Iowa State opens soccer season

Iowa State plays at Mississippi State on Friday at 7 p.m., and at Mississippi on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Iowa State women's soccer team, led by fourth-year head coach Rebecca Hornbacher, opens the 2005 campaign at SEC foes Mississippi State and Mississippi this weekend.

The Cyclones will take on MSU in the season-opener for both teams at 7 p.m. Friday in Starkville, Miss. ISU will conclude the road trip with a 1 p.m. Sunday showdown with Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss.

Iowa State returns seven starters from a team that finished 8-12 overall last season, 4-6 in Big 12 play. ISU and advanced to the Big 12 postseason tournament for the third time in four years.

With seven newcomers who all could see significant playing time, Hornbacher feels this could be one of her most athletic and competitive teams yet.

"We have a lot of players who can contribute, including more depth than we have ever had in the past and we are going to look to play a lot of players," Hornbacher said. "I've never had more of a challenge than I do this year of trying to figure out a starting lineup."

The Cyclones have a trio of seniors in Kristina Baumann, Deb Benakis and Amy Flores who will anchor a relatively young squad that lost five seniors from the 2004 team. Baumann is coming off an off-season leg injury after she tied for the team lead in points (12), goals (4) and assists (4). She ranks second in Cyclone history with 153 career shots. Benakis is making a change from the defensive side of the ball where she started all 20 games and played almost every minute to midfielder.

"Kristina is an extremely athletic and explosive forward and we are looking for great things from her because she has really bounced back strong and she looks the best that I've seen her in a long time," Hornbacher said.

"Deb, on the other hand, is one of our most versatile players. She played midfield for her first two years here at ISU, played as a defenseman last year and now is switching back. Once again, she has done a great job with the transition process," Hornbacher said.

Benakis started all 38 matches in the 2002 and 2003 seasons at midfield and scored eight goals and notched three assists.

Flores, who stepped up her game in Big 12 play a year ago, scored game-winning goals in each of ISU's consecutive wins over Baylor, Texas Tech and Missouri is another player to watch. She recorded a team-high four goals and four assists while making 10 starts.

"Amy is just dynamic in the air and we will look for her to be a leader this year and build off the success she had last season," Hornbacher said.

Starting in goal will be sophomore Joanna Haig, who was named to the 2005 preseason all-Big 12 soccer team. Haig earned eight victories in 2004, the most for a Cyclone goalkeeper since 1999, while her 1.39 goals-against average ranked second on ISU's single-season list.

Mississippi State returns nine starters from a team that finished second in the competitive SEC West and recorded a 9-9-3 overall record with a 5-5-1 league mark. The Bulldogs return their top-two scoring threats in senior forward Betty Ann Casey (four goals, six assists) and junior midfielder Sara Moore (four goals, two assists). Iowa State and Mississippi will meet for the third time in series history. The Cyclones are 2-0 in those matches, including a 2-0 victory in Ames in 2003.

Ole Miss finished the 2004 season with a 9-10-2 overall mark and went 4-5-2 in the SEC West. Two all-SEC second team performers return for the Rebels in junior defenseman Lyndsey Williams and junior forward/midfielder Brittney Potts. In 2004, Potts netted a team-high 10 goals and collected 22 total points.

Hornbacher says this weekend's matches are difficult to analyze because the teams don't know much about their opponents before the first game.

"We don't know which newcomers and players are going to play early on in the season, so we have no idea who will step up and be a major factor in the outcome of a match," Hornbacher said. "Both schools could play a number of different formations and we just have to prepare for everything and look for things we can exploit."

The Cyclones return to Ames for their home opener against Purdue Sept. 2., at the ISU Soccer Complex. ISU plays host to Indiana Sept. 4. The matches are both part of the Big 12-Big 10 Challenge.

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