Automatic NCAA tournament bid adds extra incentive for MOC women's soccer team
By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on August 26, 2007 2:16 AM
MOUNT OLIVE -- When the players or coaches at Mount Olive College need a little extra motivation to work harder at practice all they need to think of is two words -- automatic bid.
For the first time ever, the champion of the Conference Carolinas tournament will receive a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. In their 12-year history, the Trojans have never advanced to NCAA tournament play.
"It's something that's always in your mind," said Mount Olive first-year coach Matt Hisler. "That little carrot maybe gets you out of the shower a little quicker in the morning. I think it's a great reward and it recognizes how strong the conference is."
Hisler and his players couldn't be in a better situation to contend for the automatic berth this season.
The Trojans return 10 of 11 starters from a team that finished 15-7 last season and was ranked No. 10 in the final Southeast Region poll. In addition, Mount Olive will host the conference tournament at recently renamed Ray and Chris Amon Field.
"The first automatic bid coming out of the conference tournament and you get to host it in your own back yard," said Hisler. "I don't think you can stack the deck any better than that. It's a great addition."
For a coach just starting at a program, Hisler couldn't have a better deck to play with.
Hisler was named the Trojans new coach in early May as he replaced Chris Shaw who left to become an assistant at Fresno State. He came to Mount Olive from Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y. where he served as men's soccer coach.
"I wasn't necessarily looking for a change, but when this opportunity popped up, it was one I couldn't pass up," said Hisler. "This is the opportunity you dream of getting. You couldn't ask for a better situation."
With the cards in their favor, the Trojans should be a force on the field this season.
Picked fourth in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll, Mount Olive will be led by senior April Jacobs. Last season, Jacobs scored seven goals while recording a team-high 19 assists and became the first-ever women's soccer play to earn All-American honors at Mount Olive.
Like her teammates, Jacobs has one goal in mind -- a conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
"That would be incredible and a great way to go out," said Jacobs of the possibility of reaching the tournament. "It's a very realistic goal."
With the wealth of returning talent, neither Hisler or Jacobs was shy with their expectations for the upcoming season.
"We want to win the conference," said Hisler. "We were picked number four in the conference so there's three teams we're aiming for right away. With this group of players, winning the conference regular season and, if we can stay healthy, winning the conference tournament are realistic goals."
Jacobs went even higher with her goals.
"We want to go undefeated in the conference and win the tournament," she said.
With the players surrounding Jacobs, it becomes easy to understand the confidence she feels.
The Trojans will return three of their top four scorers this season. Joining Jacobs will be junior Lyndsay Brennan and senior Kate Painter, both of whom reached double figures in goals scored last season.
Mount Olive will also welcome a group of talented freshmen led by Alyecia Higgins. Hisler expects Higgins to step in immediately and contribute with the team's offense.
"Alyecia is definitely someone that will bring a lot of excitement to the field," he said. "She's got a great attitude and is eager as all get out."
Also expected to play key roles are freshmen Kaysea Singular and Jessica McFadden when the season gets going today at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Another new addition this season is lights to the Trojans' field. Five night games will be contested at Mount Olive and it's just another reason the Trojans are anxious to get out and play for real.
"They're great," said Jacobs of the new lights. "It's creates a totally different atmosphere. It's going to be really exciting this year."
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