ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Together accounting for a combined 31 goals as Boilermakers, Alex Hairston, Mollie Kuramoto and Maddy Williams of Purdue women's soccer have been highlighted among the Big Ten Players to Watch entering the 2014 season.
Each coaching staff selected three of its own players, leading to a list of 42 Players to Watch from around the newly expanded 14-team league. Kuramoto started all 19 games last year while Hairston and Williams were starters in all but one game in which they played. Entering their senior seasons, Hairston (57) and Kuramoto (54) have both started over 50 games in their careers.
Women's soccer is the first intercollegiate sport of the 2014-15 school year to open its regular season around the country, kicking off Friday, Aug. 22. Purdue takes on Illinois State Friday (Aug. 15) for an exhibition game in Normal, Ill. For the second year in a row, the regular season gets underway with the Boilermaker Challenge Cup, with Purdue welcoming Miami (Ohio), Butler and Ohio to campus this year.
Hairston, Kuramoto and Williams are three of the Boilermakers' six returning starters -- joining Melissa Casella, Kim Love and Mikayla Lasky. Sophomores Megan Kaser (13 starts), Holly Gregory (missed only one game) and Jordan Ginther (448 minutes in goal) are also back a year stronger and a year wiser after getting a chance to contribute in 2013.
Casella and Kuramoto have been selected as team captains for the 2014 campaign.
Hairston enters her senior season with 20 career assists, two shy of Lauren Sesselmann's program record. She has become only the third Boilermaker to reach the 20-assist benchmark thanks in part to a team-record five career multi-assist games. And with a point in seven consecutive games last year from Sept. 6-29, the Portland, Ore., native established a Purdue record. She contributed to 14 of the Boilermakers' 34 scores (41 percent) a year ago, scoring six goals to go along with eight assists.
As a fifth-year senior, Kuramoto is the longest-tenured member of the 2014 team. She was one of only three Boilermakers to start all 19 games a year ago, returning to the midfield after missing the 2012 season due to a knee injury. The Loveland, Ohio, native is the program's top ball winner in the air, proving her value inside the 18-year box on set pieces and in winning possession at midfield on restarts. With five goals and seven assists, she has contributed to 12 scores during her career.
Williams had an instant impact in 2013 and enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons of any freshman in program history. Thanks to 10 goals and six assists, she set a Purdue freshman benchmark with 26 points while tying Jessica Okoroafo's freshman goals record from 2005. Perhaps more impressively, Williams became just the sixth player in program history to post a double-figure goal season. The Perrysburg, Ohio, native contributed to 16 of the 34 scores (47 percent) last year.
Williams was a second team preseason all-conference pick by CollegeSportsMadness.com earlier this month.
Despite not qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament last season, the Boilermakers did experience their fair share of highs. The goal scoring was consistent for much of the year, highlighted by a streak in which they scored in their first 13 games. Purdue also enjoyed a strong defensive stretch during the middle of the season in which it posted three straight 1-0 wins against Big Ten rivals Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern. It was the program's first streaks of three consecutive Big Ten wins and three straight shutouts since 2007.
However, late-season skids amidst the always-competitive Big Ten schedule have been an issue as of late. The Boilermakers have lost each of their last six games the last two years and are 6-23 after Oct. 1 dating back to 2010.
Purdue has the advantage of playing seven of its 13 conference games at home this year, hosting Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan.
League newcomer Rutgers qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2013. Eight Big Ten teams also earned NCAA Tournament berths a year ago. All eight teams that qualify for the 2014 Big Ten Tournament, which Purdue will host this season for the first time since 2001, could be NCAA Tournament bound regardless of how they fare in the conference tourney. Not only will the Big Ten Tournament at the Boilermaker Soccer Complex be an excellent showcase of some of the nation's premier teams, but the eight-week conference schedule should be as competitive as ever.
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