Heading into its final season in the Western Athletic Conference, the Utah State soccer team was picked second in the WAC preseason poll. The selection was made by the conference’s nine coaches and announced by the league office Tuesday.
WAC newcomer, Denver, was picked atop the poll with six first-place votes for 62 points. Utah State was second with the remaining three first-place votes for 59 total points. The Aggies have won three of the last four WAC regular-season titles, including a share of the 2010 title.
Fellow league newcomer, Seattle, was picked third with 47 points, followed by San Jose State in fourth with 38. Idaho was voted fifth with 32 points just ahead of newcomers UTSA and Texas State, who were tied for sixth with 27 points apiece. Rounding out the poll were New Mexico State in eighth place with 19 points and Louisiana Tech in ninth with 13.
Utah State was picked sixth in the 2005 preseason poll, the Aggies’ first year in the WAC, fourth in 2006 and third in both the 2007 and 2008 preseason prognostications. In the 2009 and 2010 polls, the Aggies were picked first. Last season, USU and the San Jose State tied for the top spot in the preseason poll.
Senior Natalie Norris was named the WAC’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. She also earned the postseason honor in 2010 and 2011. For the second-straight season, Idaho senior forward Chelsea Small garnered Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors. Idaho and Denver each had three honorees, while Utah State had two named to the preseason all-WAC team. San Jose State, Seattle and UTSA each had one representative.
Joining Norris this season is junior midfielder Kendra Pemberton. Both Norris and Pemberton earned first-team all-WAC honors last season. Norris was part of the Utah State defense that allowed only three goals in WAC play last season. Her 64 career matches started are the most by any player in the WAC this season. Pemberton was second on the team in scoring by netting seven goals along with a school-record nine assists for 23 points.
The Aggies return 12 letterwinners and seven starters from last year’s team that finished 15-5-2 and captured their first WAC Tournament title, while reaching their first NCAA Tournament. USU brings back three seniors in Norris, defender Kami Montgomery and goalkeeper Ashlyn Mulford.
USU opens the 2012 campaign against in-state rival Utah at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Friday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m.
2012 Coaches’ Poll
Team(1st place votes) Points
1. Denver (6) 62
2. Utah State (3) 59
3. Seattle 47
4. San Jose State 38
5. Idaho 32
T-6. UTSA 27
T-6. Texas State 27
8. New Mexico State 19
9. Louisiana Tech 13
2012 Preseason All-WAC Team
Kaitlin Bast, Sr., F, Denver
Kristen Hamilton, Jr., F, Denver
Chelsea Small, Sr., F, Idaho
Kelsey Lord, Sr., F, San Jose State
Nicholette DiGiamcomo, Jr., MF, Denver
Jill Flockhart, Sr., MF, Idaho
Kendra Pemberton, Jr., MF, Utah State
Monique Escalera, Jr., D, Seattle U
Anka Grotle, Jr., D, UTSA
Natalie Norris, Sr., D, Utah State
Liz Boyden, Sr., GK, Idaho
Preseason Players of the Year
Offensive: Chelsea Small, Jr., F, Idaho
Defensive: Natalie Norris, Sr., D, Utah State
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.