The WCC was a fine league before 2011, but now, there’s no doubting that it’s one of the major conferences in the country as far as college soccer is concerned. BYU’s decision to go independent as a football program and take all its other programs to the WCC was one that may have been overlooked in some circles compared with the other realignment drama of the year but one that nonetheless could have a dramatic effect in college soccer. The perennial Mountain West favorites’ defection to the WCC now gives the league three teams that should be in the Top 25 on an annual basis and makes the usually duopolistic league title race a little more interesting.
Not that it’s all peachy amongst the now “Big Three”. Santa Clara has been out of the national title mix for some time now and finds itself falling further and further behind local rivals Stanford despite the presence of superstar goalkeeper Bianca Henninger. Portland must deal with the loss of a veritable array of superstars through graduation and injury after a stunning NCAA Tournament exit. And while BYU continued to rake in Mountain West silverware last season, their inability to get over the hump in the Big Dance continues to linger over Provo.
The heat is rising behind them as well. San Diego pieced together some big wins last season and look set to push on behind star forward Stephanie Ochs, Mexican international defender Natalie Garcia, and talented goalkeeper Courtney Parsons. Loyola Marymount boasts one of the league’s top young players in reigning WCC Freshman of the Year Tawni Martino. And Pepperdine, who beat UCLA and Santa Clara last season, returns possibly their most talented team in many a year to Malibu.
It all adds up to what looks like one of the most enjoyable WCC seasons in some time and what should be one of the most fun conference races all across the nation this year. The league title race is as wide open as its ever been, and the WCC can legitimately claim a chance at having five teams represent it come November and the NCAA Tournament.
(Teams listed in order of final 2010 RPI ranking.)
It’s still very difficult to wrap your head around how PORTLAND‘s season ended last year. The Pilots had a high seed and home advantage against a Washington team that had been little more than a speed bump in recent seasons…well, OK, almost every season. But astute followers would have noted that Portland had had a bit of trouble with the Huskies earlier in the regular season, only managing to topple UW in extra time. Nobody believed the Pilots were going to face elimination though from their regional rivals.
But Washington took the lead before being pegged back ten seconds later. The rest of the match saw Portland put shot after shot on frame but not past Huskies’ keeper Jorde Lafontaine-Kussman. Improbably, the match went into extra time and then penalties. Pilots’ fans were likely dreading facing a hot keeper, but Portland kept making spot kick after spot kick. The problem was that Washington was doing likewise, and the nerve shattering shootout entered its eleventh round and a second spot kick for the first takers. Kate Deines made her second kick for the visitors. Jessica Tsao did not. Washington had won the shootout 10-9 and sent Portland home in heartbreaking fashion.
These are conflicting times for Pilots fans, among the most loyal in the nation. Their Portland side hasn’t lost a league match in four full seasons and has won six of the last seven league titles but has also seen diminishing results in NCAA Tournament play. Portland first rose to prominence under the watchful eye of the legendary and late Clive Charles, reaching their first College Cup in 1994 and making the next two, though they’d be stopped in their tracks by Notre Dame each time. North Carolina would topple Portland in the 1998 College Cup in an extra time match settled only after four periods of extra time.
After missing the Big Dance in 1999, Portland would again suffer heartbreak in 2000 and 2001 in the national semi-finals to UCLA and North Carolina. At long last though, Portland would get their national title, in a typically exciting double overtime win over WCC rivals Santa Clara. It was also profoundly special as the world would lose Charles far too soon to prostate cancer just a year later. Garrett Smith had the unenviable task of taking the mantle at the head of the UP program and Portland were eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen in his first season in charge, the team’s worst finish since missing the NCAA Tournament in 1999.
Smith would get redemption in 2005 though, beating Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, Penn State in the Final Four, and then destroying UCLA in the final, 4-0, to deliver Portland’s second title. It’s largely been frustrating since then in the Big Dance. The team had exited at the Elite Eight in four straight seasons entering into last year, including three times by old rivals UCLA.
There was great hope entering into 2010 though with the team returning stars like Sophie Schmidt, Elli Reed, Danielle Foxhoven, and Kendall Johnson. Dealt some tough tasks like Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Texas A&M early, Portland passed with flying colors, though it was a little close for comfort much of the time.
In a big time clash, a 10-0-0 Portland side squared off with a fancied Stanford team in Palo Alto and was downed 2-1 in a not-as-close-as-it-looked scoreline. The Pilots wouldn’t look back though, winning their next eight before ending the regular season with a draw at St. Mary’s. The Pilots entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites for silverware but would end up disappointed on a sad Sunday at Merlo Field. While the Pilots have undoubtedly established themselves as top dogs in the WCC, one has to wonder about the continuing College Cup drought. You don’t have to remind Portland fans that they haven’t made it back to the Final Four since the 2005 title win. An exit in the second round last year was certainly not a step in the right direction.
The task doesn’t get any easier in 2011 for Smith and the Pilots. UP gets devastated by graduation and injuries, leaving this year’s side grasping for cohesion in the face of the new season. Hardest hit looks to be the Portland defense which loses three quarters of its starters from last season. Elli Reed was one of the best full-backs in the country in her four seasons of college ball and finished her Portland career with twelve goals and thirteen assists to her name. It’s telling that through a relentless rotation policy, Reed, who played with Boston in the WPS this year, was only one of four Pilots to start every match for the club last season. If only it was as simple as just losing the former U20 World Cup winner though.
The team also loses the services of Jessica Tsao, a U.S. U23 international who blossomed into the WCC Defensive Player of the Year last season and was another who started every match last season. Tsao was also a star in the classroom for Portland and was awarded a Fulbright grant for graduate study in the U.K. Those losses were damaging enough, but Portland were rocked further in the Spring when Kendall Johnson was likely lost for the 2011 season with a torn ACL. One of the best full-backs in the nation, Johnson is a massive loss for the Pilots, and those three losses in concert, along with key reserve Kristen Kelly graduating, leaves a gaping hole in the Portland rearguard for 2011.
Portland employs a lot of versatile players, meaning the rearguard could be a revolving door of bodies this season as Smith tries to find what he likes in defense. One of those versatile players, U.S. U20 international Michelle Cruz looks likely to lock up one of those starting spots in defense. Cruz came in as a rookie and impressed in twelve starts, scoring three goals and adding in a pair of assists to boot. The sophomore can also double as a midfielder and could be shifted around this year to suit the needs of UP.
Also likely to play a major role in the defense this season is senior Michelle Olivier, who was a powerful force for the Pilots when she managed to make it into the lineup last year. Capable at either center-back or as a defensive midfielder, Olivier’s experience could be crucial to this year’s defensive effort. Two other senior candidates for starting roles include Kassi McCluskie, a starting center-back in 2008 as a freshman who has seen her minutes dip considerably since then, and full-back Emma Nelson, who has been a reserve the past three seasons with the club.
There could also be a contribution as a freshman from McCluskie’s sister, Lorielle, who could be important for depth in what looks like a rebuilding effort at the back. Additionally, Portland might get some help by plugging in vaunted sophomore midfielder Cloee Colohan, midfielder Sarah Bridges, and big freshman utility player Rebekah Kurle into any holes if need be.
The goalkeeping situation for the Pilots is far from settled at the moment either. Portland struggled to replace Kelsey Davis last season, and the battle between the pipes threatens to rage on this year. Sophomore Erin Dees began the year as Smith’s preferred choice in goal, but a high profile error or two saw the Illinois product gradually fall out of favor, with senior Hailee DeYoung receiving the bulk of the minutes as the season went on. Neither has distinguished themselves as the team’s clear starter thus far, and Smith could again be juggling goalkeepers as the season goes on this year. Redshirt freshman Nichole Downing could also force her way into the discussion if Dees and DeYoung struggle this season.
There are only slightly fewer questions when it comes to attack for Portland. The Pilot attack bogged down at times last season, leading to some frustrating days and nights in front of goal, most notably in the NCAA Tournament defeat to Washington. The frontline looks in better shape than the midfield on paper, though there is a bit of uncertainty still lingering after last season’s struggles. On paper, Portland shouldn’t have scoring problems at all with senior Danielle Foxhoven on the pitch.
Coming into last season, Foxhoven looked like one of the top forwards in America after having scored sixteen goals as a freshman before exploding for twenty-five goals in 2009. Foxhoven looked like one of the favorites for the Hermann Trophy as a junior before the season but then sputtered to a surprisingly tame season by her massive standards. Eight goals and five assists would be a brilliant season for many forwards in America, but for someone who had enjoyed the first two seasons in college Foxhoven had, it was likely a bit of a disappointment.
Foxhoven still was strong in league play with four goals in seven matches in a goal shy conference, but there’s no question that she’ll be wanting to get back to double digits in goals to help further both the Pilots and her draft stock ahead of January’s WPS Draft. Complicating matters may be the senior being thrust into a bit of a deeper role on the pitch, which could affect her proficiency in front of net once again.
At least the Pilots look to have a great insurance policy in the form of sophomore Micaela Capelle. Despite starting only thirteen matches last season, Capelle was a major hit as a rookie, tying for the team lead in points with eight goals and five assists. Capelle also showed an affinity for the clutch, with five of her strikes going down as match winners. She cooled down a bit in league play with just a pair of goals in WCC action but will likely improve in that regard with more experience. There could be an increased role for fellow sophomore Amanda Frisbie, who only made ten reserve appearances last season but still managed to score five goals on seven shots, including netting a hat trick against UTSA in the NCAA Tournament blowout win last year.
The team also makes an intriguing addition with JUCO transfer Kaila Cameli joining up. Cameli, who struggled with injury problems while being recruited out of high school, went the JUCO route instead and was an absolute star for Phoenix College, breaking Jessica McDonald’s single-season school records for goals and assists while earning NJCAA All-American honors. Whether that translates to this level is the big question, but she’s one to watch for the future for sure.
The forward corps has to be firing, because the midfield could be undergoing major renovations this year. The spine of the team’s midfield takes a major hit with the graduation of both Keelin Winters and Sophie Schmidt. Winters was a fantastic influence for the Pilots as a defensive midfielder with the ability to both control the tempo of the match and deliver a crunching tackle when necessary, both qualities exhibited as a rookie with the Boston Breakers of the WPS this season.
Schmidt, a Canadian international, was a shining star as an attacking midfielder for Portland last season. Despite missing countless matches due to international commitments for Canada over the years, Schmidt still racked up forty goals and thirty-one assists in her college career. Schmidt finished with seven goals and five assists last season despite missing all of WCC league play, and the Canadian likely would have led the team in scoring had she been around for conference matches. Schmidt will go down as one of the best ever to play for Portland, and her leadership and offense will be sorely missed.
The team also must do without Kendra Chandhoke, who was desperately unlucky over the course of her career after being struck down with injuries in multiple seasons. After scoring nineteen goals in her first two seasons, Chandhoke would only play in six games in 2008 before hitting for nine goals and seven assists in 2009. Injuries would rear their ugly head once more last season though, and Chandhoke was limited to just five appearances off the bench last year.
There’s a lot of raw talent coming back in midfield this season, it’s just up to Smith to mold it into a unit. After missing almost all of 2009 through injury, Cloee Colohan proved she was worth the wait last year by dominating on defense and more than holding her own in an experienced backline. Colohan may be utilized as the team’s defensive midfielder this year though, although it would hardly be a shock to see her back at center-back to help lead that unit if necessary.
Returning to the midfield as well are sophomores Ellen Parker and Sarah Bridges, who both made a strong impression as rookies last season and should be better equipped to deal with the rigors of the college season with another season under their belts. Parker had two goals and two assists despite missing nine matches last year, while Bridges could also end up in the Pilots’ defense this season. Junior Taylor Brooke was also a lineup mainstay last year, starting nineteen matches and adding four goals and five assists, though most of that damage was done out of conference play, with a goal and two assists out of that total coming against UTSA in the NCAA Tournament.
There should also be major minutes somewhere on the pitch for senior Halley Kreminski. A super sub to the max, Kreminski was second on the team in game winning goals with three and scored seven overall despite starting only seven matches on the season. The big senior could be used either up front or interestingly as a search and destroy defensive midfielder if Colohan is otherwise engaged (or injured). The team adds in a pair of promising freshmen in the form of Rebekah Kurle and Emily Sippel for the new season as well.
Kurle’s a big product out of Renton, Washington and has the size and versatility to play a lot of positions on the pitch, including in defense or up front if need be for the Pilots. A former U.S. U15 international, Sippel’s arguably the top player in this class for Portland, but with a very big ‘if’ attached to that designation. Sippel’s struggled with injuries over the past two seasons, and keeping her off the training table could be key for Smith who needs every healthy body he can get this year.
This Portland side clearly has a lot to prove after last season’s NCAA Tournament letdown. But graduation and injuries have taken a heavy toll on Portland, with the defense and midfield in particular looking extra vulnerable after the big losses. The backline has a good spine with Olivier and Colohan (if she’s not playing in midfield), but the depth is questionable and there are a lot of players with little or no starting experience bound to be pressed into duty. The situation in goal with the battle between DeYoung and Dees could also loom large if Smith can’t get consistent play in between the pipes, regardless of who wins the starting job.
Portland’s got two big things going for it though. One is the combination of Foxhoven and Capelle in attack, potentially one of the country’s top scoring duos if all goes according to plan. Yes, Foxhoven may have had a down year statistically last year, but she’s simply too good a player to believe she won’t be in double digits in goals this year. The second advantage is Merlo Field. Portland are notoriously tough to take down on their own home turf thanks to their rabid home support and will relish getting most of their big non-conference matches as well as San Diego and Santa Clara in WCC action at home.
Is this a College Cup team? In all honesty, probably not. The holes may keep them from Kennesaw in all likelihood, but they still have a good shot at a WCC league title and of winning two or three matches in the NCAA Tournament come November. Whether that would be enough for a hungry fanbase is certainly up for discussion.
Once the giants of Bay Area soccer, SANTA CLARA has found their role as queens of Camino Real usurped in recent years by fierce local rivals Stanford. Head Coach Jerry Smith has mountains of wins and a national title to his name but has seen local supremacy begin to slip through his fingers with the rise of the Cardinal. The Broncos were a constant on the national scene for the entirety of the nineties and into the first half of the first decade of the new millennium.
SCU first hit the College Cup in 1989 and would make it back six more times without making it into the title game. In the meantime, Santa Clara would also collect four WCC league trophies before making the breakthrough in 2001. Behind the goals of Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne, and Veronica Zepeda, the Broncos would finally bury the ghosts of the past and overcome their lovable loser tag in the College Cup, topping Florida in a 3-2 thriller before finally taking down North Carolina in the final, 1-0.
SCU so nearly made it back-to-back titles one season later, beating Carolina again in the semi-finals but ultimately falling to WCC arch-rivals Portland after extra time in the final. The Broncos would take the slightest of steps back over the next few seasons, being knocked out in the Elite Eight in 2003 and 2005 by North Carolina and Penn State respectively and losing in the semi-finals to Notre Dame in 2004. Santa Clara’s four year WCC league title streak would also end in 2005, though the program would regain the crown in 2006.
2006 would also mark a turning point in the history of the Broncos program. Smith’s side would be stunned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by USC, resulting in the program’s first time in the Big Dance without at least one win since 1994. It was also the first time that SCU hadn’t won two matches in the NCAA Tournament since 1994 and the first time the program hadn’t won three matches in the NCAA Tournament since 1995. In short, it was a major shock and one that would be repeated the season after as the Broncos were dumped out by Cal in a 2-0 defeat. Santa Clara also lost their WCC title that season and have yet to gain it back.
If the relative horrors of 2006 and 2007 seemed bad to Broncos fans, 2008 must’ve been their worst nightmare come to life. Besieged by injuries and a toothless offense that scored just sixteen goals in twenty matches, SCU slumped to a shocking 4-12-4 record, the program’s first losing season since 1983. With the natives undoubtedly beginning to get a little restless in the Bay Area, Smith was able to turn the ship around somewhat in 2009. There were still losses to the likes of Utah and San Diego, and the Broncos were humiliated by Stanford in the regular season, 6-2, at home, but SCU also won fourteen matches and got back to the Sweet Sixteen before being trumped by the Cardinal once more.
2010 was then looked upon as another opportunity for the Broncos to take another step back towards being a force on the national stage. Early non-conference play brought mixed signs, as SCU played Notre Dame close and beat the teams they generally should have but also drew matches with Cal and Georgia, hardly signs of reestablishing their dominance in the WCC. A win over Georgetown eased some of those fears, but two more chances to show their true national chops went begging as the Broncos dropped matches on the road to UCLA and Stanford. Smith’s side rolled through the first half of WCC play though, winning their first four league matches and shutting each opponent out, setting up a likely title decider against Portland. SCU would agonizingly fall short though, losing 1-0 at home, all but ceding another title to their arch-rivals.
A non-conference win over BYU would be a nice tonic, but disaster would strike in the penultimate WCC match against Loyola Marymount, as star keeper Bianca Henninger was sent off in the second half. While the dismissal and the Broncos’ loss to LMU had little effect on the all but already decided title race, Santa Clara were still in a mad scramble to earn a national seed and avoid likely being sent to Stanford’s regional in the NCAA Tournament. A second straight loss, to Pepperdine, in the regular season finale was not the last impression the Broncos wanted to leave the selection committee, and to the shock of few, SCU ended up in Palo Alto for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
That they got to the second round was somewhat fortuitous after needing a late goal and twelve saves from Henninger to top a game Long Beach State side. The Broncos fought hard against their local rivals, but in the end, were outclassed once again by Stanford in a 2-1 defeat. The defeat and tenor of the season in general was a painful setback for a Broncos program still trying to convince the college soccer world they aren’t a fading force on the national stage.
If the Broncos are to recreate any memories of their glory days this year, it’s likely that Henninger, Santa Clara’s senior All-American goalkeeper, will play a starring role. Quite simply, Henninger is the best goalkeeper in the college ranks at the moment and potentially one of the best keepers of this generation. Despite less than optimal size for a top-flight goalkeeper (5’6″) in this day and age, Henninger more than makes up for it with stunning reflexes, a great command of her area, and fearlessness on coming for high balls and crosses into the area. She is the heart and soul of these Broncos and is likely one of the top three picks to be selected in the 2012 WPS Draft and could be #1 overall.
SCU saw just how much she meant to the team when she was suspended after the Loyola Marymount game last season due to the red card mentioned above when the Broncos lost to Pepperdine. Smith and Broncos supporters will be hoping that the depth of the action seen by youthful backups Alexis Rubattino and Molly Mettler this year is strictly mop-up duty.
Henninger will likely be playing behind what looks to be a mostly intact backline in 2011. The one big loss though is a rather sizable one, as center-back Lindsey Johnson graduates after another stellar season for the Broncos. Constantly afflicted by the injury bug in her five year collegiate career with Santa Clara, Johnson stayed on the pitch last season for all twenty-two matches despite being afflicted by a serious shoulder injury mid-season. In the Spring, Johnson made Sky Blue FC of the WPS as a rookie free agent but was cut down by another knee injury in the preseason.
The leader of the returnees looks to be junior Olivia Klei, a two-year starter for the Broncos and U.S. U20 international. Klei was second in the WCC in league assists with four and recorded a hat-trick of helpers against Gonzaga for the Broncos last year. The Pleasanton native looks to be rounding into one of the conference’s top defenders and will be needed more than ever in a league with plenty of attacking heft. Also back are senior center-back Margueritte Aozasa, who started every match for the Broncos last season and should again be a key part of the Santa Clara rearguard.
The wild card in the mix is senior Jenny LaPonte, who might be one of the team’s best defenders, a player who started all twenty-two matches in 2009 and was on course to be a big contributor last year until tearing her ACL against Oregon in late September. LaPonte’s a player of real quality, and getting her back would be huge for the defense, although it remains to be seen how effective she’d be in her first season coming off the injury. Depth will likely be provided by versatile youngster Alyson Birgel, sophomore Cali Reis, and Canadian youth international Nikki Ambrose.
An intriguing and potentially valuable addition to the Broncos defense is freshman Sofia Huerta. Huerta’s a former U.S. youth international who hails from Idaho and played up front at club level. But the rookie’s been drafted in as a defender ahead of her freshman season and could play a sizable role as a rookie, either as a contender to replace Johnson or as added depth.
Smith will be happy that his defense looks so solid, because going forward, there are real concerns. Santa Clara were hardly the most prolific side last season in front of goal, and the situation doesn’t look set to right itself overnight with the team’s main goalscoring threat having graduated. Anessa Patton kept building on a breakout 2009 season with an even better 2010 campaign with nine goals and two assists to lead the Broncos in scoring by some distance. In addition, Patton’s five goals and eleven points in WCC action were conference bests.
Patton’s graduation is exacerbated by the simultaneous departure of frontline mate Maxine Goynes. A converted defender, Goynes proved a decent second banana in attack the past two seasons, and scored three goals with three assists as a senior last year. Goynes would go back to her defending roots though in the NCAA Tournament, being tasked with man-marking Stanford forward Christen Press in their second round matchup last year.
There is little to no proven scoring production returning for the Broncos this season, with the closest thing possibly junior Lauren Matheson, the only Bronco coming back that scored more than two goals last season. Matheson showed a penchant for big goals as a freshman, though that element of her game disappeared a bit last season. Matheson’s not really a pure forward though, more of a midfield/forward slash player that can fill in at either spot but not really be the go-to player up front. It means that Smith and SCU will likely be heavily reliant upon newcomers to lead the line.
The leading candidate to feature immediately for the Broncos is Cate Parchinski, a 6’1″ giant from Colorado Springs who has featured prominently for the U.S. youth international teams through the U-17 level. Fellow freshman Alesha Blair also has U.S. youth international experience and will be in the starting mix right from the beginning in preseason, while Wyoming native Brooke Rice could also work her way into the mix. There could also be increased roles for some of last year’s key reserves, specifically Sarah Jackson, Bridgett Miller, and Kelly Jenks, who all saw significant time off the bench last year.
The situation in midfield is only a little more settled for Smith. Oft-injured Amanda Poach managed to stay healthy after an injury wracked career that included two straight seasons missed due to injury in 2007 and 2008. The talented center midfielder looked to be on the way to stardom after two fantastic season to open up her career before injuries ravaged her for the two following years. Poach rebounded to be a major contributor in 2009 and 2010, and her presence in the middle will be missed. Kendra Perry, a four-year starter and spark plug for Santa Clara, also departs after two goals and three assists in her senior season.
Smith can rest easy in the fact that he does return the 2010 WCC Freshman of the Year and a budding star in Julie Johnston. Johnston came in regarded as one of the top freshmen of 2010 and more than lived up to the hype as a midfield force for the Broncos, leading the team in assists with five in her first collegiate season. Johnston looks like a key figure in the U.S. youth international team’s future at the U20 and U23 age levels and has been tried at defender both at international level and in Spring ball by the Broncos. Such a move could undoubtedly bolster the defense, but at what price to the midfield? Johnston’s a veritable Swiss army knife for Smith though and could feature anywhere this year, even potentially up front for a possibly goal shy attack.
Hawaiian Meleana Shim is the other midfield starter to return and has shown tantalizing glimpses of talent in her two years in Santa Clara thus far and could take another step forward this season. Also returning to the Broncos in 2011 is sophomore Ellie Rice who enjoyed a fine season as a rookie, starting thirteen matches for SCU and should be a nice building block for the future. Many of the Broncos’ players in other positions can double as midfielders, meaning the likes of Birgel, Aozasa, and Matheson among others could be plugged into the midfield holes Smith needs to fill.
The wild card in the midfield mix is sophomore Allie Vernon, co-Freshman of the Year in the WCC in 2009 and a big time talent for Smith. But Vernon was sidelined with a severe back injury for all of 2010 and missed out on Spring ball as well. Smith expects her back on the field in the Fall though, and her inclusion in the starting lineup would go a long way in solidifying this unit. The midfield also adds newcomers Katie Speidel, a member of the U.S. U18 team and a key member on club powerhouse Real So Cal, along with another highly touted midfielder in Alyssa Kleiner. Parchinski and Huerta may also be able to fill in at midfield in a pinch, meaning at least Smith won’t be short on options to fill his many attacking holes going into 2011.
Those holes are worrisome for Broncos fans going into the new campaign. The offense will almost assuredly be rolling the dice with youngsters and unproven commodities and hoping that things come up in their favor through what is always a bruising schedule both in and out of WCC play. There are promising talents galore in midfield and up front, but Smith will be counting on them to learn on the job very quickly against some stern opposition. The good news is that having Henninger back for her senior season will almost certainly be worth a game or two in the win column as the Santa Clara keeper looks to go out in style. The defense in front of her looks pretty solid as well, especially if LaPonte comes back at full speed and even more so if Johnston is pushed into defense as well.
Additionally, Santa Clara has to somehow squash the injury bug that has hovered over the program in recent years though and cost many a Bronco significant parts, if not all, of seasons. The Broncos will surely be back in the Big Dance again this year and be reasonable WCC title contenders, but the questions in offense mean they probably won’t be title favorites and may find winning more than a few games in the NCAA Tournament exceedingly difficult. Watch out if Henninger catches fire in the postseason though.
After being the big fish in the proverbial small pond for so long, BYU now gets to swim with some sharks their own size with a move to the WCC. It’s a move that works out pretty well for both the Cougars and their new league, with BYU leaving the league they had all but outgrown for the greener pastures of what now looks like one of the most formidable conferences in all the land. For their trouble, the WCC gets one of the top mid-majors in the country, consistent NCAA Tournament qualifiers, and a program that has monopolized much of the silverware in the Mountain West over the past decade. The Cougars were the Mountain West’s first bullies on the block, doing the double four straight seasons from 1999-2002 and reaching the Sweet Sixteen in both 1998 and 2000.
Their progress might have continued further had they not run into some great Santa Clara teams those years. Ironically, BYU’s best season would arguably come in a season without a trophy as they made a fantastic run to the Elite Eight in 2003 while giving College Cup schedulers some serious heartburn. It’d be something of an end of an era, with Head Coach Jennifer Rockwood’s side slipping to the only losing season in program history the year after. It also marked the first time the program missed out on the NCAA Tournament since 1996.
BYU would begin a new streak the next year, but the earlier success in the Big Dance would elude them, and the Cougars would have to wait until 2007 to end their five year trophy drought, lifting the Mountain West Tournament crown. Rockwood would see one of her best ever sides in 2008 finish at #15 in the RPI after lifting both Mountain West trophies but be dumped out cruelly on penalties in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by defending national champs USC. 2009 would bring a second straight league title and another second round appearance in the Big Dance, but BYU were given the semi-impossible task of facing Stanford and were beaten 2-0.
The Cougars entered one final season in the Mountain West looking to defend their league title while also seeking to reclaim their tournament title that they ceded to San Diego State a year before. BYU also knew that with their imminent exit, they’d be a target for the other sides in the league. Of course, maybe that wasn’t a new thing given their status as almost perennial league favorites in the Mountain West. The Cougars would start out 2010 at a canter, winning their first five and going unbeaten in their first eight through the non-conference season. Included in that stretch were wins over Long Beach State and Marquette, with the only loss being a road defeat to Texas.
The Cougars would keep rolling into Mountain West play and won their first three, meaning they were 12-1-1 headed into a likely title decider against New Mexico on the road. Given the recent history between the programs, it was always likely to be a hot blooded affair, and BYU would fight doggedly but fall in extra time. The hangover lingered into their next match, where they dropped points in a draw against UNLV. Wins in their final two league matches sandwiched a tough non-conference defeat to Santa Clara and ensured BYU finished as runners-up in the Mountain West, securing the all-important first round bye.
The Cougars dispatched San Diego State in the semi-finals to get a little revenge for the 2009 final before encountering New Mexico again in the final. This time, things would break BYU’s way, and the Cougars lifted their third Mountain West Tournament title in four years with a 1-0 win. BYU would again fall afoul of the selection committee, drawing a mercurial UCLA team, but drawing them in Los Angeles after the Bruins were chosen to host the pod of seeded team UCF. The match was a cagey affair to say the least and unsurprisingly went to penalties. Shootout luck would not be with the Cougars again, and they’d be dumped out at the first hurdle for the fourth time in six years.
In truth, the conference switch for the Cougars might be coming at a perfect time for BYU. Rockwood’s side has worked themselves into something of a rut over the last few years. The Cougars have certainly been good enough to dominate the Mountain West for much of the past few seasons but have as of yet been unable to reach the heights they scaled in the late nineties and early oughts. Part of the reason for the Cougars’ stagnation might be that they just outgrew the league. While BYU usually plays a challenging non-conference schedule, tapering down to the likes of Wyoming and TCU in league play doesn’t quite prepare one for the rigors of the NCAA Tournament.
With the move to the WCC, containing challenging sides like Portland, Santa Clara, and San Diego, it could be a case of steel sharpening steel for Rockwood’s team. The higher profile conference should also do BYU’s RPI some good, increasing the odds of the Cougars hosting early rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Much of BYU’s fate in 2011 likely rests in the hands (err…feet) of their defense. The Cougars are lucky in that they return one of the country’s top defenders in mountainous junior Lindsi Lisonbee but most decidedly unlucky in that they must also replace a pair of reliable starters. Lisonbee was one of the top recruits the Cougars had ever signed coming into Provo and was immediately an integral member of the BYU defense in her freshman season. She continued with her top notch play last year, earning Second Team All-American honors while shining for the Cougars. Besides being an immovable object in defense with freakish speed for someone her size, Lisonbee also proved to be growing more capable in front of goal, adding five goals to BYU’s cause last year.
She might have to be even more dominating as the Cougars lose starters Mercede Koning and Nicole Gilliam. Both were steady performers, and Koning had a cup of coffee in a couple of WPS camps this past preseason. While converted midfielder Ashley Bazzarone also returns after starting thirteen matches last season, the Cougars look short on depth overall in defense and may struggle to fill the departed backline starters. Getting junior Stacy Bartholomew back from injury would help as well. The Orem, Utah native has been a constant starter when healthy, but has missed the better part of two and a half seasons with ACL injuries. Key reserve Dana Oldroyd might be one of the Cougars asked to step up in defense this year to help fill the void, as might Megan Fereday, another senior plagued by ACL injuries.
The situation in goal looks a lot more settled for BYU. After a little bit of a rough start to her collegiate career, specifically being beaten by a long range bomb from LSU keeper Mo Isom in a highlight that showed up on SportsCenter, Olson has put a stranglehold on the starting job in Provo and has slowly crept up the ranks of the nation’s premier goalkeepers. The migration to the WCC means Olson now finds herself in the company of some elite keepers and will be keen to prove her talents head-to-head in league play. She’ll have to be fully on top of her game in all likelihood, as Rockwood reconfigures the backline given last season’s losses. Backups Katherine Snyder and Erica Owens have only seen a couple of games of mop-up duty and are virtually untested.
Fortunately for the Cougars, the outlook on offense looks much more assured with a plethora of attacking talent returning to Provo. The premier player up front for BYU is junior Carlee Payne, who’ll be looking to return to double figures in goals after a slight step backwards in her sophomore season. Payne exploded onto the scene as a freshman with thirteen goals and ten assists, putting her name in lights as one of the best young forwards in the country. With more attention coming her way and more teammates scoring to help balance out the offense, Payne slid to six goals and seven assists last year. There’s no doubt that the physical forward from Pleasanton, California has the skills to go on a tear at a moment’s notice though, making her a big asset in a league where offense is at a premium with the WCC’s rock solid defenses.
Also returning is senior Jennie Marshall who enjoyed a breakout season last year with seven goals to her name to lead the team. Marshall opened up on a tear last season, netting all of her goals in non-conference play to take her place as one of the country’s top forwards in the first half of the year. But Marshall cooled down later on and didn’t score in MWC play. A little more consistency could go a long way in helping Marshall turn into one of the WCC’s top forwards as a senior. Consistency is what will have to be replaced when BYU tries to make do without 6’0″ Kassidy Shumway this year. The big forward was deadly consistent with 16-18 points in all four of her collegiate seasons and was as steady as they come in the sometimes chaotic world of college soccer.
BYU should have no shortage of intriguing candidates to replace her though. Senior Auna Doria impressed in preseason for the Cougars and could be ready to take the step up to a starting role after six goals in her first three seasons in Provo, while sophomore Lynda Hercules will also be looking for a breakthrough after game winning goals against Marquette and Rice last year.
Freshmen Jaiden Thornock and Kayla Varner both come in highly touted and could make a reasonable impact in their first season in Provo. Arguably the top player from the state of Utah this year, Thornock is a high energy forward who could feature in the starting lineup sooner rather than later, while Varner is a smooth operator who could also feature in midfield for the Cougars this year.
But the real fireworks could come from a pair of transfers for the Cougars. San Diego State transfer Niki Fernandes has likely been chomping at the bit for well over a year after being forced to sit out 2010 due to transfer rules and has certainly taken the scenic route after spending a year at Salt Lake Community College in 2010. With the Aztecs in SDSU’s fabulous 2009 season, Fernandes showed real flashes of potential, and her six goals and seven assists were just a small glimpse of what could be another brilliant find by Rockwood. If she can manage to knock off the rust from her year away, she could form a key part of a potent strike force.
Also aiming to make an impact this year is Colette Jepson, a transfer from UNLV who tabled six goals last year as a sophomore with the Rebels, starting every match for BYU’s former Mountain West rivals. BYU has one of the deepest forward corps in the country and has more than enough weapons to give opposing defenses fits this season.
The midfield for BYU is also more than capable with veteran duo Jessica Ringwood and Lauren Anderson Cosby combining for ten goals and nine assists last season while patrolling the middle of the park for the Cougars. Ringwood could be on the verge of stardom in the WCC after a great sophomore season that saw her earn the Mountain West Tournament MVP honor after scoring the winning goal in the title game. A three year starter for BYU, Cosby has twelve goals and eighteen assists in those three seasons and combines well with Ringwood to form a great midfield scoring punch.
Doing the dirty work in midfield is combative sophomore Rachel Manning, wonderfully nicknamed “The Magnet”, due to her penchant of always being around the ball for BYU. Manning was more than effective enough for Rockwood’s side last year and already looks the part of one of the WCC’s best midfielders, which could also be said of her midfield teammates.
Also featuring as reserves will be junior Cami Jensen and sophomore Kyleigh Royall, who both bring a fair amount of experience to the table. On the whole, the Cougars’ attack has many different weapons to throw at opponents making it very hard to key on any one player to shut the Cougars down. This versatility could make BYU a very hard team indeed to stop going forward.
Stopping BYU is the goal of their newfound rivals in the WCC this season, and it could be a formidable task for the conference’s elite. Though Rockwood’s team takes a few stinging losses, theirs are tame in comparison to the heavier losses suffered by perennial league favorites Portland and Santa Clara. Additionally, BYU are a well-drilled, hard nosed side who don’t back down from anyone and have experience winning trophies by the bushel in the Mountain West. The Cougars’ WCC opponents will soon learn to loathe the trip to Provo and being forced to deal with the altitude and one of the most rabid set of supporters in the country.
BYU has exceptional talent all over the pitch, and if the Cougars can conjure up some consistent performers on the backline to partner with Lisonbee, they could very well have the most complete team in the conference. BYU also gets an advantageous schedule in WCC play with all of the league’s top teams, save Santa Clara, coming to Provo this year. Don’t be shocked if Rockwood’s team is lifting WCC silverware come the end of the regular season. And don’t be shocked if the Cougars are playing deep into November either.
You’ve gotta feel for SAN DIEGO sometimes. The Toreros don’t have it easy in the WCC, often being stuck in the lengthy shadow of both Portland and Santa Clara as the giants of the conference try to dominate the headlines. The Toreros haven’t even gotten top billing in their own city at times, with deeply despised city rivals San Diego State rising swiftly into the national consciousness in 2009. But though they may be afterthoughts in the minds of some, wise heads know that the Toreros have quietly turned into a side capable of making life tough for any team in the country.
Despite lacking a major trophy to their name, San Diego has made themselves into a side who can now reasonably expect to contend for an NCAA Tournament spot every year. Current Wake Forest Head Coach Tony da Luz set things into motion in his five seasons in charge, culminating in the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and a big win over Texas A&M in the first round in 1996. da Luz’s successor, John Cossaboon kept the success going with four NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons before handing off to current Head Coach Ada Greenwood. It’s been Greenwood who’s taken the program forward in recent years, with five NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons entering into 2010. Though they’ve been consistent competitors in the Big Dance, the Toreros have still found it hard to reach the next level.
Entering into to 2010, San Diego had qualified for three straight NCAA Tournaments and won a combined forty-two matches over those three years but had failed to break Portland’s stranglehold on the league, finishing as runners up for three years running. San Diego also entered 2010 having only advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament once in their last three trips and had yet to get past the first weekend of play. Perhaps most annoyingly, the Toreros came into 2010 off the back of an NCAA Tournament defeat to hated rivals San Diego State. The defeat put fresh impetus on Greenwood’s side to come out strong in the new season to show that they were still worthy of being considered the number one team on Silicon Beach.
The Toreros started out the new year in blazing form, beating USC on the road before decisive victories over Arizona and Michigan at home. San Diego would then add another huge feather to its cap with a 1-0 win over Marquette at a neutral site. But just as USD looked like they had the potential to be talked about as a Top 20 or Top 15 team, they hit a very poor patch of form, winning only one of their next seven. While losses to the likes of UCLA and Minnesota were understandable, there were also draws against Dartmouth and Cal State Bakersfield and a loss against Cal State Northridge. It was beginning to look like San Diego would be spending a second straight season flirting with the bubble come Selection Monday.
But USC would come to San Diego’s rescue in an odd sort of way, as the two clubs clashed again in the second half of a rare home-and-home series in a single season, with the Toreros beating the Trojans again. San Diego would wrap up non-conference play with a win over Cal State Fullerton before diving into WCC play. Their first assignment was a tough one, heading to Santa Clara, and the Toreros would drop a close one, 1-0, before beating San Francisco and St. Mary’s on the road. USD would come up frustratingly short again to one of the league big guns, dropping a 1-0 decision to Portland. The shocker would come two days later when the Toreros would fall 1-0 to Gonzaga at home, a result that put them in real bubble danger with two bubble rivals to play to close out the regular season.
Odds were that USD needed wins in both to feel somewhat comfortable going into Selection Monday. Greenwood would get his team to hold their nerve though, as the Toreros beat both Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount by 2-1 counts to finish in a tie for second in the league with Santa Clara. Those two wins earned San Diego a fourth straight berth to the NCAA Tournament and a matchup with ACC Tournament champs Wake Forest. Despite a tough battle, the Toreros would again stumble in the first round, losing to the Demon Deacons, 1-0, their third elimination at the first hurdle in their current NCAA Tournament streak.
Odds are, Greenwood and the Toreros will be extending that streak this season with a talented and experienced squad returning to campus in the Fall. The focal point of San Diego’s effort is likely to be senior forward Stephanie Ochs, a budding star for both club and country. A big, powerful striker, Ochs has shown great growth throughout her collegiate career and tallied eight goals and seven assists in a standout junior season. Now a constant with the U.S. U23 team, Ochs would love to approach double digits in goals in her senior season while also getting more into the goalscoring swing of things in league play, as she was more provider than scorer in WCC action last year with a goal and five assists in seven league matches.
Greenwood will hope that some of his other forwards can come in and take some of the pressure off of his big talisman though. Sophomore Devany Savage started out hot in her rookie season but then tailed off towards the end of the year but still finished with three goals and two assists. Brittany Held showed great potential as a super sub as a freshman last year with four goals, despite just making one start. The offense could also be boosted with the return of Erica Peeples. Peeples scored four goals as a key reserve in 2009 but missed last season through injury.
The midfield for San Diego could be equally as talented despite the loss of veteran leader Jackie Zinke. Zinke was the model of consistency for San Diego in her three seasons with the Toreros after transferring from Arizona. Zinke ended her college career with a flourish, tallying two goals and six assists last year to help the Toreros’ cause. The impact of her loss should be mitigated in part by the presence of two of the league’s top young midfielders in sophomores Taylor Housley and Kelley McCloskey.
Despite coming in relatively unheralded, Housley shone in her first collegiate season with five goals including the winner in the second match against USC and finished the year on top of the team’s scoring chart in the league with three goals. McCloskey was likely chomping at the bit to get on the pitch after a redshirt season in 2009 and made the most of her opportunity, finishing in third on the team with five assists, including a pair against Arizona. The duo figures to only get better as they develop for the Toreros.
Also returning is senior Elissa Magracia, who hasn’t quite hit the heights of her three goal, five assist rookie season but who still started every match last season and brings important leadership to the table. In addition to a handful of experienced reserves, the team adds newcomer Olivia Schultz who also comes in with a long CV at club level and is a U.S. U17 international but may be shifted around to other positions on the pitch in her first year with the Toreros.
Contending in the WCC usually requires a stout defense, and fortunately for San Diego, they look like having one of the best in the league. That rearguard is led by Mexican international center-back Natalie Garcia, first choice for both club and country in recent months. Garcia was an integral part of the Mexican squad that shocked the United States in the Fall of 2010 to earn a bid to the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. Also a star with the Toreros, Garcia displayed an ability to add in the odd goal as well after scoring the first two goals of her career against San Francisco last season, making her the only other USD player besides Housley to record multiple goals in WCC action. Garcia will be the leader of a defense that only loses one starter in Addie Cartan.
Also returning to the backline is versatile Lexi Deol, who stepped up from a key reserve role to starting every match for the club last year, while Caitlin Williams also comes back after eleven starts in 2010. Greenwood brings in a likely reinforcement from the San Diego Surf club team, a recent recruiting favorite for the program, in Meghan O’Rourke. The club should also be boosted by the returns of Dani Russell and Erika Wesley, both veterans with plenty of starting experience who missed all of last season through injury.
The Toreros are also strong in goal, with one of the best senior keepers in the country in Courtney Parsons. Parsons stood on her head at times last year in goal to keep USD in matches, including a dazzling twelve save performance against Marquette in a 1-0 win in non-conference play. The veteran from Santa Rosa, California is back for one final season in San Diego and could attract attention from WPS clubs if she plays up to her talent level once again. Backing Parsons up is sophomore Annie Heaton, who saw a few games of mop-up duty last year and is more of a prospect for the future for the Toreros.
Though USD loses a bona fide midfield difference maker in Zinke, they return three of the WCC’s best players in Ochs, Garcia, and Parsons. That alone should make them a threat to do damage this year, but the entire squad is solid in every area of the pitch and brimming with experience. I’m not sure if they can be considered favorites in the always tenacious WCC, but don’t count them out as dark horse contenders for their first ever league title. And keep an eye on the Toreros come NCAA Tournament time. They might just have what it takes to break through and get past the second round for the first time in program history as well.
The team of “close but no cigar” of the past few seasons, LOYOLA MARYMOUNT, came painfully near an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament again in 2010, only to fall just short one more. It’s been that way for much of the Lions’ history in the WCC. LMU have often been found fighting in mid-table in the struggle to be the best of the rest of the conference below the eternal war between Portland and Santa Clara at the top of the league. The Lions last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2006, a season after the team hit an emotional rock bottom after the tragic preseason death of team leader Jessica Hanson. Playing in nigh-impossible circumstances, the Lions endured six extra time matches in a row to begin 2005 and finished at the bottom of the league come the end of the season.
There was rebirth in 2006 though, and the program rebounded to a fourth place finish in the league and only the second ever bid to the NCAA Tournament in Lions history. It was also a perfect time for longtime Head Coach Gregg Murphy to bow out, as the Lions boss took over as Jerry Smith’s #2 at Santa Clara after the season. In came UCLA assistant Joe Mallia who had made a name for himself at another Loyola, Loyola (MD) of the MAAC before coming to the Pac-10 and joining the staff of Jill Ellis. Mallia had turned the Greyhounds into a lean, mean, trophy winning machine during his seven year tenure, and hopes were high in Los Angeles as he took the reigns of the program.
The first season under his control was a promising one with twelve wins and a third place finish in the league. It wasn’t good enough for a spot in the Big Dance though, and neither was third place the season after in 2008. Both times, the Lions may have been just one or two signature results short of the field, a frustrating feeling for the LMU faithful. There wasn’t any stress on Selection Monday in 2009 though, as the Lions weren’t anywhere close to the bubble. The program had won eleven games and finished a stellar fourth in the league, but the overall profile was much weaker with too many non-conference patsies and too few meaningful wins on LMU’s resume.
Mallia’s side entered 2010 hoping that this would finally be the year they got over the hump and back to the NCAA Tournament, the team having made its last trip also after four seasons away. The Lions got a big win early by beating Denver at home which could have proven very meaningful down the road with the Pioneers also a potential bubble team come Selection Monday. The Lions would then keep rolling through non-conference play, in all, winning seven of eight with the only loss being a close defeat to eventual National Champions Notre Dame. While LMU didn’t have a ton of big wins, they also were without bad losses, something that changed when the program dropped a match to Northern Arizona on the road that put a dent in the Lions’ profile.
Loyola Marymount needed to make up some ground in league play but kept drifting backwards, winning only one of their first five and suffering backbreaking results in losing to Gonzaga and then drawing with San Francisco at home. It put LMU in the situation of needing an unlikely double over Santa Clara and San Diego in their final two matches of the year to make it into the Big Dance. Shockingly, Mallia’s team went on the road and stunned Santa Clara, beating the Broncos 2-0 after SCU had star keeper Bianca Henninger sent off a little after the hour mark.
It meant that LMU was likely in an all-or-nothing situation with victory over San Diego probably getting them into the field of sixty-four with defeat probably ruling them out. A draw would have left them sweating big time come Selection Monday. In a back-and-forth encounter, both sides gave as good as they got, and the match went to a tense extra time. But the Toreros would spoil Senior Day, scoring in the middle of the first half of extra time and breaking LMU hearts in the process. The Lions were likely one of the teams in the discussion but could hardly have been shocked when they were left out of the Big Dance. Again.
There is optimism for the future for Los Angeles’ third team however. The Lions boast some impressive young talent, including one of the regions top young attackers in sophomore Tawni Martino. Martino came into the LMU program as one of the most promising prospects the club had signed in quite some time having been a star with club powerhouse So Cal Blues while also forcing her way into the U.S. youth international ranks at U17 level. Needless to say, expectations were high for Martino coming into the college ranks in 2010 for her freshman campaign. In large part, she met them, easily leading the Lions in scoring with eight goals and three assists while picking up All-WCC First Team honors in her debut season. If Martino can avoid a sophomore slump and push on for possibly double digit goals, then LMU could be in business, at least offensively. Martino also may need to up her game in league matches, as she only tallied twice in seven WCC contests in her freshman season.
The problem facing the Lions is that beyond Martino, there appears to be a serious void in offense. Three of the four other players who tallied multiple goals last season are gone, with the two goals and four assists of Julie Gallaudet among the lost production due to graduation. Besides Martino, there are no returning players with multiple goals scored last season. It’s not like LMU had a blistering offense either, as they only scored six goals total in their seven WCC matches, one of the worst outputs of any team in the league.
Senior Erin Rementer was a big factor in 2009 with five goals but ended up being a major bust last year, not scoring all season. The team does get to add the services of Davidson transfer Deprise Brazel though, the newcomer having scored three goals with the Wildcats last season. Though Martino should still continue to shine, there’s no question she needs help if LMU are to hit peak form this year.
The midfield loses Nickey Ha, the team’s second leading scorer behind Martino with three goals, although none of them came in league action. The team does have some nice midfield talent to fall back upon though with English youth international Rachel Fell winning rave reviews in her first season after transferring from NAIA Thomas University and tenacious ball winner Cori McGovern. Fell should be even better with an additional year to acclimate to DI, while McGovern should provide some upperclassmen leadership that this time needs. Also back is Hawaiian utility player Brittney Sanford, who led the team in assists last season and is a threat in the air while also serving as the team’s corner kick specialist.
LMU also adds in a clutch of promising newcomers to the midfield mix. Amanda Dudley is a Puerto Rico U17 international and comes from the vaunted So Cal Blues club. Dudley has the versatility to play anywhere in the midfield while also being able to play up top if need be. Also coming in is Emily Maletis, an Oregon product who can either serve as a playmaking midfielder or even as a full-back. The team also adds in SMU transfer Jacqueline Linnert and Dutch U19 international Linda Bakker. Adding a player with such a CV is obviously a huge boon, and Bakker could be an immediate factor on the wing for the Lions.
In all likelihood, LMU are going to have to depend on their defense to carry the team if they want to make it back into the postseason this year. There aren’t any stars on the defensive side of the ball, but there are a lot of solid pieces that should all be coming back for action in 2011. In goal, Brittany Jagger stepped up in a big way after a redshirt season and played every minute in goal for the Lions. Jagger was more than solid in net and should be the team’s undisputed starter for the next three seasons while growing into one of the league’s best keepers. The sophomore has a fine mentor as well in assistant coach Joslyn Slovek, arguably the club’s best ever goalkeeper. Jagger played every minute last season, but if a backup is needed, sophomore Paige Pennington and senior UCLA transfer Yiana Dimmitt will vie for the spot.
On the backline, Etajha Gilmer lived up to her accolades coming into college with a fine debut season, including goals against San Diego and Utah. The team does take a big blow with the loss of tireless center-back Jordan Nelson after her sophomore season. The other returning starter for the Lions is senior Marissa Zamora, an attacking full-back who started fifteen matches last season and will be depended on again to help lead the defense.
Mallia also made a shrewd, if somewhat risky, signing over the offseason by bringing in ex-UCLA and Texas Tech defender Whitney Sharpe back to Los Angeles after an impressive but injury hit season with the Red Raiders. Transfer rules mean that Sharpe has to sit out 2011 but will be ready to be a part of what could be a very strong backline come 2012. As is, she’ll be a great asset to have in practice this year. Reserve Jaide Garcia, along with some true and redshirt freshmen, and Sanford all figure to be in the mix for any remaining spots on the backline.
Mallia has done a fine job in assembling a young, talented squad in Los Angeles. But despite the likely continued brilliance of Martino, she can’t do it all up front by herself, and the lack of secondary scoring options could haunt the Lions through the season. A team short on overall firepower doesn’t seemed to have added to their arsenal and if anything have taken a step backward after the loss of some starting attackers to graduation. LMU’s defense may keep them in most games this year, but their lack of an offense past Martino will likely ultimately keep them out of the NCAA Tournament again.
Like much of the rest of the WCC, the Waves of PEPPERDINE have spent much of the last decade trying their very best to avoid being crushed by the ever rising tide brought in by league powerhouses Portland and Santa Clara. It wasn’t always that way for well tenured Head Coach Tim Ward and his Waves. Pepperdine usually played second fiddle to the league’s Big Two at the front half of the last decade also, but back then, the Waves were usually still accomplished enough to earn an invite to the Big Dance.
Pepperdine wasn’t just making up the numbers in the NCAA Tournament though either, logging wins in four of their five appearances and making the Sweet Sixteen on two separate occasions, in 2002 and 2005. 2002 was the high water mark for the program, as the Waves won eighteen matches and took home a share of their only league title up to this point. The second half of the decade hasn’t been quite as smooth for Pepperdine. While the Waves have still taken post in mid-table in the WCC, the program’s non-conference form has suffered, and as a result, Pepperdine saw its streak of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances snapped in 2006 with the club failing to make it back since.
The relative low point was 2007 when the Waves won a program low five matches, although the RPI dipped almost forty spots lower a season later even as the team got back to .500. 2009 was a rebound season as the Waves got back into double digit wins for the first time since 2006, including scoring a big win in Malibu against Big East contenders Marquette. In the end though, Pepperdine combined one or two too few quality wins with one or two too many damaging losses and ended up only barely being in the bubble discussion come Selection Monday.
But the hope going into 2010 was that the previous season was just a jumping off point and that the club with the stadium overlooking the Pacific Ocean would finally be back in the mix amongst the contenders for an at-large spot for the Big Dance. 2010 started out erratically with the Waves trading wins and losses over the opening few weeks of the season. Generally, the Waves beat who they should have but ended up with costly losses to sides that were likely to be right alongside Pepperdine in the at-large pool come the end of the season. A subsequent 1-1 draw with UC Irvine may not have looked superb at the time, but as time passed, the value of that result would skyrocket for the Waves.
Pepperdine would go 3-1-1 over their next five to build some momentum with the only loss coming to Pac-10 side Washington State and the draw coming against Arizona State, giving the Waves their second quality draw of the year. The best was yet to come though. The Waves went into Drake Stadium in Westwood as little more than an afterthought considering the program hadn’t beaten UCLA since 1993 and that the Bruins hadn’t lost at home in seventy-three matches spanning back to September 2005.
But the Waves were unmoved by history and proceeded to stun the blue half of Los Angeles with a 1-0 victory to shatter the Bruins’ unfathomable home unbeaten run. It was a win that set up the Waves perfectly for a run towards an at-large bid as WCC play loomed. But much of that momentum was halted a few days later in the team’s last non-conference contest when the Waves were held to a draw by lowly Cal State Bakersfield. The shock draw seemed to drop Ward’s side into a funk as they entered league matches though the league did the Waves no favors with three straight on the road to open the WCC season. The team went 0-2-1 in those matches, part of a damaging stretch of five without a win.
A loss to Portland on the road was forgivable, but a loss to Gonzaga and draws to Loyola Marymount and San Francisco all but put the Waves’ postseason hopes on ice. Pepperdine was able to rebound and get their first league win back at home by beating St. Mary’s but well and truly saw their faint at-large hopes disappear with a 2-1 loss to San Diego. It made the season ending win over Santa Clara all the more bittersweet for Pepperdine, the team knowing that that victory over the Broncos could have sealed their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005 if only they had not thrown it away in the weeks immediately before.
Part of the inconsistency that likely had Ward tearing his hair out at times was due to a young squad and the perils that often go with that youth. Last season’s trials and tribulations could pay dividends this season though as the Waves return the vast majority of their playing squad from last season. The only loss of a player who saw major minutes last season through graduation is defender Haleigh Guertin who was troubled by injuries in her senior season and missed all of the Waves’ league season.
Despite the loss, Pepperdine’s defense should be its strength this season as last year’s unit was one of the better units in the country, only conceding sixteen goals all year and was naturally one of the top defenses in the WCC, a league full of stout rearguards. The shining star in defense for Pepperdine is also one of the youngest players on the squad in sophomore Michelle Pao. Pao wasn’t among the most decorated of the Waves’ recruits last year but ended up being the best of the bunch, turning into of the WCC’s best defenders in her first year of collegiate action. Pao’s also a versatile player, able to move up to forward for the Waves in a pinch.
Also impressive for Pepperdine last season on the backline was the center-back pairing of Kristin DeGrandmont and Kelsea Smith, the young duo playing beyond their years in defense for the Waves. Both DeGrandmont and Smith started every match for the Waves last year and should benefit from their continuing partnership in defense. The best news for Pepperdine is that this group has at least two more seasons together, and Pao and DeGrandmont have another three seasons together being freshmen last year. Also returning is senior defender Myriah Stockman, who started eighteen matches last year and can also play forward.
As if that wasn’t encouraging enough, the Waves also add in another pair of strong defensive recruits in the form of So Cal Blues’ Courtney Assumma and Crossfire Premier’s Lisa Santroch, who has put together some strong efforts in ECNL play. Pao’s emergence should show that Ward has the capability to find diamonds in the rough as well, so the next defensive star in Malibu could be a name seldom heard before this season.
Goalkeeper should be a position of strength for Pepperdine as well this year with junior Roxanne Barker quietly establishing herself as one of the country’s top under the radar keepers. Barker was crucial for the Waves in their draw with UC Irvine last year with ten saves and is a solid last line of defense for Ward’s side again this year. Redshirt freshman Carolyn Dapper looks set to take over as the team’s backup this season. It’s in attack in which Pepperdine could use a little bit of improvement. The scoring duo of Laura Cole and Anisa Guajardo ripped up non-conference opposition for a combined thirteen goals and five assists but were held in check for the most part in WCC action, combining for only two goals and two assists.
Cole’s storming start saw her score four match winning goals in non-conference play but end the season as only an occasional starter in league play. She, and her coach, will obviously want a little more consistency going into her senior season. Ward will also be hoping big things are in order for junior Callie Payetta, who came out of nowhere to score two goals against Santa Clara in the Waves’ 3-2 win against the Broncos. Payetta was mostly a super sub though and will have to up her game if she wants to crack the starting lineup. There’s clearly a great deal of talent up front for the Waves, it’s just a matter of getting some consistent production out of the forwards.
Midfield looks to be in decent shape as well if last year is any indication. The team must overcome a few unexpected losses though, as Icelandic star Gunny Jonsdottir who dished out two assists in Pepperdine’s win over Arizona last season and is a future full Icelandic international does not return, as does Rebecca Klamser. The team does get a fair amount of experience back though, including defensive midfielder Katie Gallanes, who started nineteen matches for the Waves as a freshman. Former Boston College player Michelle Spacciapolli looks like the senior leader of the team after scoring seven goals in two seasons in Malibu. She could’ve added to her three goals last year but missed six games through injury.
Also returning are juniors Ana Pontes and Michelle Manning, the later of whom scored the goal that downed UCLA last year. They’ll be joined this year in midfield by one of Ward’s prized recruits in Hawaiian Ally Holtz, who should be able to provide a jolt to the offense either in midfield or up front. On the whole, the offense has some potential but is aching for a little more production in a league where scoring can sometimes be hard to come by.
2010 was a bit of a roller coaster ride with big wins, puzzling losses and draws, and the beginnings of what looks like a team with NCAA Tournament potential. Ward looks to have his best side in quite some time in Malibu, and this year, inexperience shouldn’t be as much of an issue with what looks like a gelled, talented team. They may not have enough to challenge the big guns in the league this year, but the Waves should push their way into mid-table again in 2011. The difference this year is that they may be in a much better position to end their long hiatus from the Big Dance come the end of the season.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to look over to Moraga and think that current Stanford Head Coach Paul Ratcliffe didn’t leave ST. MARY‘S a poisoned chalice as the Gaels have searched in vain for a worthy replacement for the man who last guided them to an NCAA Tournament. Or relevance in the WCC for that matter. St. Mary’s lived through three very average years with Paul Sapsford followed by three quite poor years of Kelly Lindsey at the helm before current Head Coach Kai Edwards took charge before the 2009 campaign.
Since an admirable third place in the WCC in 2003, it’s been a consistent life at the bottom of the league for the Gaels. In fact, entering last season, St. Mary’s had only finished above seventh in the league once in the past six seasons, a fifth place in 2005. Edwards’ first season in charge had been a bit of a mixed bag in Moraga. On one hand, they did net wins over teams like Texas and San Diego. On the other, they also were on the wrong end of a 8-1 bloodbath against Colorado and finished rooted to the bottom of the league once again.
With little expected of the Gaels in 2010, Edwards’ team got off to a flyer to begin the year, winning their first six matches. Cynics would point towards victories over the likes of North Florida and Weber State, but nobody could argue with the last victory in that streak, a 1-0 win over Big West Tournament champs Long Beach State. And then the wheels came off in a big way for the Gaels. A loss to Cal State Bakersfield at home was the catalyst for a nightmarish run of six matches without a win, although the Gaels did fight hard for draws against SMU (on the road) and against Cal. The winless streak was snapped in their WCC opener with a win against San Francisco, but four straight defeats against the league’s unceasing wave of powerful teams put paid to any slim postseason hopes the Gaels may have been harboring.
St. Mary’s didn’t pack it in at the end of the season though. Far from it actually. The Gaels went on the road and won a 4-3 thriller against Gonzaga before coming back to Moraga and pulling off one of the great results in recent program history, holding WCC champs Portland to a 1-1 draw. The Gaels may have finished seventh in the league, but those last results provided something for Edwards and his staff to build on going into 2011.
That building process will likely be around one of the league’s best young players in sophomore Jordan Marada. The midfielder out of Mission Viejo, California was a big hit for the Gaels in her first season in Moraga, to the tune of seven goals and five assists. Marada’s nine points in league were good enough for a tie for second in the league, and the youngster only has room to improve with three seasons ahead of her in her collegiate career. Marada was the first St. Mary’s freshman named to the All-WCC First Team since 1992 and has a chance of finishing as one of the school’s best all-time players if she continues to grow.
The midfield looks like the Gaels’ strong point in 2011 with Marada playing alongside solid junior Daelyn Paul and newcomer Vicki Shimkus. Paul has come on strong since missing 2008 with an ACL injury, scoring five goals and adding six assists in 2009 before adding three goals and three assists last year, including the match winner against Long Beach State. Shimkus comes from the Utah Avalanche club team and has every bit of a chance to make the same impact on St. Mary’s as Marada did in 2010, the freshman starring in ECNL play for her club side. A center midfielder with the potential to be both a top notch distributor and goal scorer, Shimkus could be the cornerstone for the future for this Gaels team. Adding depth are Alyssa Stearns, Emma Kroloff, and Tessa Nicolaides, who all saw extended time as reserves last year.
Up front, Brianna Campos was the team’s second leading goalscorer with four and tied Marada for the team lead in league goals with three despite just starting five matches as a true freshman. She’ll probably be the focus in spearheading the attack again as fellow forwards Alex Ciliento and Alyssa Doniak depart. Christina Tognetti could also make an impact if she rebounds from a poor season after knocking in eight goals as a freshman in 2009. Another in the mix is sophomore Sara Ives, who only scored one goal last year but made it count, tabling the winner against Hawaii.
The Gaels’ defense was thankfully less porous than 2009′s version but still ranked in the lower half of the league come the end of the season. Perhaps it’s not such a good thing then that the team’s best defender, Caroline Shevlin, is one of four starters from last year’s squad that graduates. There’s still a lot of experience returning to this year’s defense though. Center-back Ashley Soro was the only Gael to start every match last season and looks like the team’s defensive leader for the new campaign. Also back are Mackenzie Ring, Caroline Kreuz, and Alli Beard, all of whom saw a lot of starting time last year, and whom Edwards will be hoping for improvement from this year. Depth should come from Melinda Madden and Brooke Mayo, who also started seventeen matches combined and should be fine in a pinch on the backline if needed.
Shevlin’s absence will certainly leave a hole that needs to be filled, but there are other worries in defense, most notably the team’s goalkeeping situation. Sarah Peters proved an effective stopgap option after transferring in from UC Davis after three strong years with the Aggies. Peters was as good as advertised for the Gaels, starting every match for Edwards’ squad, which was a blessing at the time but might be a curse this season with the hole in goal she leaves in her wake. Sophomore Kate Brenot is undersized at 5’5″ and redshirted last season after making just one start in 2009: the infamous 8-1 hammering at Colorado. Nicole Schultz and Alex Boehm both redshirted last season to recover from ACL injuries, while the team also drafts in true freshman Stephanie Busch.
The uncertainty in goal could hang over St. Mary’s heads like the Sword of Damocles as the beginning of the season approaches, especially without a star defender or two patrolling the backline. Those worries will likely keep St. Mary’s from rising above mid-table in 2011, although Marada’s brilliance could see the Gaels climb a place or two above their customary finish near the bottom of the league.
Second chances don’t come often at the head coaching spot at the DI level in college soccer, so current GONZAGA Head Coach Amy Edwards is doing her very best to prove she’s the right woman for the job some ten years after her last stint in the lead chair with Tulsa, just a few years removed from graduating from the Golden Hurricane. In truth, Edwards didn’t do too badly for herself in her four seasons at the helm in Tulsa, winning at least eleven matches in each of her seasons at the helm. After two successful stints as an assistant at Notre Dame and Missouri, Edwards was given the head job in Spokane, hoping to spur the Zags onto the next level after the program had been stranded on a yearly basis in mid-table.
Once one of the worst programs in America, Gonzaga had made progress under Shannon Stiles, slowly climbing up the WCC ladder and even reaching the NCAA Tournament for their first, and to this date, only time in 2005 after a third place league finish. That feat wouldn’t be repeated though and the Zags slowly sank back towards the lower half of the league. Edwards’ first season in charge saw a marked improvement in the team’s RPI, but not necessarily in results on the pitch, most notably seen in a 7-0 spanking at the hands of Portland in their WCC opener and a 6-1 loss to Santa Clara in their season finale.
Much to Edwards’ chagrin, some of those defensive follies were still around in her second season in charge in Spokane. A 2-1 win over Utah was a nice way to kick off the season, but a 1-1 draw against Nevada the following weekend was disappointing. Then came a 6-2 loss to UC Irvine and a 2-0 loss to state rivals Seattle. A shock 2-0 win over Colorado lifted spirits but only briefly as Gonzaga hit a tailspin, losing four of their next five, albeit against formidable foes. Still, Edwards’ squad should have been beating teams like Idaho and a down Washington State side if they wanted to prove their chops ahead of WCC play. There was a painful sense of deja vu in the season opener as the Zags got flattened by Portland, 4-0.
The similarities stopped there as Gonzaga picked up two huge wins against Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount to breathe some life into their very faint NCAA at-large bid hopes. A 5-0 defeat at Santa Clara illuminated their defensive woes though which made their win at San Diego, 1-0, two days later, all the more impressive. Gonzaga likely had little chance of cracking the at-large field at that point, but Edwards’ side erased all doubt by somehow dropping winnable matches to St. Mary’s and San Francisco to end the season, shipping four and three goals respectively in each of those matches.
Those final two defeats may not have cost the Zags an NCAA Tournament slot, but they were costly nonetheless. Any combo of four or more points in those final two matches would have seen Gonzaga as runners-up to Portland, which would have been a new all-time league high for the program.
There was no hiding Gonzaga’s weakness last season: they could hardly stop anyone most of the time. The Zags gave up two or more goals in eleven of their twenty matches and three or more in six matches. Over the span of the team’s final four matches in WCC play, Gonzaga gave up twelve goals total. Frustratingly, the team did show an ability to shutout decent teams as could be seen by their clean sheets against Colorado, Pepperdine, and San Diego.
The defense should have been returning mostly intact, but there are some rather notable early departures. The team faces the loss of one of its best defenders in Canadian Catherine Cullen, and also loses would-be-captain Elle Sweeney. As you might expect, the pair of losses stands to seriously destabilize this Gonzaga defense. The lone returning starter on defense appears to be junior Morgan Manchester, who started every match last season and had two match winning assists as well. Beside her figure to be a collection of role players, including Casey Gould, Caitlyn Salo, Anna Lund, and Danielle Simien, who all saw a varying degree of time last season off the bench, or perhaps a freshman or two. It’s not a promising outlook for a team that wasn’t that great defensively anyway last year in the first place.
As if that wasn’t worrying enough, the team also looks to have a problem or two in goal. Would be incumbent goalkeeper Lauren Ames had been the Zags’ keeper for three seasons but leaves with a year of eligibility remaining. That’s especially problematic since the transfer of Louisiana-Lafayette keeper Lauren Berlingo fell through, and last year’s backup, Kailey Kiefus, is also gone. It means that the Bulldogs have just one keeper on the roster, another transfer, Canadian Susan Brown from Arkansas State. Brown has thirty-two games of experience from her time at ASU, but no competition and no backup on the roster is a bit worrying to say the least.
Gonzaga’s offense was about middle of the line last season in comparison with their WCC rivals but suffered from not having one consistent goalscorer week in, week out to rely on. Ashley Railey was the closest thing to such an option with five goals and was only one of two Zags to score multiple goals in league play, but she’s another that has left early. The other was Emily Hutchins, who flitted in and out of the starting lineup and finished with three goals total. Hutchins scored three goals in WCC play a year before also, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think she could have a breakthrough season this year.
Canadian senior Sarah Rhodes was the team’s leading scorer with five goals and six assists, but those goals dried up in conference play and Rhodes only managed a single WCC goal but also had four league assists. Rhodes should again be a threat offensively though, and her leadership will be needed on a young squad. Watch out for Cassie Geerdts, a sophomore who tied for the team’s all-time single season assist record with seven as a freshman and who’ll be looked upon to take a big step forward if Gonzaga are to meet their season goals. The team should also be relieved to get Emma Dolcetti back after the junior was lost for the season on opening day last season. Newcomer Mikayla Anderson looks the best of the new recruits on paper and could also come in and be an immediate factor on offense for Edwards either as a forward or as an attacking midfielder.
Edwards will be hoping one of those recruits can come in and pick up the slack for departed midfielder Sheridan Jones, arguably the team’s best player and one of Gonzaga’s captains last season. Starters Emily Eckmann and Ali Ohashi both return after featuring heavily as freshmen, though neither was very prolific offensively. Hutchins and Lund could also fill in in the midfield, and given some of the team’s depth problems, they might have to.
Gonzaga returns a small smattering of reasonably talented players to Spokane, but there looks to be very little in the way of star power or depth emanating from the Zags which could be problematic in the shark tank that is the WCC, especially with BYU joining the fray in 2011. There are too many worries defensively to think that anything more than a battle to avoid the basement is in the cards this year.
2010 started out so well for SAN FRANCISCO. The Dons beat a fairly talented San Jose State team and would then go on to eviscerate regional power UC Santa Barbara a week later by a stunning 4-1 margin. Add in a win over North Florida and USF was 3-0 and looking at maybe, just maybe, delivering the program’s first winning season since 2004.
And then things went horribly wrong for the Dons. The team would go on to lose twelve of their next thirteen including a ten match losing streak that included going scoreless in six straight matches. League play wasn’t much better, although USF did manage to draw with Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, ruining each’s at-large bid hopes, before scoring a cathartic win over Gonzaga in the season finale. But it all added up to another 5-13-2 season for San Francisco.
Fifth year coach Mark Carr could probably do without reminding that his program is the only current member of the WCC to have not enjoyed a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Or that San Francisco’s men’s program have raked in silverware in the past including multiple national titles. The heat is beginning to rise on Carr at USF as he enters his fifth year at the helm of the Dons. Carr has already lost more games in four years than his predecessor, Pamela Kalinoski, did in six coaching the Dons. With no WCC Tournament to aim for, the goal becomes harder for Carr and the Dons as they can’t really catch lightning in a bottle to steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Looking strictly in RPI terms, you could say that USF took a step backwards last year finishing at #209 after rising all the way to #152 in 2009.
While it wasn’t quite as lock-tight as Carr probably would’ve liked, the defense was USF’s strong suit (comparatively speaking) last year, especially in league play. Ex-UConn player Ashley O’Brien overcame chronic knee problems early in her career with the Huskies to be a solid contributor for UConn before transferring out West and excelling for the Dons. But she’s gone now and so is defensive partner Afiya Roberts, leaving USF a sizable hole to fill in defense. Junior Ashlyn Mazur would have likely been the de facto leader of the defense after playing a major role on the backline last year but was instead one of many players to leave the program prematurely after 2010.
The losses leave a massive hole in defense for the Dons, with junior Barret Bestard the only returnee with a bulk of experience, and even so, she only started seven matches last year. It means that freshmen are likely to play an immediate part in USF’s rearguard, and chief among them is Canadian youth international Abigail Phillips. The Vancouver native is another graduate of the Whitecaps’ prolific academy and will no doubt be among the WCC’s best incoming defenders and is already a member of Canada’s U20 player pool.
Junior Noelle Salter seemed likely to get first crack in goal this year after battling with sophomore Heather Haney all year for the spot between the pipes but was yet another player to bid adieu to USF early. It means that the favorite for the job might be junior transfer Gabby Guaiumi, who saw very little time at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in two seasons. She’ll be fighting off Haney and freshmen keepers Emily Murzinski and Celia Pellegrini this season, and the race for the starting spot might not be as settled as some would think.
The defense will likely have to be spot on this year, because the offense was far more miss than hit in 2010. Midfielder Lauren Maris was leading scorer in league play with a paltry two goals, but in any event is gone after graduation. It means more will likely be expected from USF’s Norwegian midfielder Christina Moberg. Moberg, a midfield threat, had three goals and three assists out of conference but was limited to just a single assist in conference play. With a little more time to acclimate to her surroundings, Moberg could be even more influential as a sophomore.
She might have to be considering the other questions surrounding the attack. Fellow sophomore Tyler Campagna started nineteen matches last season but added little to the offense, while junior Joan Piasta has started the past two seasons but has also been an afterthought offensively. Keonna Robinson is the likeliest reserve to make an impact after having been one of the team’s best reserves since 2007.
Up front, the team was hoping for a big sophomore year from another Norwegian sophomore, Hanna Haanes, an out-and-out striker, who looked like a real find with four goals in non-conference play in her freshman year. But she’s one of the team’s costliest early defections, and there’s very little offense left in her wake.
It’s anybody’s guess as to where the goals are going to come from if they don’t come from Moberg. Molly Hall started seventeen matches last year but was held pointless in WCC action after two goals and three assists to begin the year. Junior Megan Connor and sophomore Kelsey Moe were also light scoring options and need to make a breakthrough this year. Carr has brought in some forward recruits, but all look like unknown commodities at this level.
USF could be OK in defense if Phillips lives up to her press clippings, but there are still a ton of holes in the backline and questions in goal. Add that to a void of cutting edge in front of goal, and it likely equates to another losing season in The Golden Gate City.
Projected Order of Finish
* = Projected NCAA Tournament Automatic Bid Winner
3. Santa Clara
4. San Diego
6. Loyola Marymount
7. St. Mary’s (CA)
9. San Francisco
Non-Conference Strength of Schedule (From Most to Least Difficult)
2. San Diego
3. Santa Clara
5. Loyola Marymount
7. St. Mary’s (CA)
8. San Francisco