HUNTSVILLE – Following a turnaround campaign in 2017, the Sam Houston State women’s soccer team looks to carry over the forward momentum and has high hopes for the 2018 season.

 “Our biggest goal is continuing to get better every single day,” head coach Tom Brown said. “We made some big improvements last season and we’d like to ultimately see ourselves further up the table when it’s all said and done.”

 Looking to a group of 19 returners, the Bearkats welcome 10 strong freshmen to the pitch this season. SHSU is set to play exhibition matches at UTSA (Aug. 5 at 6 p.m.) and Baylor (Aug. 10 at 7 p.m.) before opening up the season at home on Thursday, Aug. 16 against Utah State.

 BOUNCING BACK

Following a tough 2016 season, SHSU turned the corner and posted a 7-6-2 overall mark in its 2017 campaign – the sixth-best turnaround in the NCAA last season. The crew allowed 35 fewer goals in 2017 than in 2016 and more than doubled its goal production.

 The Kats’ 31 goals scored in 2017 was the most since the 2009 season when the squad netted 32. SHSU ranked seventh in the Southland Conference in goals, points (83) and shots (257) while claiming sixth in assists (21) and saves (100).

 Improving in SLC action, the Kats posted a 4-5-2 record in league play and returned to the Southland Conference Tournament after missing out in 2016. The Kats fought valiantly, but dropped its final match of the season to Stephen F. Austin in the quarterfinals.

 BEARKAT BREAKDOWN

Forwards

The Kats return several forwards from the 2016 season. Lindsey Bienski and Micaela Birt are the two seniors returning to the front line, while juniors Katy Johnson, Hannah Dupin and Lexi Bullard return for their third season with the squad. SHSU also returns junior Carlota Suarez Crespo, who led the team with eight goals and 18 points last season.

 “Carlota had a terrific season last year and scored a lot of goals for us in her first year at Sam Houston,” Brown said. “Being from Spain, she’s just a different type of player and she provides a fresh perspective up top.”

 Sophomores Daisy Ervin and Sammi Mayock return to the squad for their second season at SHSU as well. Entering their first season with the Kats, freshmen Madison Pottorff and Tilde Orn will compete for playing time on the front line.

 “Madison is very versatile and can play anywhere across the front,” Brown added. “Another foreign player up top is Tilde Orn. From everything we can tell, she’s been playing at a high level in Sweden.”

 Midfielders

SHSU will also return a strong group of veterans to its midfield. Seniors Meredith Carlson and Bailey Strong, along with juniors Taylor Pritchard and Briana Woodall, look to lead a crew of young newcomers.

 “Taylor Pritchard has been one of our top players the last couple of years and we’ll be looking for her to run our midfield for us,” Brown said. “She continues to get better, and smarter, every single day and it’s good to have her in there. Meredith and Bailey will both be coming back, so that will bring some good experience to the newer players.”

 The Kats will welcome six new faces to the midfield – Grace Stine, Caitlyn McDonald, Ashley Friedrichs, Tyler Pierce and redshirt sophomore Allie McCracken.

 “Grace is a different type of player,” Brown mentioned. “She is hard as nails and really gets after it on the pitch. I think she brings a different philosophy to our midfield and she is a player who can really win some balls for us. She handles the ball well and we expect her to make a positive impact right off the bat.

 “Caitlyn McDonald and Ashley Friedrichs are two of the more experienced newcomers that are coming in and I expect them to be able to contribute right away.”

 Defenders

Seniors standouts Carly English and Whitney Woodward return to captain the Kats’ back line. Acacia Shepardson and Josee Jacobellis will join English and Woodward on defense and returning sophomore Courtney Pawlik will see her fair share of time in the backfield as well.

 “We’ve returned quite a few players to our back line,” Brown Explained. “Carly is a hard-working player who gets after it every single day on the field and she played a ton of minutes for us last year. Courtney Pawlik bounced around between a few positions last season, but I think she had a good spring as a center back and she’s really embraced that role.

 “Whitney will be another key player for us in the backfield. She’s been a starter her first three seasons and it’s going to be the same in her senior season. She is such a steady player and she reads the game incredibly well.”

 The returning student-athletes will be joined by freshmen Danielle Forsyth, Lexi Fowler and Katie Leal.

 Goalkeepers

Returning the heart of the defense, SHSU brings back senior goalkeeper Christina Hendershot in goal. Hendershot made 14 starts in her first season with the Kats and finished the season with a 5-6 overall record. The College Station, Texas, native ranked sixth in the league with 68 saves and racked up 1296 minutes in goal.

 “Christina played the majority of games last season for us and I think she made a huge impact for us,” Brown said. “She’s one of our captains and I really think that the girls feel more confident when she’s in control of the goal.”

 Hendershot will be joined by newcomer Abby DeLozier, who was a four-year letterwinner at McKinney Boyd High School.

 COMING UP

The Kats will travel to UTSA on Sunday, Aug. 5 for a 6 p.m. exhibition match in San Antonio, Texas. SHSU will travel to Waco, Texas, the following Friday to take on the Baylor Bears in its final exhibition match before the start of the 2018 season. For all the latest information on the Sam Houston State soccer team, visit gobearkats.com or follow @BearkatsSOC on Twitter.