International flair boosting SE Louisiana soccer

Gisenia Utreras has led Southeastern Louisiana to the top of the Southland standings. (Courtesy Southeastern (La.) Athletics)

The Southland Conference is made up of teams primarily in Louisiana and Texas. But Southeastern Louisiana’s women’s soccer lineup card is anything but regional.

Off to a 4-1-1 start to the season, the Lions have only lost to then-No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee.

The strength of the team comes though from far afield.

Southeastern’s 2015 roster includes players from nine states and three countries. The highest representation by any one state is seven, from California. Four Lions are Canadian, and this year the team added freshman Sofia Olsson from Lysekil, Sweden. Olsson tallied the first two scores of her young career to help Southeastern to a 2-2 draw with Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) on Sept. 6. Five members are from Louisiana.

Canadian Gisenia Utreras is a key midfielder and is leading the team with 11 points on three goals and five helpers to date. The senior started 13 games last year for the Lions and started all six so far this year.

“Gisenia is a complete player. She works very hard on both sides of the ball. She’s definitely been the engine to run the midfield this year,” said Hornbuckle.

Utreras is from Brampton, Ontario, a Toronto suburb. “Growing up in the city in Canada and moving into a smaller American town was a big change,” said Utreras. “But Southeastern is great; the amount of support within our community is like no other.”

Part of the support she can count on is from fellow Canadian, goalie Hope Sabadash. Sabadash is from Mississauga, Ontario, another Toronto suburb.
“Hope is probably one of the top keepers in the history of our program,” said Hornbuckle. “She’s very good with all the dynamics of the game, the technical components, the competitive components.”

Early balloting backs that sentiment. As a sophomore, she earned 2014 All-Louisiana First Team honors, and in 2013 was the Southland Conference’s Freshman of the Year, and added All-Southland Conference and All-Louisiana (First Team) accolades. In 2014, Sabadash was named a finalist for the AWK Golden Glove Award, given to the nation’s top goalkeeper. She went down with an injury partway through last season, and her return will bolster a sound defense.

Katie Noonan (Courtesy Southeastern (La.) Athletics)
Southeastern’s roster includes players from nine states and three countries, including Katie Noonan. (Courtesy Southeastern (La.) Athletics)

Last week, she was named the Southland Conference’s Goalkeeper of the Week, while Maddie Kresevic, a Solon, Ohio native, earned the league’s Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Katie Noonan contributes on defense and as a midfielder from Renton, Wash. She was an All-Southland Conference second-team selection last year and also made second-team All-Southland for her academics.

“She’s been absolutely rock solid this year. She’s won virtually every challenge, gets great forward speed and creates problems for the opponent,” said Hornbuckle.

Part of Southeastern’s ability to draw is that success invites success. Hornbuckle has directed 115 all-conference players, 79 all-Louisiana selections and four conference and Louisiana players-of-the-year. He is the six-time Louisiana Coach of the Year and three-time Southland Conference Coach of the Year.

Another key is program consistency. The Lions have, on average, been in the top three or four teams in their league over the past 17 years.

That isn’t the case for Southeastern or the Southland Conference. “There are no easy games out there, especially in-conference. Every game is an outright battle,” said Hornbuckle.

Success and relationships have a big hand in drawing talent to the Lions’ roster. The key draw, though, is the university itself.

The soccer venue, the Southeastern Soccer Complex, is tucked away in a corner of the campus, has a grass berm for spectators and a backdrop of canals and trees. That’s all augmented when the Lions host a contest.

“It comes alive on game day, we have all our signage out and the field’s painted,” said Hornbuckle. “Game day is a special day.”

Above: Gisenia Utreras has led Southeastern Louisiana to the top of the Southland standings. (Courtesy Southeastern Louisiana Athletics)
Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.