AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Arizona State – Bump In The Road or Ominous Signs in Tempe?

Taylor McCarter

ASU Midfielder Taylor McCarter & Teammates Will Look to Rise Up & Return to the Postseason in 2012

Preview Index

General

DI Independents

Big East – Pittsburgh | Seton Hall | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Nebraska | Purdue
Pac-12 – Colorado | Oregon | Utah
SEC – Mississippi State
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco

In all honesty, if you haven’t been keeping up with what has transpired in the desert with Arizona State over the past few (or several) years, you haven’t missed much. Before last season’s precipitous dip, the Sun Devils had been consistently average over much of the past decade, jarringly so, to the point that they won between eight and ten matches for seven straight seasons. Unsurprisingly, that’s had ASU stuck in mid-table in the Pac-10 with very little attention coming their way.

The Sun Devils didn’t really start to attract any sort of attention whatsoever until the turn of the millennium when they made their first NCAA Tournament in 2000 in Terri Patraw’s final season in charge. ASU poached Clemson coach Ray Leone away from the ACC to take over and were rewarded with a runner-up finish in the league and two trips to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first three seasons in charge. But after that 2003 runner-up finish in the league, ASU has been stuck in a mediocre mire, good enough to avoid being dragged down into the bottom portion of the league but not good enough to ever really challenge the top teams.

Leone jetted off to Boston to take over the Harvard program after 2006, leaving the Sun Devils to make a shock appointment to the vacant position. Ex-Cal head coach Kevin Boyd had only resigned from the Bears just a few weeks prior after some degree of success in Berkeley. With the Sun Devils having not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2003 when Boyd took over, it was safe to say that the new coach was expected to rectify that after his exploits in taking the Bears to multiple NCAA Tournaments in his tenure at Cal.

Early results weren’t necessarily promising with the Sun Devils still about where they usually were come the end of the season, although they were most definitely one of the last teams out come Selection Monday in 2007. ASU was, however, not so fortunate in 2008 when they finished at .500 and some ways off the bubble. Pressure was beginning to mount on Boyd to buck the trend of Sun Devil mediocrity entering 2009, and the ASU head coach obliged in a way, starting with a strong non-conference season including wins over Tennessee, San Diego State, and Pepperdine, along with a draw against Virginia. While the Sun Devils looked to be in a favorable position to make their first NCAA Tournament in a long while, they promptly hit the skids in league play, going an unflattering 0-6-1 in their first seven Pac-10 matches. The Pac-10’s great RPI profile was ensuring that the Sun Devils weren’t slipping that much though, and wins in the final weekend over the Oregon schools made ASU’s selection to the Big Dance a no-brainer, even if some howled in anger at a 2-6-1 team in-conference making the postseason. Admittedly, Arizona State didn’t do much to silence the critics, falling on penalties in the first round against Wisconsin.

2010 was an adventure to say the least, with great results like a 5-0 win over Nebraska, a 1-1 draw with South Carolina, and a 1-0 win over Ohio State being combined with head scratchers, none more so than a 5-0 loss to UCF. ASU’s form in the league was good enough to ensure the club stayed off the bubble going into Selection Monday but was little better than their form in recent seasons, the Sun Devils finishing an unflattering seventh in the league when all was said and done. The Sun Devils wouldn’t get any breaks in the NCAA Tournament either, drawing a red hot UC Irvine team in the first round and being bounced from the field after a 2-1 defeat to the surging Anteaters.

Whispers of a rebuilding season were likely rife in the air at the start of 2011 as Boyd’s side coped with heavy losses to graduation in their attack. Despite some questions over their potency going forward, ASU still won 7-0 in their opener against Northern Arizona before topping South Carolina, 1-0. The defense, thought to be a strength before the season, would crumble on the team’s first road trip though. Conceding three goals to Virginia was understandable. Conceding three to Old Dominion two days later was baffling. After a 3-0 win over Oklahoma, the club would slump, winning just one of five, including another bizarre defeat, this time getting blown out by five goals by Texas Tech.

Winning just one of their first four in the league was a telling sign as to the direction of ASU’s season, and after a 4-0 win over Oregon, the club promptly lost four more in a row, all but confirming that there’d be no return to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Perhaps with a little of the pressure off, the Sun Devils got it together in the end to win their final two matches of the season, finishing in a tie for seventh in the league. Despite saving face in the league to a certain extent, ASU still suffered their worst RPI finish in ages, along with the program’s worst winning percentage since 1998. Many had expected some growing pains given the losses in personnel, but few likely envisioned such a sharp decline.

Going into last season, the biggest worries were probably up front, considering that the club lost the steady scoring of Karin Volpe and Alexandra Elston from the equation. The club seemed to have a solution in the form of Alexandra Doller, a highly touted freshman who scored five goals in her first seven games. Doller would go down injured though and promptly left the club over the offseason, casting a pall over the Sun Devils. Actually, early departures were something of a trend this season for ASU, as no fewer than six players leave early, including both of last year’s starting goalkeepers and the club’s top two recruits of a season ago.

Making matters worse is the graduation of leading scorer Sierra Cook, who knocked home eight goals a year ago. It can’t be helping the mood in Tempe any, not that it could get much worse after a season plagued by injuries at every stretch, with the club missing roughly half their starting lineup at one point. The Sun Devils managed to finish middle of the road in both goals scored and conceded in the league, good enough to drive them into mid-table, but they were still miles off the NCAA Tournament.

If there’s any good news to be found, it’s that the club does brogan a healthy recruiting class, while also returning all-action senior Taylor McCarter, the club’s best player, to their ranks for 2012. Whether it’s enough to get the club back into the postseason remains to be seen.

Goalkeeper

While the Sun Devils have problems in many areas, none are bigger than the boondoggle in goal, where the club loses both of last year’s keepers prematurely, likely creating some real anxiety in goal for Boyd and co. Alyssa Gilmore started seventeen games a season ago, two years after taking over the starting role in the middle of 2009. Gilmore barely looked back from there, acting as the club’s full-time starter for two more seasons but left the team in the offseason with a year of eligibility remaining. Also gone is Vittoria Arnold, who started two of the club’s first three games last year before suffering a concussion against Virginia that ended her season. Considering Arnold was once one of the nation’s top goalkeeping prospects, her transfer out of the program is a massive blow.

The returning option is Chandler Morris, a redshirt freshman who was relatively unheralded coming into the program last year and was buried on the depth chart behind Gilmore and Arnold. She’ll battle with Western Illinois transfer Liz Schulze for the starting role. Schulze made just one start for the Leathernecks last season and has only ninety minutes of DI experience. Naturally, this is a huge area of concern for the Sun Devils and could be a serious Achilles’ heel.

Defenders

With the upheaval in goal, ASU’s likely going to have to be stout in the backline if they want to contend for the postseason this year. This may not be easy though with the loss of three players who started ten games or more last year. After playing sporadically for two seasons before, Kate Sangster ended up starting twelve games as a senior, holding down a starting role for the second half of the season. Fellow senior Kari Shane was a starter for the last three seasons of her collegiate career and tied for the lead on the team in assists in 2010 with four. She wasn’t quite as prolific last season but still managed a couple of helpers in her thirteen starts for the club.

A big early loss is Jessica DeLeon, a Trinidad and Tobago youth international who looked like one of the gems of last year’s recruiting class and who started ten games as a rookie but who departs after just one year in Tempe. Also gone are injury plagued reserve Courtney Giovanni and another of last season’s freshman class, Madison Cody.

Fortunately for ASU, there’s a fair amount of experience returning to the fold, along with some very tantalizing youngsters. Full-back Jasmine Roth, a junior, was one of the rare Sun Devils able to avoid the injury bug last season, starting eighteen games for the second straight season. Roth is usually good enough for a goal or two a season as well, which should be a needed boost to the offense. Senior Sierra Joseph struggled with injury in 2010 but rebounded to start thirteen games last year and provides much needed veteran leadership to this group.

Junior Kaitlyn Pavlovich is arguably one of the top prospects on the club and started every match as a rookie but was felled early last season with a back injury. If she’s healthy and on form, she has the chance to be a real difference maker. Senior Kiara Williams, has been one of the club’s top reserves for three years now and could conceivably play a role in either defense or further up the pitch in attack.

None of the above should feel totally secure about their starting spot though, because the club stocks up on talented freshman defenders this year. Lucero Lara is a veteran of the Mexican youth international setup and can play at left-back or in a more advanced role on the wing. One concern though is that Lara could be one of many collegians missing for the U20 World Cup in the opening month of the season.

Equally exciting is the addition of two German youth internationals to the side. Nina Brueggemann was a center-back for HSV in her home country, also having been capped at U19 level and brings size and aerial ability to the fold. Christina Schedel has been a part of Bayern Munich’s setup, with caps at the U17 level and has been praised for her physical defending while also being smooth on the ball. If the newcomers pan out immediately and the returnees stay healthy, this could be a group with real potential in the Pac-12 this season and beyond, despite the losses.

Midfielders

Thankfully for ASU, the losses are a little less steep in midfield. The sole expected loss is Nicole Acosta. Acosta had been a JUCO All-American before transferring to ASU and ended up starting fourteen games for the club last year, mostly avoiding the dreaded injury bug. Though she was surprisingly not involved in front of goal last season, McCarter remains the heart and soul of the club in the middle of the park and is set to finish out her career as a four-year starter here. Likely joining her will be junior Holland Crook, who was pushed up into attack at times last year because of injuries but should find a more comfortable home back in midfield this year. A two-year starter thus far, Crook has combined for five assists so far and could be a valuable supply line to the forwards this year. Others battling for major minutes include senior Aissa Sanchez and juniors Blair Alderson and Rachael Ritter, all of whom combined for eleven starts last year.

The club also makes a big rookie addition in the form of Cali Farquharson, a deadly attacking midfielder who can also double as a forward and who has arguably been one of the ECNL’s most impressive players over the past few years with the SC del Sol club. If she lives up to advance billing, she could provide some much needed craft alongside the graft of the likes of McCarter.

Forwards

A big worry could be who’s going to provide the offensive punch for the club given the losses of Doller and Cook. Doller looked on her way to stardom after five goals in seven games but then was felled by injury and left the program in the offseason. Doller was another of ASU’s top recruits in 2011, so her loss definitely stings, especially given the subsequent loss of Cook. After two seasons of flashing some decent scoring potential, Cook made the most of her chance as the club’s lead gun, scoring eight goals to lead the club. Included in that total was five goals in the league, including braces against Oregon and hated rivals Arizona in the season finale win.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare though, as evidenced by the return of junior Devin Marshall. Recently called into U.S. U23 camp, Marshall’s injury problems that kept her out of a big chunk of the season proved to be a telling blow in ASU’s struggles, and the promising forward scored three goals upon her return for the last few weeks of the season. If healthy, Marshall has the potential to approach double digit goals and be a real factor up front for the club. Fifth-year senior Courtney Tinnin looked a budding star with four goals and six assists in 2009 but missed nearly a year and a half through injuries and just returned for league play last year, knocking in three assists for her troubles. A return to her old form would be a big plus for ASU’s attack.

Junior Miah Mollay ascended the depth chart through injuries last season and started seven games and could again be heavily involved, though she has just three goals in two seasons. Senior Alyssa Freeman, who had three assists last year, junior Nicki Stone, who scored against Colorado, South Carolina, and Stanford last season, and sophomore Sarah Van Horn all also figure to battle for major minutes. Don’t be shocked if Farquharson sees time up top as well. There’s a fair amount of depth in this unit, but without Marshall firing true, this offense could struggle.

Outlook

If there was an award being given out for bad offseason mojo, it might be headed in Arizona State’s direction. Losing last year’s top two recruits and both of the starting goalkeepers from a year ago doesn’t exactly strike me as a promising sign. The goalkeeping situation looks like it could be an absolute disaster, with practically no experience going into the new season in a ruthless league. The saving grace may be what could potentially be a strong backline protecting the keeper, especially if the international recruits pan out. The midfield doesn’t look especially dynamic but does retain an element of continuity that shouldn’t be underestimated given the roster churn in other positions. Up front, Marshall has the potential to deliver the mail for ASU if healthy this year, though her supporting cast may struggle to score at this level.

The Sun Devils are due for some good luck with injuries, and that alone may see them bounce back up in the RPI from last year’s dismal finish. But rising above mid-table and getting back into contention for the NCAA Tournament could be beyond this year’s squad.

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