PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- After teaming up to account for 17 of the Boilers' 27 goals as the top three point accumulators last season, Alex Hairston, Jordan Pawlik and Hadley Stuart of Purdue women's soccer have been highlighted among the Big Ten Players to Watch as the new campaign begins.
Each coaching staff singled out three of its own players, leading to a list of 36 Players to Watch from around the conference. Pawlik and Stuart are among the program's five seniors this year and are serving as team captains along with Jordan Frick and Mollie Kuramoto. Hairston has started all 39 games the last two seasons.
Women's soccer is the first intercollegiate sport of the 2012-13 school year to open its regular season around the country, kicking off Friday, Aug. 23. Purdue hosts Louisville Saturday (Aug. 17) for the program's first true exhibition game since 2005. Admission is free for all Purdue students Saturday. The Boilermakers and Cardinals squared off in an overtime thriller in Kentucky last season that featured seven goals.
The Big Ten Conference also unveiled a preseason coaches poll Wednesday. Purdue was predicted to finish 11th in the 12-team league, the same place in the standings it finished last year. The top eight teams in the final standings qualify for the eight-team Big Ten Tournament field.
Sixteenth-year head coach and program architect Robert Klatte said Tuesday he expects the 2013 Boilermakers to finish much higher than the league coaches' preseason prediction. He said his experienced and skilled senior class has set a standard on the pitch and off that will lead the program to a strong season this fall. The injury bug derailed the second half of Purdue's 2012 campaign. The Boilermakers were 7-4-2 and playing very well at home entering the month of October a year ago, only to drop the final six games of the year.
With nine starters and all seven players who scored goals last year returning, the primary focal points early in preseason practice have been defensive principles and learning to play together. Many of the 11 freshmen that joined the team this summer were standout defenders in high school.
Purdue also has the advantage of playing six of its 11 Big Ten games at home this fall. The Boilermakers went 6-4-2 at home last year, their best home mark since 2009. The conference schedule kicks off Sunday, Sept. 22. Wisconsin visits the Boilermaker Soccer Complex that day.
Hairston led the team with eight assists last year, four coming on game-winning goals. She also scored four times, including the game-winner in each of the first two contests of the season. The Portland, Ore., native tied a Purdue record with an assist in four straight games, helping setup seven goals over that stretch.
Pawlik made an instant impact in her first season with the program. Her nine goals (in only 17 games) were the most by a Boiler since 2007. The Fort Wayne native posted the fourth hat trick in program history in a win against Missouri Valley Conference champion Evansville and also found the back of the net against Louisville, West Virginia, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Stuart was an ironwoman at the top of the Purdue attack until injuries caught up with her in October. She recorded a point (goal or assist) in five straight games early in the season, posting the longest such streak by a Boiler since 2009. She produced her four goals and seven assists in what amounted to only 15 games of action.
The Big Ten's five NCAA Tournament qualifying teams in 2012 -- Penn State, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- were among the top five in the preseason poll. Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern were also predicted to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. Of those eight teams, the Boilermakers host Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Northwestern this fall.