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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2006

No Smith, no problem, coach maintains

August 12, 2006

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Caroline Smith was the scoringest soccer player in Kansas University history, but her four years are up and it's time for the Jayhawks to move on.

"She was a great player," KU coach Mark Francis said of Smith, who scored a school-record 51 career goals, "but I think we'll be fine."

Francis is optimistic about 2006, in part, because he still has Holly Gault, a three-time All-Big 12 honoree who has been as good on defense as Smith was on offense.

Now, with Smith's eligibility expired, Francis has shifted Gault, a Spring Hill product, to offense, where she isn't likely to be a fish out of water. Even while playing defense last season, Gault had four goals and six assists.

Moving Gault to offense wasn't a case, Francis stressed, of robbing Peter to pay Paul, saying: "We're very deep at defender so we'll be all right there."

Eight shutouts

KU's defensive unit of Gault, Nikki Alvarez, Afton Sauer and Jenny Murtaugh helped forge eight shutouts last season.

Sauer, who played every minute of every match, returns as do Alvarez and Murtaugh, who logged all but 19 minutes as a freshman.

Senior Danika Erickson and junior Kelsey Archuleta add experience to the defense.

Offensive returnees include Michelle Rasmussen, Jessica Bush and Missy Geha.

Bush and Geha, who scored four and three goals, respectively, as freshmen last fall, were named to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team.

Rasmussen, now a senior, counted four goals in '05.

In addition, Francis has a trio of signees with pedigrees in Shannon McCabe, Monica Dolinsky and Kim Boyer.

McCabe counted 15 goals and 21 assists in helping Jenks High in suburban Tulsa earn Oklahoma's large-school state title last spring.

As a junior, she was voted the state's player of the year.

"Shannon is a naturally left-footed player who serves the ball extremely well from the left side, something we've been lacking in the last few years," Francis said.

Dolinsky earned numerous honors, including All-America mention, as a high school and as a club player in Carmel, Ind.

"She has a tremendous shot with both feet," said Francis, who plans to use Dolinsky mostly at midfield.

Boyer hails from Ralston Valley High in suburban Denver and also comes with a thick portfolio of prep and club honors.

"Kim is a very fast attacking player," Francis said. "She will probably be our fastest forward."

Speed evident

Speed can be a difference-maker in soccer and Francis appears to have a roster full of fleet feet.

He'll also have the added edge of a faster track to showcase that speed because in mid-summer the bluegrass at Jayhawk Soccer Complex was torn out and replaced with Bermuda grass.

"Bermuda plays shorter and faster," Francis said, "and it's definitely going to help the way we play, mostly on offense."

The Jayhawks' soccer facility will also have new bleachers after the existing seats were destroyed during a March microburst that struck campus.

The new seating and grass surface should give the Spartan complex a classier look.

"Other than not having lights or a locker room, it's great," Francis said.

How great the Jayhawks will be remains to be seen, of course, but on paper Francis's eighth KU edition doesn't appear to have any glaring holes and seems to boast plenty of depth.

In goal, for instance, Francis has two experienced hands in junior Colleen Quinn and sophomore Julie Hanley, and he isn't afraid to use either one.

"I'm not sure there is a No. 1," Francis said. "Julie and Colleen are very, very close, and whoever does better in the preseason will probably start."

NCAA motivation

After KU tied for the league title in 2004 and earned an NCAA Tournament bid, the Jayhawks slipped slightly into a four-way tie for second place in '05.

That slippage also included an NCAA rejection slip, a snub that raised eyebrows on Mount Oread.

"The players and coaches were very surprised, not so much disappointed as surprised," Francis said, "so the motivation is there. In fact, there's not much better motivation than that."

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