Women's Soccer Makes Push For Fourth Straight NCAA Tournament Appearance

Aug. 27, 2001

For the past three seasons, the USC women's soccer team has reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That will not be good enough for the 2001 Women of Troy. Despite losing six seniors, including four-time All-American Isabelle Harvey, the Trojans will look to a solid returning nucleus and an outstanding freshman class to get to the next level.

Sixth-year head coach Jim Millinder continues to hone his high-pressure, high-octane offensive scheme and has recruited talent, with an emphasis on speed and physical play, to take advantage of that playing style.

Consistency has been the strength for the program as the Women of Troy won at least 14 games in each of their last five seasons. USC (14-6-2 overall in 2000, 5-4-1 in the Pac-10 for fifth place) will be a relatively young squad with only four seniors on the roster. The loss of experience will be made up with additional depth and more scoring options. Whether or not the younger players can adjust to the Division I level will be the factor this season.

Here is a look at the 2001 Women of Troy position-by-position:

FORWARDS

The focus of the Trojans' offensive attack centers on sophomore Jessica Edwards. Edwards, a Freshman All-American third team pick in 2000, set a school record by unleashing 97 shots during the season. She led the team in goals (11) and points (29) and tied for the team lead in assists (seven). She is a dangerous goal scorer and will be the focus of many opponents.

One player who may add an unknown quantity to the position is redshirt freshman Shannon Cross. Cross tore a knee ligament prior to the 2000 season, but has speed and scoring skills to provide a good bookmark to the play of Edwards.

Senior Brittany Savelkoul, as a big target player up front, can complement the quickness of Edwards and Cross. Savelkoul played in every match last season, garnering nine starts.

Junior Jackie Fodor has had a strong preseason and should also get a lot of playing time up front for the Women of Troy.

MIDFIELDERS

The midfield will be in flux with the graduation of Harvey, Katie Ticehurst and Andrea Warner, but USC does return Ali Fennell and sisters Megan and Kim Abbamonto.

Fennell, a junior, was third on the team last season in goals (seven) and points (16). The coaching staff is looking for her to take a leadership role this season.

Sophomore Megan Abbamonto had a good spring and adjusted well to the Division I level last season in her freshman season. Junior Kim Abbamonto was voted as one of the co-captains and has tremendous leadership skills. Her health will be a factor as she has had to deal with numerous injuries during her career.

Senior Christy Callier will move from her normal forward spot to an attacking midfielder role this year. Callier started in 16 of 22 matches last season and has the ability to hold onto the ball.

Junior Stephanie Scholl will see action as a midfielder and forward for the Women of Troy after playing in every match last season.

The unit will be energized by two freshmen who both have U.S. National Team experience on their resumes. Megan Kakadelas (Carlsbad/La Costa Canyon HS) and Ashley Casas (Mission Viejo/Capistrano Valley HS) both add speed and ability to the lineup.

Kakadelas played for the U-19 National Team over the summer and has been a part of the San Diego Surf, one of the top club programs in the nation. As the jewel of this year's freshman class, she will make an immediate impact and also has the ability to play up front for the Trojans.

Casas will be a hard-working midfielder and also can to play up front.

Freshman Carolyn Staples (Mission Viejo/Calvary Chapel HS) will get a look at midfield, but she is versatile enough to play up front or back as a defender.

The wide left will be the most competitive position. Scholl could be a possibility at this spot, as well as 5-9 freshman Kelly Blais (Redondo Beach/Mira Costa HS). Junior Liane Nakano can also play either as a midfielder or defender.

Freshman Melody Yazdanyar (Westlake Village/Viewpoint HS) may also seem some time off the bench.

DEFENDERS

This unit will get much younger after the graduation of two of last year's starters, Megan Orach and Susie Mora. Senior Erin Reed returns as the lone starter to anchor the Trojans' defense.

Two standout sophomores, Nikki Goza and Amanda Roach, should be the other two starters. Goza possesses a bulldog mentality and showed she has the ability to cover top-notch opposing forwards in one-on-one situations. Roach is a physical player who shows tremendous potential to be a quality Division I defender.

Goza will most likely play as the middle defender, but she could get pushed by freshman Kaitlyn Pruett (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS), who was a high school and club teammate of Kakadelas.

Freshmen Lindsey Green (Redondo Beach/Redondo Union HS) and Rachel Field (San Jose/Presentation HS) will add depth at the defender and midfield positions.

GOALKEEPERS

Senior Shaelyn Fernandes begins the season as the number one goalkeeper for the Women of Troy. Fernandes has a wealth of experience at the Division I level and should be able to help lead a relatively young defensive corps.

Redshirt freshman Julie Peterson will back up Fernandes. At 5-10, Peterson has the makings of a standout goalkeeper and will only get better over time.

USC faces a challenging schedule this season that features the typical Pac-10 Conference slate (seven Pac-10 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament last year) and non-conference opponents such as Nebraska, BYU and Wake Forest.

'Our first five games are against teams that will probably make the NCAA Tournament this year,' said Millinder. 'Because we have a young group, the schedule allows us to make some adjustments and gives us more time to work on the finer details of our system.'

The system that Millinder talks about is one that was installed last year. It is a system based on constant pressure and one that looks to combine a mix of players based on their athletic, technical or tactical abilities. While it is not one implemented by many programs in the nation, Millinder feels it will be necessary to use in order to reach the next level.

'It's a difficult system to play,' said Millinder. 'You have to have the right players and everyone has to be on the same page. This year, we really have a good group of players and once they understand the system, the team will get better as the season progresses.

'The key is that we had an excellent spring. Losing the six seniors from last year, especially Harvey, is a big void, but we have a lot of experienced players. As far as the freshmen are concerned, it will be a matter of how quickly they can gain game day experience.'

This season, the USC coaching staff has been revamped with the addition of two assistant coaches. Neil Sedgwick joins the Trojans as the number one assistant coach after serving two seasons as head coach at the University of North Dakota. Sedgwick has also spent many years as a coach with the Canadian National Team.

'Neil gives us a great deal of experience,' said Millinder. 'He understands the game and is good at breaking down the game. His main focus will be working with the defenders and adjusting them to our system of play.'

For the first time since he arrived at USC, Millinder can now focus on the forwards and midfielders.

Andrea Warner, a four-year starter at USC (1997-00), is now with the program as an assistant coach.

'Andrea had a great understanding of the game when she came in as a freshman,' said Millinder. 'She is young, but she has a good link to the players. She is keen on getting better and does not mind giving her opinion, which I like.'

Warner will assist Millinder with the midfielders.

'Scoring goals will be critical for us, along with the pressure that we apply to the ball,' said Millinder. 'Defense, pressure and how we cope with the ball once we have it are features of the game that we will work on daily in order to get better.'

Millinder is cautiously optimistic about his team's chances. Some of the top players in the nation are now joining the USC program, but the 2001 season may be a learning curve for most of the younger players. If the players can learn quickly, a trip further into the NCAA Tournament is well within reach for the Trojans.

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