BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb women's soccer will get the ball rolling, literally, for the rest of the athletics program when it kicks off on Saturday, August 13 for a home exhibition against ETSU.
The friendly is set for a 7:00 pm start at Greene-Harbison Stadium on the GWU campus.
It also marks the start of the 2016-2017 athletic year for Gardner-Webb, with women's soccer beginning earlier than any other sport this month. Head coach Mike Varga's squad reported for camp on August 2, and dove quickly into preseason training.
Gardner-Webb is coming off a 6-9-4 season (3-5-2 Big South) that saw seven losses come via one-goal margins. Four of the team's five Big South Conference losses came by a single goal.
With eight regular starters returning from last season, Varga has plenty of experience to lean on despite the loss of All-Big South striker Shelby Hooe to graduation.
"The seniors from last year really helped set the tone for what the Gardner-Webb women's soccer program stands for," said Varga. "I know they, along with the rest of the team, were disappointed with our overall record, but we made strides last year and I have been happy with the start of our 2016.
"The upperclassmen came in fit and have been great with the newcomers as far as welcoming them into our program. I have high expectations for this group and am looking forward to see what they are capable of. We have experience, talent and an eagerness to succeed – which I think will be a recipe for an exciting season."
Senior Brandi Arey is the top returning scorer, tallying 15 total points (five goals, five assists) in 2015. She finished second to Hooe in both scoring, goals and shots on goal – and led the team in assists.
Sophomore keeper Keeley Brown is back for her second season between the posts after registering more than 1,800 minutes as a true freshman. She had 90 saves and recorded five shutouts in 2015.
She will be supported by a veteran defensive group, led by seniors Bri Nagle (19 starts), Braddock Price (nine starts) and Jane Perrin Mayer (15 starts) – along with sophomores Erin Shamleffer (12 starts), Brittany Deloach (19 starts).
Midfielder Bailey Hierholzer (19 starts) returns with plenty of game experience under her belt to join Grove (16 starts) and Ibarra (18 starts). David and Maggie Mae Everett also gained spot starts at midfield in 2015.
A nine-woman freshman class will bolster the Runnin' Bulldogs in 2016, as Varga continues to upgrade talent in several areas.
Two of the newcomers – defender Eline Glamsland (Lilesand, Norway) and midfielder Stine Kleppe (Skein, Norway) – enter college with international experience.
Gardner-Webb, tabbed eighth in the preseason Big South women's soccer poll, has its sights set on a much higher position by season's end.
The Runnin' Bulldogs open the regular season quickly, hosting Sun Belt Conference member Troy on Friday, September 19 at 7:00 pm. That is the first of eight regular season home matches in Boiling Springs.
GWU will also host Davidson (9/26), South Carolina State (9/7) and Appalachian State (9/9) in non-conference action. The 'Dogs will host Liberty (10/5), Radford (10/8), Charleston Southern (10/19) and Campbell (10/22) in Big South regular season matches.
All eight home matches in 2016 will be played under the lights at Greene-Harbison Stadium.