Aug. 14, 2009

By Amy Farnum

IT'S BLUE-NANIMOUS:  North Carolina has won 21 Atlantic Coast Conference women's soccer championships, so it's no surprise that the Tar Heels are the hands-down preseason choice to claim the league title for the sixth straight year.

The Tar Heels return eight starters from the 2008 squad that posted a 25-1-2 record while capturing the NCAA title.  The group is headlined by 2008 National Player of the Year Casey Nogueira, who paced the nation in goals and scoring, as well as All-America midfielder Tobin Heath and first-team All-ACC forward Nikki Washington.

North Carolina, the top-ranked team in the NSCAA/adidas Division I Preseason Poll, is joined by four other league members in the Top 25 - No. 6 Florida State, No. 9 Virginia, No. 16 Duke and No. 23 Boston College.  The ACC sent a league-record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

The vote was close, but Stanford is apparently the team to beat in the Pac-10 Conference this season as the Cardinal looks to improve on an outstanding year in 2008.

The Cardinal, also No. 2 in the NSCAA/adidas Division I Preseason Poll, edged UCLA by two points in the league voting.  Stanford will be looking for its first Pac-10 title since 2002.

Stanford returns nine starters and 69 of its school-record 71 goals from last season's squad that advanced to the NCAA College Cup for the second time in program history.  Christen Press and Lindsay Taylor, who each netted 16 goals to lead the Cardinal last year, highlight the group.

The Cardinal opens the 2009 season at Hawaii on Aug. 23.

IRISH AGAIN:  Notre Dame has been picked to win the BIG EAST title for 15th consecutive year since joining the conference in 1995.  The Irish are the favorites to claim the National Division, while West Virginia was predicted to repeat as winners of the American Division.

Sophomore forward Melissa Henderson garnered BIG EAST Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors as a unanimous preseason conference selection.  She is the league's top returning scorer after tallying 36 points, including 17 goals, last year.

Henderson, a native of Garland, Texas, is one of three Irish players on the Hermann Trophy Watch List, along with junior Lauren Fowlkes and senior Courtney Rosen.  Notre Dame's Kerri Hanks won the trophy in each of the last two years.  UND is one of six schools to place three players on the watch list, joining UNC, Penn State, Portland, Stanford and UCLA.

BIG TIME: Texas A&M placed the most players on the All-Big 12 Preseason Team with four, but there was a dead heat in the league's preseason poll as the Aggies and Missouri each earned 91 points in the voting.

Junior Kristen Arnold and sophomore Bri Young were two of the Aggies' four honorees, and both recently named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List.  Arnold was a first-team All-Big 12 pick in 2007, but suffered an early season knee injury that kept her out in 2008.  Young was named to several Freshman All-America teams last season.  Both spent time with the U.S. U-23 Women's National Team in Northern Ireland over the summer.

The Aggies, who return nine starters, will be shooting for a chance at playing in the NCAA College Cup on their home field this season.  Texas A&M hosts the event at the Aggie Soccer Stadium on Dec. 4 and 6.  It is the third time in the past five years the school has hosted the College Cup, also serving as the championship site in 2005 and 2007.