GCU Women's Soccer Preview - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

GCU Women's Soccer Preview

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Coming off of a fourth-place Western Athletic Conference (WAC) finish in just their first year at the Division I level, the Grand Canyon University women's soccer team is set for their second go-around in 2014. With their fourth-place conference finish in 2013, the Antelopes would have been eligible for the WAC postseason tournament, had they not been a transitioning school.

"We are very excited to get the season started and begin to gel as a team. The coaching staff and the girls have worked exceptionally hard over the summer in order to build on last year's performance," said head coach Stevie Gill.

Coach Gill, accompanied by a healthy number of newcomers and returners, will get their first taste of game action this weekend, with a pair of exhibition matches at Loyola Marymount (Friday) and Cal State Fullerton (Sunday). The Lopes, who were picked to finish fifth in the WAC Preseason Coaches' Poll, will open up conference play September 27 at home against Bakersfield. The WAC Preseason Coaches' Poll can be viewed here.

"Our two exhibition games this weekend in Los Angeles will serve us well in determining our starting line-up moving forward and also understanding what combination of players work better together," stated Gill.

GCU will enjoy the amenities of GCU Soccer Field for the first time on August 29, when Valparaiso comes to town for a Friday evening showdown. A five-game home stand from September 19-October 5 highlights this year's action in Phoenix.

Cassie Beckwith will be back to anchor the frontline after a season where the Phoenix native found the back of the net a team-best four times. The junior put 18 shots on goal and struck for three game-winning goals, which were the fifth and fourth-best tallies in the conference, respectively.

Jessica Valadez had an impressive showing during her freshman season and will look to build on that success again this season. Joining her on the backline will be junior Martine Gjennestad, who started 14 games a season ago. Sophomore Taylor Layton buried a pair of goals during her first season and the forward will look to add to that mark in 2014.

Beckwith, Layton, and Gjennestad were all named to the College Sports Madness Preseason All-WAC Second Team. Click here to see the complete list of CSM preseason selections.

17 newcomers will put on the purple and black for the first time and look to contribute in 2014. Freshmen Brylee Hawkins, Milla Benedetti, Rachel Mina, and Kelsey Smith have looked sharp during preseason practice and will have a chance to make an impact right out of the gates.

"With 17 new players joining us this season there is a totally new culture within the team and the younger players are rising to the challenge," added Gill.

Chelsea Santos leads a group of five seniors who will make their final collegiate run this fall. Santos had her hand in three goals last season, netting one goal and assisting on a pair. Joining Santos will be Nikki Stanley, Kelli Ford, Gabriella Rojas-Robinson, and Caitlin Cartwright. The five combined to fire 23 shots in 2013.

"We have prepared a strong non-conference schedule that should set us up nicely as we focus our efforts on winning the WAC this season," concluded Gill. "I think we have a great mix of very talented young players and seasoned veterans that are capable of doing something special this year."

The Lopes' 18-game slate will come to a close November 1 in Bakersfield.

A full look at the 2014 schedule can be found here and the roster can be viewed here.

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