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Five Blue Raiders earn All-Sun Belt; Christensen Newcomer of Year

November 1, 2005 · MT Media Relations
MOBILE, Ala. - Five Middle Tennessee soccer players were named to the All-Sun Belt Conference team during a pre-tournament banquet here Tuesday night, marking the third consecutive year the Blue Raiders have landed as many players on the all-league team.

Sophomore defender Ingrid Christensen, a member of the heralded 2005 signing class ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt and among the Top 55 nationally by SoccerBuzz.com, was named the Sun Belt's Newcomer of the Year, marking the fourth straight year Middle Tennessee has landed the honor under fourth-year Head Coach Aston Rhoden.

Forwards Holly Grogan and Rebecca Rodriguez were named to the league's 11-member first team, while midfielder Claire Ward, and defenders Katy Rayburn and Christensen earned second-team accommodation.

"Having five players make the All-Sun Belt team is awesome," Rhoden said. "There are so many quality players in the league and to have five players on the all-conference team is quite an honor."

Middle Tennessee, seeded second, (12-4-2, 6-1-2) will open Sun Belt Conference Championship play against seventh-seeded Troy (4-9-1) Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Christensen's imposing dominance in the Middle Tennessee backfield warranted her Newcomer of the Year honors as the Sandefjord, Norway defender earned the coaches vote despite the support of offensive numbers generally associated with specialty awards. Christensen had one goal and one assist from her defender position, but she was instrumental in Middle Tennessee's strong defensive charge. The Blue Raiders have five shutouts entering tournament play.

Christensen joins Lisa-Marie Woods (2004), Ward (2002), and Christina Mascaro (2001) as Blue Raiders who have won the SBC Newcomer of the Year award in succession under Rhoden.

"It's definitely a great honor and I'm happy for Ingrid because she has come in as a new player and established herself enough at the conference level that people thought enough of her contributions to the league to vote her Newcomer of the Year," Rhoden said.

Despite losing forwards Debs Brereton, Laura Miguez and Danielle LaDuke to graduation following 2004, as well as the offensive firepowers they provided, Middle Tennessee realized a first when forwards Rodriguez and Grogan earned first-team accolades. It marks the first time the Blue Raiders have had two first-team forwards.

Rodriguez, a junior from Dallas, Texas, leads Middle Tennessee in scoring with 12 goals, nine assists and 33 total points, and she tied Miguez for the all-time career goals lead with 28 with her goal against North Texas Sunday. Grogan is second on the team in scoring with 10 goals and has scored six in the last four matches. She is a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Week in 2005. "It's good to see that we get recognition at that position, especially given the losses we had though graduation following the 2004 season," Rhoden said. "It's nice to see those players step up and contribute in the manner they have this season. They worked really hard in the offseason and they are both playing really well."

Ward earned second-team honors in the midfield for the third straight year after turning in another stellar season for the Blue Raiders. Ward enters the SBC Championships with three goals, five assists and 11 total points; however, her leadership and passing prowess are as important to the Blue Raiders' success as any offensive numbers.

Rayburn, a preseason All-SBC selection, earned a spot on the All-SBC team for the first time in her impressive Blue Raider career. The Franklin, Tenn., native has started all 18 games and has never left the field. She also has demonstrated her strong athletic ability by contributing two goals and three assists for seven total points, which is most by a Middle Tennessee defender in the previous five seasons.

"I attribute (Ward and Rayburn) being on this all-conference team because of the work they put in during the summer," Rhoden said. "(Ward) is easier to give recognition because at her position you do get some goals and some stats to support outstanding play. The stats Rayburn has put up this season are impressive as a defender but what a lot of people don't see is how good of a defender she really is. I'm hopeful they will see that during this tournament."

ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE TEAM
FIRST TEAM

Lleane Grimditch F Jr. Denver
Holly Grogan F So. Middle Tennessee
Heather Hutyra F So. North Texas
Rebecca Rodriguez F Jr. Middle Tennessee
Kelli Lunsford MF Fr. North Texas
Laura Mann MF Jr. Denver
Kelly Tarrant MF So. South Alabama
Angela Hawkins D Jr. North Texas
Heather Ray D Jr. Arkansas State
Jenna Silverberg D Jr. Western Kentucky
Kandice Ellis GK So. North Texas

SECOND TEAM
Jennifer Beckwith F Jr. South Alabama
Megan Kosiba F Jr. Troy
Shawna Sparks F Sr. Arkansas State
Christi Banas MF Sr. Western Kentucky
Jenna Billingsley MF So. Denver
Rebecca Kahn MF Sr. South Alabama
Claire Ward MF Sr. Middle Tennessee
Ingrid Christensen D So. Middle Tennessee
Laura Cook D Sr. Arkansas-Little Rock
Katy Rayburn D Jr. Middle Tennessee
Laura Longard GK Jr. Troy

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Heather Hutyra, So., F, North Texas
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Kelli Lunsford, Fr., MF, North Texas
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Ingrid Christensen, So., D, Middle Tennessee
COACH OF THE YEAR: John Hedlund, North Texas

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