BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Birmingham-Southern women's soccer team wants to contend for a Southern Athletic Association title in 2016 with a host of fresh faces balanced by an experienced core. The Panthers head into the fall under new head coach David Di Piazza in his first year at the helm.
"I'm excited to be here and bring consistency to the program," said Di Piazza. "My goal is to have this program at a championship level."
After finishing 8-8 overall, 3-4 in SAA play, BSC looks to bounce back into the postseason. They will lean on the leadership of four seniors to show the way, highlighted by Bethany Kuerten (Auburn, Ala./Auburn HS) and Nicole Newton (Baton Rouge, La./Episcopal HS).
Kuerten was named Second-Team All-SAA after starting all 16 games and logging over 1,300 minutes on the pitch. Newton, an All-SAA Honorable Mention selection, also started every game. She led the team with five goals and tied for the team high of four assists.
"I think [Bethany] was definitely an instrumental part of our defense last year," Di Piazza added. "We're hoping she has a key role in leadership this year. Nicole started every game for the team last year and was one of our leading goal scorers. She has a great work ethic and leads by example."
Primary offensive threats for the Panthers will be Newton and sophomore Taylor Andrews (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County HS). Combined, the pair account for eight goals off 31 shots on goal. They finished with a 0.517 shots on goal percentage and 20 points. Sophomore Julia Giggie (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Holy Spirit Catholic HS) joins the battle for playing time this season. Freshmen Rachel Motamed (Birmingham, Ala./Indian Springs HS) and Jenny Kastner (Hamilton, Ala./Hamilton HS) will also bring pressure up front. Motamed was her high school teams leading scorer her junior year and runner-up as a senior. She was a three-time All-Metro team selection and was named All-County in both 2015 and 2016. A multi-sport student-athlete at Hamilton High School, Kastner participated in basketball and track and field. She was a three-time Mississippi State Champion with the Tupelo Futbol Club and holds school records in six track events.
Sophomore Megan Moser (Mandeville, La./St. Scholastica Catholic HS) and Felicity Barnett (Birmingham, Ala./Hope Christian School) join senior Ali Sadler (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood HS) as staples in the middle. Moser took four shots, three on goal, and started eight games. Barnett played in every game and finished the year with four points after netting two goals. Sadler appeared in 15 games, respectively, scoring two goals. Fellow senior Kayla Auger (Greensboro, N.C./Northern Guilford HS) will also look to make contributions. Auger appeared in 15 games last year, starting seven. Sophomore Mary Caroline Newman (Germantown, Tenn./St. Mary's Episcopal HS), and newcomers Eva Byrum (Hoover, Ala./Hoover HS) and Tessa Craft (Grayson, Ga./Grayson HS) are expected to compete for time on the pitch at the midfield position.
Sophomore McKenna Boyd (Versailles, Ky./Woodford County HS) will look to build upon her inaugural campaign alongside Kuerten on defense. She played in 15 games, earning seven starts as a freshman, recording her first collegiate goal in the Panthers 3-0 win over Agnes Scott (Sept. 23). Junior Ivy Painter (Jackson, Miss./St. Andrews Episcopal HS) and sophomore Emma Holland (Diamondhead, Miss./Pass Christian) round out the returners who will also contribute to the defenses success in 2016. Newcomers include Ann Mirette Carroll (Decatur, Ala./Decatur HS), Nicole Malegni (Huntsville, Ala./Saint John Paul II Catholic HS), and Mackensie Terry (Spanish Fort, Ala./Daphne HS).
Senior Ansley Tomlin (Franklin, Tenn./Battle Ground Academy) and sophomore Katherine Kozera (Rome, Ga./Rome HS) are the two returning goalkeepers for the Panthers. Tomlin played in six games, earning five starts last season. Her 0.824 save percentage was the best on the team, making 14 saves in over 300 minutes of play. Kozera appeared in three games, earning one start as a freshman. She made eight saves. Sophomore Libby Groark (Huntsville, Ala./Saint John Paul II Catholic HS) will look to compete for time in goal among the vets. She walked onto the team this past spring and is expected to make an impact. Groark played competitively with the United Soccer Club in Huntsville, Ala. and the Huntsville Futbol Club.
"We're really excited about the 2016 class," said Di Piazza. "We're excited about what they bring to the hilltop. We know they have a strong work ethic and are going to be coming in here to make a difference. We look forward to seeing their growth in the college game."
BSC opens the 2016 season at home on Thursday, Sept. 1, becoming the first team to compete on newly named Preston Goldfarb Field. They will battle against Huntingdon College at 5 p.m. The Panthers then hit the road for a game at Belhaven (Sept. 3) before returning home to face Piedmont (Sept. 6) at 6 p.m. BSC opens its SAA competition at home as well, taking on Hendrix (Sept. 24) at noon. Senior Day falls on Saturday, Oct. 29 this year. The Panthers face Millsaps at 6 p.m.
"Our objective is to compete in our conference better," Di Piazza added. "I'd like to get this program to the top of conference. Our focus is on improving in our conference and competing for a conference championship."