OXFORD, Miss. - Another soccer season is just around the corner for the Ole Miss Rebels, as the 2009 team reported to campus on Thursday morning and will begin preseason workouts on Friday.
After a series of orientation meetings and events on Thursday, the team's 28 members, including a program-record total of 17 newcomers, will begin practice sessions on Friday. They will go through two or three drills per day for the next several days before beginning preparations for the Aug. 23 season opener at UAB.
Despite having one of the youngest squads in Ole Miss soccer history, Steve Holeman, the program's head coach since its inception in 1995, believes the 2009 Rebels could be one of the most talented in his tenure.
"This year we have as many fast and athletic players as I think we've ever had," Holeman said. "The incoming class boasts a lot of talent, and our solid group of returning players, especially the four upperclassmen, will help us incorporate our freshmen into our system right away."
A trio of senior team captains will lead the way for Ole Miss this season. Three-time All-SEC defender Danielle Johnson, forward Hannah Weatherly and defender Mallory Coleman enter the year as seasoned veterans with plenty of starting experience. Junior midfielder Taylor Cunningham, the team's top returning scorer, rounds out a small, but strong group of upperclassmen.
The team's remaining 24 players will be sophomores or freshmen, but within that group are Meredith Snow, Alley Ronaldi, Kelsey Breathitt, Abbie Curran and Jenna Strother, who all earned multiple starts as freshmen a year ago.
The Rebels' 11 returnees from last season produced an extraordinary spring exhibition record considering they had only one or two substitutions per match. The spring squad posted an unbeaten 6-0-2 record against the likes of national powers Oklahoma State (0-0 tie), Texas (2-1 win) and Memphis (0-0 tie). The Rebels also beat in-state rival Mississippi State, as well as Iowa, Arkansas State and Texas State along the way.
"We only have 11 returning players, but it's a core group," Holeman said. "They had a very successful spring. The dynamics of our team are going to totally change, but I think it will be good and will create a competitive environment. The new freshmen will bring a lot of energy, and the returning players will bring a lot of intensity."
The Rebels' home opener at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium is slated for Aug. 28 against Morehead State.