DALLAS – Conference USA announced Tuesday the 2023 CUSA Women’s Soccer Superlative Awards along with the league’s all-conference and all-freshman teams. NM State forward Loma McNeese headlines the teams as the league’s Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year, while Liberty leads the way with eight total honorees on the all-conference teams.

The senior forward paced the conference in points (13), goals (five) and shots on goal (13) in league play, while finishing in a tie for third with three assists against CUSA opponents. Her threat in the attacking third helped open up her teammates for opportunities as the Aggies featured nine different goal scorers in conference action and tied for the league lead with 15 goals in those matches. McNeese posted a pair of multi-point performances with a goal and two assists versus LA Tech on Sept. 17 and a brace against Jax State on Oct. 8.

The remaining CUSA Superlative Awards were given to NM State’s Xitlaly Hernandez (Defensive Player of the Year), Liberty’s Rachel DeRuby (Midfielder of the Year), Liberty’s Ainsley Leja (Goalkeeper of the Year), LA Tech forward Kyra Taylor (Freshman of the Year) and NM State’s Rob Baarts (Coach of the Year).

The captain of the CUSA champion Aggies, Hernandez anchored a NM State back line that led the conference with five shutouts and allowed the second-fewest goals in league play (six). She logged all but 28 minutes of the Aggies’ undefeated run in conference matches and assisted in them allowing just 9.9 shots per game and 4.1 shots on goal per game. Hernandez and company allowed just one goal over the final five matches and posted four shutouts, including wins over Liberty and WKU.

DeRuby started all 16 games for the Lady Flames, tying for the team lead in points (14) with six goals and two assists. She ranks 24th nationally in shot accuracy (.615), having placed 24 of her 39 attempts on frame. DeRuby paced CUSA with 24 shots on goal, averaging 1.41 per game to drive a high-powered Liberty attack. She found the back of the net in wins over Sam Houston and Jax State and recorded a multi-point effort with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over VMI.

Leja logged every minute of the season in goal for the Lady Flames and posted a league-best nine shutouts en route to four CUSA Goalkeeper of the Week awards. She ranks 21st nationally in goals-against average (.529) and owns the second-best career goals-against average (.57) among active Division I student-athletes. Leja also paced all CUSA netminders in save percentage (.816). She was a vital piece of a Liberty defense that restricted its opponents to 6.1 shots per game.

The second-straight Bulldog to earn Freshman of the Year recognition, Taylor finished in a tie for the conference’s golden boot with nine goals in her rookie campaign, the second-most by a freshman in program history. She also tied for the league lead with five scores in CUSA play. Taylor became the first LA Tech freshman with three multi-goal games after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over MTSU on Oct. 15. She had back-to-back braces against Nicholls and Ole Miss back in September.

Baarts led the Aggies to the CUSA regular season title with a 6-0-2 record in the program’s first year in the league. In conference play, NM State led the way in goals (15), goal differential (+9), assists (16), points (46) and game-winning goals (six). The Aggies claimed a 2-0 road win over Liberty, snapping the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 24 matches. Baarts’ squad had nine different goal scorers in conference play, led by McNeese, and his freshman keeper, Valerie Guha, posted a league-best five clean sheets in CUSA action.

McNeese, Hernandez, DeRuby, Leja and Taylor were all part of the First Team All-Conference USA squad. Joining them were defenders Josie Studer (LA Tech) and Lena James (Liberty), midfielders Noemi Paquin (FIU) and Saydie Holland (Liberty), and forwards Ivy Garner (Liberty) and Katie Erwin (WKU).

All nine programs are represented on the awards list this season. FIU followed Liberty (eight) with seven total selections on the all-conference teams. NM State earned five spots, and MTSU and WKU each garnered four honorees. LA Tech placed three on the teams, and Jax State and UTEP’s selections rounded out the list.

All awards are voted on by the league’s nine head coaches. The coaches also selected Second Team and Third Team All-Conference squads and an All-Freshman Team.

The 2023 CUSA Women’s Soccer Championship commences with two quarterfinal matches Wed., Nov. 1, at Robert Mack Caruthers Field in Ruston, La. The semifinal round will be played Fri., November 3, and the CUSA championship game is scheduled for Sun., November 5, at 1 p.m. CT. All matches of the league’s championship will be streamed live on ESPN+.

2023 CUSA Women’s Soccer All-Conference Award Winners

Player of the Year

Loma McNeese, NM State

Offensive Player of the Year

Loma McNeese, NM State

Defensive Player of the Year

Xitlaly Hernandez, NM State

Midfielder of the Year

Rachel DeRuby, Liberty

Goalkeeper of the Year

Ainsley Leja, Liberty

Freshman of the Year

Kyra Taylor, LA Tech

Coach of the Year

Rob Baarts, NM State

All-Conference First Team

GK: Ainsley Leja, Liberty

D: Josie Studer, LA Tech

D: Lena James, Liberty

D: Xitlaly Hernandez, NM State

MF: Noemi Paquin, FIU

MF: Rachel DeRuby, Liberty

MF: Saydie Holland, Liberty

F: Kyra Taylor, LA Tech

F: Ivy Garner, Liberty

F: Loma McNeese, NM State

F: Katie Erwin, WKU

All-Conference Second Team

GK: Maddie Davis, WKU

D: Reagan Bridges, FIU

D: Bridie Herman, Liberty

D: Lauren Spaanstra, MTSU

D: Ariana Leamons, NM State

MF: Kim Schneider, FIU

MF: Manon Lebargy, MTSU

MF: Brooke Schultz, NM State

F: Camille Sahirul, FIU

F: Nikole Solis, FIU

F: Laleh Lonteen, Jax State

All-Conference Third Team

GK: Ithaisa Vinoly, FIU

D: Delinda Sehlin, FIU

D: Caroline Manley, MTSU

D: Mya Hammack, NM State

D: Ambere Barnett, WKU

MF: Eleanor Gough, MTSU

MF: Sheyliene Patolo, UTEP

MF: Sydney Ernst, WKU

F: Lauren Egbuloniu, LA Tech

F: Ava Goodman, Liberty

F: Allison Hansford, Liberty

Conference USA All-Freshman Team

GK: Valerie Guha, NM State

D: Sallie Garner, Liberty

D: Sadie Sterbenz, MTSU

D: Ashlyn Neireiter, UTEP

MF: Anna Holl, Jax State

MF: Avenley Monteith, Liberty

MF: Ariana Carrington, Sam Houston

MF: Rebecca Roth, WKU

F: Kyra Taylor, LA Tech

F: Claire Valentine, Liberty

F: Shila Rasoul, NM State

F: Solae Young, Sam Houston

F: Nicole Morales, UTEP