“This year, I think the team has more confidence in itself, as players and as a team. Last season was a learning process for us on how we like to do things as a staff, and how they react as players,” said Van Linder. “We all know how we need to perform and the expectations we have.
“I think having several seniors will help a lot,” he said. “Hopefully we can use our large number of seniors and experience to give us an advantage in conference, and at the same time I think the seniors are very hungry to go out on a high note.”
The Lady Demons return seven seniors and six juniors in 2013 including three-year starters Ashlee Savona, Yanci Johnson, Danielle Harding and Shannon Danku.
“Yanci is the one player on the team that has followed Northwestern State soccer since she was a youth player living in the area,” said Van Linder. “I think its kind of the perfect movie ending if she can go out on a high note, and that’s what she wants and we want to help her as well.
“Shannon was a player last year that we had playing one position (defense) and as we got into the season we realized Shannon would be a bigger weapon for us on the attack. Sure enough, just as we realized she could be something dangerous up top, she had a season ending injury,” he said. “We’re hoping she can build on that. She came back strong with her rehab, and we’re hoping for big things from her.”
Last season, the Lady Demons averaged only 1.44 goals per match, but only allowed 1.94 a game. In 2013, NSU’s offense is expected to be more dangerous.
“I think last year our attacking side of the ball was the area that needed the most help. We would outshoot teams, but couldn’t get goals to land. This year, I think it could be the strongest area of our game,” said Van Linder.
“On the defensive side, we have few injuries that are going to make us see what we can put together,” he said. “We have some good people back there. We feel like they will learn some things, but right now that defense the biggest question mark.”
Northwestern State returns two goalkeepers with a three-years combined experience that will make for an interesting keeper battle in 2013.
“We take pride in having three keepers. I think our three are better than any other school’s total group in conference, and we’re comfortable with each of them in goal,” said Van Linder. We will go with whoever is hot at the moment, and last year that just happened to be Brooke (Bourbonais). Jessica (Danku) has had a lot of time in the goal as an upperclassman, and we know she would like to have more time there. Bailey (Stengler) was a redshirt last year. It will be a battle, and feel good with whoever will be in there.”
NSU will host Houston in an exhibition match on Sunday at 7 o’clock. The regular season opens with former Southland Conference member Texas State in the Lady Demon Soccer Complex at 7.
That will be followed by five straight road games that include Baylor, Ole Miss, state rival Louisiana-Lafayette, Jackson State, and Louisiana-Monroe.
“Our nonconference is a good learning opportunity for us,” said Van Linder. “We’re going to be tested with a Big 12 and Southeastern Conference team on our schedule, along with state rivals.
“It will really help us prepare for conference, and that’s really most important,” he said. “We want to do well in nonconference play, but we know that those people will only make us stronger.”
The Lady Demons will open up Southland Conference play with Lamar on Sept. 20, after hosting Prairie View A&M in the final nonconference test.
“All coaches, when asked about their conference season, say it’s going to be tough for anybody to win it. This year with some additional teams it will be interesting to see what the balance is,” said Van Linder. “SFA should be the favorite going in, but they’ve lost a lot of people. Lamar, who was the runner-up, has everyone returning, so I think those two will be at the top.
“After that, it really could be anybody’s to win,” he said. “Oral Roberts has a good team, Houston Baptist too, and we’re going to work to jump in there.”
The league office will release the Southland Conference preseason teams and polls on Aug. 14.