Half the starting lineup from last year’s Sun Belt Conference champions is gone, so the Sun Belt coaches poll picking FIU women's soccer as the preseason favorite gives props to the talent in the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes.
On the 24-woman roster, there are 15 juniors and sophomores, eight freshmen and one senior, goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage.
Last year’s leading scorer and preseason Sun Belt co-Offensive Player of the Year forward Chelsea Leiva, midfielder Nicole DiPerna (also preseason All-Sun Belt) and Kim Lopez (five goals, tying Leiva and Ashlegh Shim for the team lead) are juniors. Shim, midfielders Johanna Volz and Sara Stewart are sophomores. While last year's lineup might've been senior-dominated, last year's freshmen and sophomores quickly garnered the respect of their elders with their skill and fitness.
“The players returning to the team, we’re in a good place,” FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said. “Those two years of recruiting classes are very competitive, very hungry, willing to do what it takes to be successful. They’re able to take some of the experiences from those players, they already have that competitiveness and drive, so it’s helped them become stronger leaders on our team because we have a young team this year.
“We won’t have quite as much that experience, but we have that energy. With the older returning players molding that the right way, we can do some good things this year.”
Chestnutt seemed to almost shrug at that 4-0 loss to North Florida in the preseason. He said he regarded it as "a training game" and handled it accordingly.
Leiva laughed, "Glad it happened earlier than later."
Chestnutt holds a special place for last year's seniors, his staff's first recruiting class at FIU.
"When I started here, we had a vision for this program," Chestnutt said. "That was to be contending every year for the confenrece titles; to be ranked in the region; and to get to a place where we can be a top 25 team in the country. The set of girls who graduated last year were sold that when they came in 2008. They were able to realize those goals. That was a redeeming thing for them. They came in here believing in us and we believed in them. Together, they were able to make these things happen. We talked about how special it is to do these things at a program (like FIU) as opposed to being at a program where they might happen all the time.”