UNLV expects to replace, not rebuild in women’s soccer

Winning soccer teams know how to put the ball in the back of the net.

Second-year UNLV women’s coach Jennifer Klein knows that, and she expects her team to score plenty of goals this season.

She’s just not exactly sure who’s going to score them.

Klein lost her entire offense to graduation in the spring, but she is undeterred. The coach proved last year that she is perfectly capable of leading the Rebels through adversity, and she doesn’t mind doing it again.

"Our outlook is very positive," said Klein, who returns six starters. "We had a good season last year, and we want to make this a great season."

Klein turned the program around last year, inheriting a squad that had won just five games in 2009 and leading the Rebels to an 11-8-1 season. But she did that with a potent offense that included senior forward Ashleigh Shoughro, one of the top forwards in the program’s history.

The coach has devised a new playbook, and she expects several players to collectively fill Shoughro’s shoes.

"We recognize that we won’t be able to rely on one person to put the ball in the net," Klein said. "Everyone’s got to find a way to contribute, and we’ll be relying on our midfield more heavily."

Junior midfielder Macy Jo Harrison (four goals, four assists in 2010) is among Klein’s top prospects to lead the new game plan. She is sold on the idea that the Rebels will continue last year’s momentum.

"We’re going to win," said Harrison, one of three returning midfielders. "It takes a whole team to win, and this is such a good team. We can all get the job done."

Harrison and the remainder of UNLV’s midfield will need to mentor the front line, as the team’s top returning forwards — seniors Elizabeth Billington (one goal, one assist), Danielle O’Neil and Jenna Larkin — combined for just 10 starts last season.

"I’m expected to be one of the team leaders," Harrison said. "It’s my job to show people what it’s really like to be out here."

The backfield, a longtime backbone of the program, once again appears strong. Junior Caitlin Allen, one of three returning starters, is expected to lead the way in providing cover for returning goalkeeper Kylie Wassell.

Though Klein acknowledged her uncertainties about the squad’s offense, she said she expects the Rebels’ strengths to outweigh any weaknesses.

"One of the biggest things is we have depth in several positions," she said. "They’ve battled to see who’s going to make the starting lineup. We’re going to have several different options we didn’t have last year."

The Mountain West Conference coaches must see those same strengths, as they picked the Rebels to finish third in league play this year despite the personnel losses.

Klein appreciated the respect, though she feels her team will exceed the league’s expectations.

"Basically, our goal is to win the MWC," said Klein, whose squad finished fifth last year before being eliminated by New Mexico in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

The Rebels (1-1) got off on the right foot Friday, opening their season with a 3-0 win over UC Riverside in the Rebel Classic at Johann Memorial Field. They then fell to UC Santa Barbara 1-0 on Sunday.

The team will play its next four games on the road, beginning Friday at Portland State.

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