Lee returns 10 of 11 starters from a year ago, including Leah Fortune, who was named the 2012 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Outstanding Offensive Player. Fortune ranked second nationally with 24 total assists a year ago. The Lady Flames open the 2012 campaign on Sept. 7 in Daytona Beach, Fla., against Northwood (Fla.).
Concordia (Ore.), 2011 national runner-up, claims the No. 2 position with 542 total points, while the remainder of the top six are unchanged from the 2011 postseason edition: No. 3 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), No. 4 Embry-Riddle (Fla.), No. 5 Mobile (Ala.) and No. 6 Baker (Kan.).
Fifteen conferences/independent/unaffiliated groups are represented throughout the Top 25, led by four from the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Hailing from the CCAC is No. 8 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), No. 14 Judson (Ill.), No. 16 Trinity Christian (Ill.) and No. 19 Robert Morris (Ill.). The Unaffiliated Group that includes the Frontier Conference and TranSouth Athletic Conference is second with three teams, while the Southern States Athletic Conference, The Sun Conference, Heart of America Athletic Conference, Golden State Athletic Conference and Sooner Athletic Conference have two representatives each.
The poll was voted upon by a panel of head coaches representing each of the conference/independent/unaffiliated groups. The first regular-season poll will be announced on Sept. 4.
The Lady Flames, 23-2 last season, will host another NCAA Division II program on Aug. 22 when Young Harris (Ga.) visits Cleveland for another exhibition affair.
Lee will officially open the 2012 campaign on the road, traveling to Daytona Beach for the Habitat for Humanity Classic. Coach Matt Yelton’s squad will test 14th-ranked Northwood (Fla.) on Sept. 7 and rest a day before being challenged by the host and 4th-ranked Embry-Riddle team on Sept. 9.
Yelton’s crew will kick off the regular home season and the Lady Flames Classic on Sept. 13. Longtime NAIA rival will present Lee with face No. 3 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) The Lady Flames will be pitted against 7th-ranked Olivet Nazarene on Sept. 15. Vanguard (Calif.) will also be a part of the four-team field.
“I don't think anyone wants to be a part of the team when the streak of championships comes to an end,” said Yelton when asked about the motivation to win a fifth-straight crown. “The reality for our program is that there is a perception that when we go into a season that anything less than a national championship is perceived as a bad year.
“However, I think one of the most difficult jobs our coaching staff undertakes each year is managing the pressure of expectations. It is really down to us staying grounded to the fact that while we have a very successful past, we can only hope for a successful season by focusing on the day- to-day work.”