Cumberland is ranked eighth in the 2014 NAIA women’s soccer coaches’ preseason top 25 poll released Tuesday by the national office. The Bulldogs ended last season ranked No. 8, as well.
Fifth-year head coach Gavin McKinney returns nine starters and 15 letter winners from last season’s 16-4-1 club that won the Mid-South Conference regular season championship. Cumberland lost in overtime in the finals of the conference tournament but won a match in the NAIA Championship Opening Round for the second straight year before falling in extra time in the Round of 16 at the NAIA Championships in Orange Beach, Ala.
The club put together a 12-match unbeaten streak from Sept. 10-Oct. 26 last year, defeating top-ranked Lindsey Wilson and playing to a scoreless draw against No. 9 Martin Methodist during the stretch. The squad returns seven of its top eight scorers from a year ago, including Mid-South Conference Player of the Year Taylor Nay, who posted 13 goals and 14 assists, as well as senior Shauna Gilpin (team-leading 14 goals) and freshman All-American Olivia Chu (eight goals).
Senior Lindsay Kitson, a two-time All-American for the Bulldogs, registered a 0.94 goals-against-average with 11 shutouts last season and the Cumberland backline has allowed just 54 goals in 60 matches over the last three years.
Cumberland opens the season Thursday at home against Tennessee Wesleyan at 4 p.m. before embarking on a six-match road swing that includes outings versus No. 7 Davenport University, ninth-ranked William Carey, No. 17 Brenau University and the University of Mobile, the fifth team in the receiving votes category in the preseason top 25.