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Lady Lakers begin life without Yusuf

Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

She came to Morrow from Ilorin, Nigeria, one of the African country's largest cities with a population over 800,000, and left behind an astounding legacy with Clayton State women's soccer.

Olaitan Yusuf set seven school and Peach Belt Conference records, including most goals in a game (5), season (25) and career (83). Yusuf was a two-time All-American, three-time All-Southeast Region selection and two-time Peach Belt Player of the Year.

And just like that she's gone and graduated, as all the great ones do eventually, leaving coach T.O. Totty the task to figure out how to replace the greatest women's soccer player in Clayton State and Peach Belt history.

"Granted, it's a tough replacement to make," Totty said.

Totty will have to manage the Lakers' upcoming home-opener against defending Conference Carolinas champion Belmont Abbey on Sunday with a young team that features only five seniors. Forward Teresa Smith-Dack is the team's returning leading scorer in the wake of Yusuf's and Yasemin Sunbul's departure, but she only had two goals and three assists last season.

"I think one of the things that will help us this year is we've gone for numbers," Totty said. "We've got some numbers and it's going to motivate everybody else to get up and score."

Instead of the Lakers relying on Yusuf alone, Smith-Dack returns along with sophomores Maggie Mueller and Megan Hitch to carry the load. Totty says freshman forward Cherie Sayon, who played on the Liberia national team and is awaiting clearance to play for Clayton State, could make an immediate impact.

But whoever plays up front, Totty says it will take sometime for the Lakers to get used to playing a more balanced version of offense.

"It's a double-edged sword," Totty said. "As much as we're losing a top striker, now we're getting more than one person to score and teams will also have to adjust to us. They used to pretty much design defensive systems where they double-teamed [Yusuf].

"So now I think it will help us out a little bit because the issue of double-teaming won't play out. We hope that will work in our favor."

Totty also hopes added depth with nine incoming freshman, including Megan Nuckolis, Haley Durham and Amie Holloway of Union Grove, and two transfers from Georgia Perimeter gives the Lakers greater security over the course of the season.

The memories of 2006 are still fresh with Totty.

That was the year injuries devastated Clayton State. The Lakers began the season 1-6 and only salvaged their season with a six-game winning streak down the stretch.

"Sounds like an oxymoron when I say that it's a very short, long season," Totty said.

"It's short in terms of how many months you play, but it's also long in terms of the number of games you have to play in such a short time.

So injuries come into play. With the numbers, if we keep them healthy we can have a good shot."

With a tough schedule, including big non-conference games against Lincoln Memorial and No. 16-ranked Montevallo, Totty knows it could take time for his team to find its balance.

"One week of preseason realistically is not enough," Totty said. "I'm impressed with what the players have accomplished in this one week. But it's going to take awhile."