2002 Oregon Soccer Outlook
Aug. 30, 2002
Heading into his seventh season, head coach Bill Steffen has set familiar goals for the Ducks in 2002 -- an NCAA Tournament appearance and a top-half finish in the Pac-10 Conference -- but that's only part of the challenge.
This year's young squad also said goodbye to four of its top five scorers from last year, and features 20 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. But openings create opportunities, and five returning starters and 15 letterwinners will be joined by a cast of 12 newcomers ready to keep the competitive quotient high.
'We have an interesting make-up,' Steffen said, 'because we have a great infusion of youth, which brings a lot of energy and excitement. Even though they're young, they're also sharp because a lot have come from strong club programs. Throw in the players from the spring that showed great development, and physically I think the team is very solid with a good technical base. I think how we mesh tactically will be the real key to our success.'
With Steffen's prior background at the highest levels of the sport, he's never afraid to expose his team to the nation's best. This season's schedule features 17-time national champion North Carolina, another final four power Portland on their turf, two other ACC NCAA tourney vets in Florida State and Wake Forest ... and that's just part of the non-conference slate. Then remember that five Pac-10 teams made the 2001 NCAA tournament and a sixth different school made a postseason trip the year before.
'The schedule will be a tremendous challenge,' Steffen said, 'opening with two of the stronger ACC programs, followed by two of the most successful college programs ever, Portland and North Carolina. It'll be a real test and will help to see where we're at nationally. After that, it's doesn't get any easier. The Pac-10 has really grown as a conference, and it's now the preeminent soccer conference in the country. For us to be successful in the league, we have to put our best foot forward every game because there are no days off every game is a challenge.'
On and off the field, the Ducks will look for leadership from a trio of senior captains. Sarah Peters proved her place among the West's top goalkeepers last year and continues to improve her skills and consistency. Three-year letterwinner Lindsey Peterson has started 33 of 35 games the past two seasons and will help direct the defenders, as will Robi Thayer who transferred to the Ducks from UTEP last year and started 13 games to close the season.Offensively, the squad will likely key off sophomore Nicole Garbin, tied for tops last year among Pac-10 freshmen in assists (5), and third in goals (5) and points (15). The Hawai'i native is the top returning Duck scorer from last year, thanks to a hot start with five of the team's first 13 goals in 2001.
Among newcomers, Steffen points towards sophomore Christine Mintz, a transfer from UConn, to help strengthen the midfield. Among the freshman faces, a cast of all-state honorees forward Mele French, midfielders Katie Abrahamson, Carlie Ashcraft, Caitlin Gamble, and Cristan Higa, and defender Jessica Fetzer lead a 11-deep class. 'Christine is an exciting addition since she's from an NCAA-caliber program, and understands the level we aspire to as a program,' Steffen said. 'I think all the freshmen are excited about their opportunities. They're all strong and have the potential to contribute immediately.'
The Ducks' last line of defense should be their strongest with the return of senior Sarah Peters, back for her third year as a starter. Her dedicated work ethic prepared her for a breakthrough 2001 campaign as she dropped her goals against average from 2.86 as a sophomore to 1.45 with three shutouts as a junior. As she's added consistency, coaches also predict room for even more growth.
'Sarah has matured so much,' Steffen said. 'She's one of the strongest keepers, not only in the Pac-10 but the West. Her foot skills are outstanding, and she has good speed across the goal. She's very solid in playing balls flighted into the box, and can dominate a large area. '
The heir apparent for the future, sophomore Domenique Lainez, appeared in two games as a freshman last season and offers great physical prospects with her 5-10 frame. 'Domenique has tremendous tools, and can grow into a strong collegiate goalkeeper just as Sarah has,' Steffen said. 'Both of them are physically strong, and solid technically and can push each other to make themselves and the team better.'
In their first year in a zone last season, the Ducks finished a respectable sixth in the Pac-10 in goals against average (1.78), and should improve with a large contingent of defenders back.
Senior captain Lindsey Peterson will oversee the unit, and coaches love her feisty spirit and ball-winning ability. If the opportunity arises, she can also slide forward into the offense and posted seven shots last season. 'Lindsey is a very intelligent player and has a great understanding of our strategies,' Steffen said. 'She's very aggressive and assertive and has a passion and competitiveness that we want others to emulate.'
The defense also boasts another captain thanks to the addition last season of senior Robi Thayer. After injuries slowed her the first few weeks of 2001, the UTEP transfer quickly caught up and started 13 of the final 14 matches.
A pair of other transfers infuse valuable experience junior Lee Ann Peterson and sophomore Christine Mintz. Prior to walking on and redshirting last season, Peterson posted 11 assists her first two seasons at San Francisco State and ranked sixth career-wise in school history. Mintz started 17 games as a freshman for UConn, an NCAA Sweet 16 qualifier last season, and will benefit with a year of experience in the system.
'Robi has a great frame and mental understanding of what we're trying to do,' Steffen said, 'and Lee Ann and Christine should contribute at center after good spring seasons.'The competition among the rest of the defenders appears stiff between several returnees and newcomers.
Sophomore Dara Wone, injured in 2001, played 13 games as a freshman in 2000, and sophomores Kirsten McEwen and Kristen Konopka saw action in four and three games, respectively, last year. Freshman Jessica Fetzer was a Utah all-state pick as a senior and helped her team to state titles the two seasons prior.
'Dara has a great technical and tactical side and can really add to our presence if she's healthy,' Steffen added. 'Kristen is very strong physically and her technical game has picked up so has her tactical game. Kelly, Dara and Kirsten could play wide defending roles, and Jessica can help us centrally or wide.'
The emergence of the Ducks' midfielders could serve as a barometer for success in 2002.
Coaches look to the trio of senior Sarah Denner, junior local product Lindsey Werdell and sophomores Arlene Tuttle, Kelly Baird, Elise Minvielle and Kirsten McEwen as catalysts for a unified Duck attack. Denner returns as the team's second-leading scorer from last year (3 goals, 5 assists) and made six starts and played 17 games. Werdell and Minvielle are solid pass-oriented ball-handlers who will also have more offensive opportunities this season. Baird (15 games, 7 starts) and Tuttle (9 games) saw considerable time last year, and McEwen ranked third among Duck frosh last season in shots (2).
Several newcomers will battle for the remaining opportunities, meaning the first few weeks of the season should prove critical.
A redshirt and transfer last season, junior defender Lee Ann Peterson could shift forward to better inject her passing skills into the offense. A pair of Utah all-state selections, freshmen Carlie Ashcraft and Caitlin Gamble, boast strong club experience as club teammates and high school rivals. Freshmen Cristan Higa adds speed and offensive-mindedness, and the versatile Valerie Mayer is anxious to show she's fully recovered from an ACL injury. The top in-state addition at the position, freshman Katie Abrahamson was a first-team all-state pick out of West Linn last year, and helped her TTS Alliance club win state titles three of the past four years.
'We look for Lindsey and Elise to anchor us and be the center of the wheel,' Steffen said. 'Both can distribute, and they need to keep everyone involved. This year we look to keep players more central in their midfield roles so players like Val, Cristan, Sarah, Carlie and Katie can come into the midfield or play wide up top as well. Lee Ann gives us a solid, physical ball winner, Caitlin is a solid technical player who can distribute, and Kirsten is versatile enough to move up from defender and made nice strides in the spring.'
After jolting the Duck offense into overdrive early last year as a freshman, sophomore Nicole Garbin is the obvious replacement in the featured offensive slot. The squad may have graduated speedy Chalise Baysa, the program's career goals and points leader, but the tall, quick and strong Garbin showed equally impressive offensive instincts. The Ducks were 7-0-1 last year when the Wailuku, Hawai'i native collected a goal or assist, and her four game winning goals matched the rest of the team's total (4).
Adding valuable experience, senior Amanda Orland played in 11 games in her first season for the Ducks last year, and sophomores Arlene Tuttle and Becca Burnham played in nine and three contests, respectively.
A large cast of freshmen will certainly have a chance to make their presence felt. Mele French arrives as a two-time Hawaii all-state pick, and Salina Karia starred on the 2001 state champion F.C. Portland club. A trio of California additions also join the fray led by all-stater Cristan Higa, and Cassidy Kolb and Andrea Valadez add speed and extensive club experience.
'We're looking to work off Nicole centrally up top and Arlene can also play in that role,' Steffen said. 'The wide positions in the attack are up for grabs, so we'll spread the opportunities around early in the season to see who steps up. That competition and youth is a good thing - and they should challenge each other all season. The players who can best integrate with others will have an advantage, and I'd like to see an aggressive attitude offensively.'
On paper, the Ducks have obvious holes to fill, but the staff anticipated the transition, and this season's squad is one of its biggest and deepest.
Steffen also likes that the Ducks continue to aim higher after an all-time best mark (8-8-2) in 2001. 'As our program has developed, we've shown a lot more development tactically and at a quicker rate, largely because the players' technical level is higher, so we have more time and freedom to develop our game tactically.'