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Blue Raiders picked third; three named to Preseason All-SBC soccer team

August 23, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee is expected to be in the thick of a tight race to defend its 2004 Sun Belt Conference soccer championship during a season league coaches anticipate being tightly-contested as evidenced by the Preseason Poll released by the conference office Tuesday.

The Blue Raiders are picked third in the preseason poll behind North Texas and Denver, respectively, but only five points separate the top three teams in preseason balloting of coaches and media relations directors. North Texas received five first-place votes and 92 total points, Denver had three first-place votes and 89 points, while Middle Tennessee tallied 87 points and two first-place votes.

"The preseason polls are exactly that, preseason thoughts," Middle Tennessee Head Coach Aston Rhoden said. "It's good to know that your peers still consider the team to be solid enough, based on last year's performance, but this is a new year with new players. I think what's important is to realize how close the teams are and how closely separated they are. Every match will be a battle."

The Blue Raiders were well represented with three players on the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team. Two-time All-SBC selection Claire Ward is a preseason pick at the midfielder position, while former Franklin High School standouts Katy Rayburn and Sara Wohlhueter were named preseason all-conference at the defender positions.

"It's great for all three young ladies to get those accolades," Rhoden said. "I'm especially pleased for (Rayburn and Wohlhueter) because they have been solid for us the past two years but as defensive players they don't always have the stats and get the recognition they deserve for how much they mean to our success. Their performances the past two years have been such that they are now recognized throughout the league as keys to our team success. (Ward) has shown there is enough consistency in her play that she has been on All-Sun Belt teams the last two years and coaches obviously believe she will be there again in 2005. I'm proud for all of them. Hopefully not only will these three players be on the postseason team, but many more, as well."

Ward is a high-quality midfielder who has started in all 40-career games she has played at Middle Tennessee. The Ayr, Scotland native has proven to be one of the more versatile players in the history of the Blue Raider program and, along with Rayburn and Wohlhueter, have helped lead Middle Tennessee to their only back-to-back winning seasons in program history entering the 2005 season. Ward finished the 2004 season with five goals, three assists and 13 points, all career highs.

Rayburn and Wohlhueter also have been well versed in their Blue Raider careers and have helped pave the way for two of the stingiest teams in Middle Tennessee history. The staunch defenders helped solidify a strong defensive club for the Blue Raiders in each of their first two seasons and have 77 career starts between them.

Middle Tennessee's defense allowed just 22 goals and had a 1.11 goals-against-average in 2004 and the former Franklin, Tenn., connection played a key role in helping the Blue Raiders become a more defensive-minded squad. In fact, the team set a single-season record for fewest goals allowed with 28 in 2003 and then bettered the mark by allowing just 22 goals in 2004.

Preseason Coaches Poll
1. North Texas (5) 92
2. Denver (3) 89
3. Middle Tennessee (2) 87
4. Florida International 64
5. Western Kentucky 56
6. South Alabama 51
7. Louisiana-Lafayette 42
8. Arkansas State 31
9. Arkansas-Little Rock 20
10. Troy 18

Preseason All-SBC
Lleane Grimditch, Denver, Forward
Heather Hutyra, North Texas, Forward
Janessa Taddei, Florida International, Forward
Claire Ward, Middle Tennessee, Midfielder
Jenna Billingsley, Denver, Midfielder
Laura Mann, Denver, Midfielder
Jenny Dalby, Western Kentucky, Defenseman
Yaneash Donaldson, Florida International, Defenseman
Katy Rayburn, Middle Tennessee, Defenseman
Sara Wohlhueter, Middle Tennessee, Defenseman
Marsha Stewart, Arkansas-Little Rock, Goalkeeper

Preseason Player of the Year
Lleane Grimditch, Denver

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