime to earn the team's initial postseason tourney crown. O'Shea's team returns six all-conference performers from last season's team, as well as Anita Rapp, who redshirted the 2000 season after earning a gold medal while playing for Norway in the Summer Olympics. Oakland was forced into being the No. 2 seed in last year's tournament after it lost a regular-season match to Oral Roberts, which has been predicted to finish second in this year's standings. Led by head coach Kyle Cussen, the Golden Eagles (14-6-1, 4-1 Mid-Con) enjoyed a terrific 2000 campaign. Oral Roberts established a new school record with its 14 wins, and the Golden Eagles tied for 11th in the nation in scoring with their 2.81 goals per game average. Cussen returns three all-conference honorees from last season, including top scorer Tessa Long, who netted a team-high 10 goals in 2000. Two schools from Indiana -- IUPUI and Valparaiso -- tied for third in the preseason poll. IUPUI head coach Jean Delaski was honored as the 2000 Mid-Con Coach of the Year after guiding her team to a third-place finish in the league standings and a school-record eight wins. The Jaguars (8-11-1, 3-2 Mid-Con) return four all-conference selections from a year ago, including 2000 Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year Tara Latella, who led the league and set school records with her 14 goals and 33 points last season as a rookie. A year after advancing to the Mid-Con Championship title match, Valparaiso (8-9-1, 2-3 Mid-Con) narrowly missed out on a spot in last year's league tournament. Head coach Stephen Anthony's Crusaders still enjoyed a successful season in 2000, however, as they established a new school record with eight victories. Valparaiso top scorer Lori Moore returns this year after netting 11 goals a year ago. Western Illinois, the team that kept Valparaiso out of the 2000 Mid-Con Tournament, has been selected to finish fifth in this year's Mid-Con race. Headed up by coach Jen Daniels, the Westerwinds (5-14, 2-3 Mid-Con) set a new school standard with five victories, and sneaked into the league tournament as the fourth seed after defeating Valparaiso in the regular-season finale for both teams. Western Illinois returns its top two scorers from last year, as well as goalie Summer Perala, who ranked ninth in the NCAA in saves per game (8.83 per game) in 2000. Southern Utah will sponsor women's soccer for the first time in 2001. Head coach Brian Stock will lead the Thunderbirds into their first season on the pitch, armed with 23 players who comprise the inaugural Southern Utah soccer squad. The Thunderbirds were tabbed to finish sixth in the league's preseason poll. The top four finishers in the Mid-Con regular-season race will participate in the 2001 Mid-Con tournament, which will be held on Nov. 9-11, 2001, in Tulsa, Okla., on the campus of Oral Roberts University. The tourney champion will receive the league's first-ever automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Tournament.
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