Can Oakland Do It Again?

Oakland’s women’s soccer team has quickly become the premier program of the Mid-Continent Conference in the five years that the league has sponsored the sport. In that time the Golden Grizzlies have won four regular season titles, four tournament titles and have played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons. Last year OU swept through the Mid-Con with a perfect 6-0 record, finishing 15-5-1 overall and with its track record in the conference the Golden Grizzlies should once again be in the hunt for a Mid-Con title and NCAA berth.

To get to those goals in the 2004 season head coach Nick O’Shea and the team will have their work cut out for them as this year’s version of the Oakland women’s soccer team will have a much different look than the 2003 one. Gone are six starters and 10 letterwinners from last season’s squad, leaving a lot of holes to be filled. The losses from last year’s team are large, but not insurmountable as Oakland returns a solid core of five starters and nine letterwinners from a year ago to build the team around. The Golden Grizzlies also have a new group of players that bring some impressive credentials with them.

Marianne Samdal shared the team and Mid-Con lead with 11 goals and was selected first team All-Mid-Con.

 Leading the offense will be a pair of experienced players that have shown that they know how to put the ball into the back of the net. The team’s leading scorer last season with 25 points, sophomore Marianne Samdal had an outstanding freshman campaign and was tabbed a first team All-Mid-Con player. She tied for the team and conference lead with 11 goals, with four of them winding up being game winners. An accurate shooter, nearly a quarter of her shots found their way into the opponent’s goal. Another forward with proven scoring ability is junior Kristi Swaving. A second team All-Mid-Con selection in 2003 she leads the team career goals with 16. The forward with the most time on the team is senior Lindsey Mathus. She had a career-high two goals last season on just five shots and adds 40 matches worth of experience to the position.

A position where the new look of the team will be most noticeable is at midfield, where Oakland has just two experienced players back from a year ago. Leading the pair will be junior Silje Peltopera. She started every game last season for the Golden Grizzlies, scoring one goal and finishing third on the team with six assists. Sophomore Susann Kamrud got 16 games worth of experience in her first season at OU and should be ready to play an expanded role this season.

Despite the loss of the Mid-Con Defender of the Year, Oakland’s defense should be one of the strengths of the team. The Golden Grizzlies defenders have the most experience returning on the team, with a pair of seniors returning to lead the group. Katie Arnott is a two-time All-Mid-Con player and has started every game over the past two seasons for OU. She notched a goal and an assist last season, with her score the game winner against Eastern Michigan. Senior Laura Cowham also started every game a year ago, helping OU’s defense allow just 0.89 goals per game, the top mark in the Mid-Con and 46th in the nation. Sophomore Cat Panabaker completes the returning trio on defense. She is coming off a year that saw her start every game and earn All-Mid-Con and All-Great Lakes region honors.

Senior Katie Arnott is a two-time All-Mid-Con pick.

Oakland will be looking for a new goalkeeper this season to replace four-time All-Mid-Con performer Sarah Buckland. Sophomore Amber Gale is one of the candidates after seeing action in six matches last season for a total of 75 minutes. Freshman Jessica Howard will also contend for the position; earning all-league honors in high school after recording 10 shutouts as a senior.

A group of four talented freshmen round out the preseason roster for OU. Courtney McCracken will be looking to gain playing time at either forward or midfield after a standout high school career. She totaled 24 goals in her senior season to lead her high school to a second straight state championship and is a three-time all-state selection. Another all-state player on the roster this season is local standout Kali Karibo who will also contended for playing time at forward. The Golden Grizzlies have another player in the forward mix as well with Kristi Mitchell who earned all-state accolades four times and won a state championship as junior. Rounding out the group is Christan Wasniewski, who was a high school teammate of McCracken. She led her high school in assists in her final two seasons and should see time right away in the OU midfield.

To get where they want to go Oakland will face a challenging schedule, especially in the second half of the season. In addition to the usual slate of Mid-Con contests, Oakland will face a number of quality opponents, including facing four teams from the Big 10. The Golden Grizzlies will open the season with three straight at home, including hosting their own Holiday Inn Select Classic featuring squads from Illinois State, Marquette and Central Michigan. All four games against Big 10 schools come in October, including back-to-back games at home against Michigan and Michigan State.

Without question there are holes to fill for Oakland this season, but the roster is stocked with capable players that should provide the answers to the questions that face the team at the start of the year. A number of new faces will have to step in right away, but if OU can make the early adjustment and find the right mix, the Golden Grizzlies should find themselves in a familiar place, one at the top of the Mid-Con standings. 

Oakland University 2004. All rights reserved.

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