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Sleepers Florida and Stanford look to go far
August 30th, 2007 8:30AM

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11. PENN STATE. The news in the offseason wasn't good. Paula Walkins shocked Happy Valley faithful when she left the Nittany Lions for Wisconsin. Midfielder Alli Long bolted to join national champ North Carolina.

But Penn State has enough talent to give highly touted young coach Erica Walsh time to settle into her new job. Walsh welcomes back seven starters from 2006, including All-Big Ten first-team members Aubrey Aden-Buie and Sheree Gray. In goal, Alyssa Naeher, only a sophomore, is one of the national team's top prospects.

The traffic out of Pennsylvania wasn't all one way, though. Melissa Hayes left Carolina to enroll at Penn State.

12. FLORIDA. This year's sleeper could be Florida. The Gators knocked off Texas A&M, 3-1, in preseason action on the road, showing that they will be a force.

Of the 11 players who comprised the primary starting lineup in 2006 that returned the SEC title to Gainesville, 10 of them return. Of the 47 goals Florida scored during last year's run to the NCAA round of 16, the 11 players who accounted for 45 of those return.

And one more thing: Melanie Booth, who missed last season to play for Canada, should return after the Women's World Cup. In Booth's absence, Lauren Hyde was superb on the backline as a freshman.

The keys to the Gator offense will again be skillful Ameera Abdullah (11 goals and 24 points in 2006) and Stacy Bishop (team-high 12 goals and 30 points).

The only position that Florida is not returning a starter for the 2007 season is in goal, where two players were challenging for the spot: redshirt freshman Katie Fraine and true freshman Meghan Berlingo.

13. STANFORD. Like Florida, Stanford will be a contender to reach the Women's College Cup.

The Cardinal features one of the nation's best defenders in senior Rachel Buehler and one of the top young frontlines, featuring former U.S. U-20 star Kelley O'Hara and Ali Riley, who will represent New Zealand at the 2007 Women's World Cup.

Stanford, which made its ninth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2006, returns its entire starting lineup, 20 of its 21 letterwinners, 100 percent of its scoring and both of its goalkeepers. (Erica Holland finished the season with the best save percentage and goals-against average in the Pac-10.)

14. BOSTON COLLEGE. BC has been winning a lot of recruiting wars.

Senior Kia McNeil is a former High School Player of the Year. Sophomore Gina DiMartino was the 2006 ACC Freshman of the Year, combining with McNeil for 58 points, 23 goals and 12 assists last season. Incoming freshman Hannah Cerrone was the 2006 NSCAA High School Player of the Year.

The Eagles' recruiting victories have paid big dividends on the field as they made their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and third straight Sweet 16 appearance in 2006.

BC returns 11 letterwinners, including eight starters, in 2007.

15. WEST VIRGINIA. Nikki Izzo-Brown begins her 12th season as head coach of the Mountaineers, leading her teams to seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. They should make it eight in a row as nine starters return.

Canadians Amanda Cicchini and Deana Everrett totaled 22 goals and 54 points in 2006. The juniors, both products of Oakville, Ont., were preseason All-Big East picks in 2007.

16. CONNECTICUT. Like West Virginia, the Huskies also have lots of players returning in their bid for Big East supremacy: nine starters and the six leading scorers from last season.

Coach Len Tsantiris, who enters the 2007 season just eight wins shy of 450 for his illustrious career, returns last season's Big East Midfielder of the Year Meghan Schnur and All-Big East first-team selection Brittany Taylor.

Canadian Stephanie Labbe is back in goal for the Huskies, who had a great preseason, beating Boston College, 2-0, and Virginia, 1-0.

17. CALIFORNIA. The Bears were another ranked team to make a coaching change in the offseason. Kevin Boyd left suddenly -- he ended up at  Pac-10 rival Arizona State -- and Scotsman Neil McGuire succeeded him.

Cal welcomes back seven starters from last year's team that secured the program's eighth NCAA Tournament berth in the last nine years. The Bears will be solid defensively with senior Courtney Hooker and junior Nkechi Kanu. Caroline Lea and Kelly Menachof are keys in midfield.

Before Boyd left, he signed a big recruiting class. The most important short-term acquisition could be junior transfer Nikki Schrey, St. Mary's scoring leader the last two seasons.

18. ILLINOIS. The Illini reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and are again considered the No. 2 team in the Big Ten behind Penn State.

The Illini finished second in the regular season, going 8-2 in conference and 16-8 overall before finishing as the runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament.

Coach Janet Rayfield returns nine starters from last season, including the conference's Offensive Player of the Year Ella Masar, Defensive Co-Player of the Year Emily Zurrer and Freshman of the Year Chichi Nweke.

19. RUTGERS. The Scarlet Knights are coming of a program-best 16-3-4 overall record in 2006.

Rutgers returns nine players, including Gina DeMaio, who posted five goals and a team-high eight assists last season, Alicia Hall, who led the team with eight goals, and sophomore Jenifer Anzivino, who scored six goals and added three assists in 2006.

The Scarlet Knights have looked impressive in their two preseason contests, downing the University of Montreal, 7-0, and Vermont, 6-0.

20. OKLAHOMA STATE. The Cowgirls are coming off the best season in their 12-year history. In 2006, the Cowgirls finished 17-3-3, setting a school record for wins. With an 8-1-1 mark, they finished second in the Big 12 Conference standings, also a program best. And OSU won its first-ever NCAA tourney game with a 2-0 win over UNC Greensboro before barely missing advancing to the Sweet 16 when it lost on penalty kicks to Clemson.

Coach Colin Carmichael returns eight starters from last season's squad, including six of his top seven scorers, led by senior All-American Yolanda Odenyo.



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