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GSU Lady Eagles return depth and experience
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    The Georgia Southern Lady Eagles will kick off the 2007 soccer season Friday against Samford at the Samford tournament in Birmingham, Al., and coach Ashley Hart is optimistic about the return of 11 starters (five seniors) to the experienced squad.

    The Eagles are coming off of an even .500 Southern Conference record (5-5-0) from a year ago, and Hart looks to build on the success of the young Eagle program.

    “I think we were pleased with our record last year,” said Hart. “Our team realizes that we can compete and be very successful in the conference. We definitely have the confidence that we need to compete in the tournament and in the conference.”

    If depth was a problem in ’06, the Lady Eagles have solved it. The deeper lineup allows the Eagles to more consistently attack the opposition and that should translate into more scoring opportunities.

    “In our exhibition games we’ve played this year,” said Hart, “we’ve seen that we have the ability to score more goals. With the added depth, we have the ability to change players frequently and give people the rest they need, so when they’re on the field, they’re more dangerous.”

    Included with the returning starters is a preseason All-SoCon selection — junior striker Ashley Toussaint, the team’s leading scorer a year ago (eight goals, two assists) —who should help lead the eagles into the 2007 season.

    Toussaint has proven the type of player to raise the level of play of her teammates and encourage a higher level of performance. Her leadership will play a key role for GSU.

    “I’m glad (Toussaint’s) hard work has been recognized,” Hart said about the striker. “I think she’s extremely dangerous up top and she’s a great leader. She’s got a good, positive personality to help encourage, and she raises the level of the people around her.

    Joining Toussaint on the attack is the team’s second leading scorer Jenni Boykin (three goals in ’06) who will help compliment a deep group of forwards.

    At the midfield position, there will be a rotating group of about 11 covering the field, which should provide some competition for the starting spots.

    The defense returns starters Michelle Carlson, Mallory Springfield, Laura Smith and Heather Smith to guard the field for the Eagles. Laura Santos looks to get the starting nod at goalkeeper.

    “We’ve got a big group returning,” said the eagle coach, “and the depth should help us be more competitive this year.”

    Georgia Southern is picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the SoCon this season, picked seventh out of 11 teams. They are trailing UNC-Greensboro, Furman, Davidson, Western Carolina College of Charleston and Appalachian State in the poll. Action starts on Friday when the Eagles head to Samford for a tournament that includes Samford, Southern Miss and Kennesaw State.

    The out-of-conference schedule includes games against Marshall, Mercer and Georgia State, and the Southern Conference schedule begins on Sept. 19 at home against the Citadel.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.