Western Carolina’s soccer team will open its season at home at 7 p.m. Sunday against Gardner-Webb.

The leading returning scorer from an 8-8-2 team is Reily Nelson, a sophomore from Wilson. She had three goals and two assists for a total of eight points last season.

Seniors include Julia Winter, Emily Threatt, Mackenzie Wright, Jordan Dawsey, Kate Swartwout, Ashton Cannon and Emily Zipay.

The Lady Cats went 5-4 in the Southern Conference last year and were the fourth seed in the league tournament.

In a preseason poll of coaches, they were picked to finish seventh among 10 teams. Two-time defending tournament champion UNC-Greensboro is the favorite, followed by Samford, Furman, East Tennessee, Mercer, UT-Chattanooga, WCU, Citadel, Wofford and Virginia Military.

No Western players made the preseason all-conference team.

“We are excited as we embark on another season here at WCU,” Coach Chad Miller said. “Our goal as a group is to continue to build upon the success of the past few seasons and push to contend in the SoCon for a championship. I like our group and feel we have a great mix of veterans and young players for the 2019 campaign. I also believe our leadership core is prepared and up for the challenges that lie ahead.”

Former Smoky Mountain goalkeeper Lucy Miller is one of four goalies on the WCU roster. Miller is one of two freshmen listed at the position.

The Lady Cats tuned up for the season with a 2-2 tie against Appalachian State in an exhibition game Aug. 13 at home. Threatt and freshman Aliyah Milicia scored goals, and Threatt had an assist.

Western will be at home for five of its first seven games but will hit the road for five of the next seven contests.

The first Southern Conference game will be Sept. 27 at East Tennessee.

“The SoCon will continue to be a very challenging and competitive league this fall,” Miller said. “I think the gap from top to bottom has shrunk considerably over the past three years. It requires you to be your best every time out, and every point matters along the way. There are some great coaches and players in this league, and we will be tested every weekend for sure.

“I like our out of conference schedule with a mix of different styles of play and some tough road opponents that should prepare us come conference play,” he said. “We are excited as a staff about the fall and look forward to the journey with our group.”


The schedule is as follows:


Aug. 25 – Gardner-Webb; 29 – Middle Tennessee.


Sept. 1 – UT-Martin; 5 – at Davidson; 8 – at UNC-Charlotte; 12 – High Point; 15 – Radford; 18 – at UNC-Asheville; 22 – at North Florida; 27 – at East Tennessee.


Oct. 4 – UT-Chattanooga; 6 – Samford; 11 – at Wofford; 13 – at Furman; 18 – Citadel; 20 – Mercer; 25 – at UNC-Greensboro; 27 – at Virginia Military; 30 – Southern Conference Tournament first round at higher seeds.


Nov. 2 – Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinals at higher seeds; 8 – Southern Conference Tournament semifinals at UNC-G; 10 – Southern Conference Tournament finals at UNC-G.