By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Once again, the La Salle University women’s soccer team has emerged as a regional power.

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The Explorers, who qualified for the last two NCAA Tournaments, are rapidly building the resume for a third straight berth as they sit at 8-2-1 as they prepare to open play in the Atlantic 10 on Friday night against Fordham.

“Our team defense has really been doing a great job,” La Salle head coach Paul Royal tells KYW Newsradio. “We’ve got our goals against average down below one, which was a team goal. I think our commitment on the defensive side, with the work these kids put in in January and February, is really starting to pay off.”

Royal spotlights some of the players making this season’s success possible.

“I think Courtney Niemiec,” Royal says. “We played Penn State and they were 5th or 6th in the country at the time, UConn, some big time teams, and I have yet to see a better centerback in the country than her. I think she has the potential to play at the pro level and she has really been carrying our back line. It’s obvious (junior forward) Kelsey Haycook has really been doing well, finishing balls, one of the top scorers in the country. And (senior midfielder) Renee Washington has been really helping out underneath of her in the midfield. Overall, I think its just been great. The team has really been gelling well, the chemistry is looking good and we are excited for the conference to start up.”

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Haycook has eight goals and three assists this season to lead the team. Washington is second in scoring with five goals and two assists.

LaSWSoc@Nova13_647Now conference play has been very good to the Explorers quite some time. In fact, La Salle hasn’t lost a regular season, Atlantic 10 match since the first week of November. In 2010. In 2011 and 2012, they went a combined 15-0-3 in regular season conference matches.

“It’s been very difficult to look at the run (of conference success) over the time,” Royal says. “We’ve been very lucky, we’ve had great leadership. Our senior leaders this year are doing a tremendous job of keeping everything in tact. I think that’s what really gets us these runs. Even though you look at long term, it’s a great run. But we don’t look at it that way. We look at each game and take it as it comes and the kids have really stepped up and had good game plans for each game.”

That Atlantic 10 opener with Fordham will get underway at 7:00pm on Friday night at La Salle’s McCarthy Stadium.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.

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