2003 Season Outlook: Back With The Old And In With The New

Aug. 26, 2003

It will be easy for the 2003 Women of Troy to decide the makeup of their teams when they scrimmage each other during practice: one team of veterans and one team made of freshmen only.

This season, USC will have its largest freshman class ever with a group comprising 10 players. It will be a challenge for the coaching staff to get a young team up to speed with another competitive schedule.

'We are excited with our prospects this season,' said eighth-year head coach Jim Millinder. 'When you lose just two starters from the previous year, it's easy to be positive. We have a lot of players who were able to gain big-game experience last year. We also had a productive spring which should bode well for us.'

USC (11-8-3 overall in 2002, 5-4-0 in the Pac-10 for fourth place) features nine returning starters and 16 letterwinners from last year's squad that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Senior midfielder Megan Abbamonto earned All-Pac-10 second team honors despite suffering a season-ending left knee injury on Nov. 1 against Oregon State. She will be a major factor this season for the Women of Troy, along with senior forward Jessica Edwards.

'We have a solid returning nucleus, but we have the same question every other program has at the start of the season in who will be the goal scorers,' said Millinder. 'Obviously, we need to stay healthy.'

With Abbamonto and Edwards providing offense, the Trojans will be able to count on a number of players on the defensive side. Led by junior goalkeeper Julie Peterson, who recorded a school-record eight shutouts last year, USC will have three veteran anchors in the backfield with seniors Amanda Roach and Nikki Goza and sophomore Hillary Schwarzbach.

Here is a look at the 2003 Women of Troy position-by-position:

FORWARDS After producing only 24 goals last year, the Women of Troy will need more scoring to make a deep tournament run. Edwards, who scored 11 goals in her freshman season, will look to round out her Trojan career after recording a combined seven goals in her last two seasons.

Senior Shannon Cross has had to battle numerous injuries throughout her career. If she can stay healthy, she will give the team another scoring threat up front. USC will also need production from sophomore Tina Sutorius, the tallest player on the team (6-0).

'This is a big year for Tina,' said Millinder. 'There are a lot of kids waiting to get in there and get their shot to play.'

Sophomore Jocelyn Leche is another option, but she can also play as a defender. Leche showed a wealth of raw athletic ability as a freshman last year and adds needed speed to the team.

Freshman Tracy Lansing (Sherman Oaks/Harvard-Westlake HS) has shown a scoring prowess through her high school and club career while freshman Jocelyn Hein (Saugus/Saugus HS) might also be used up front. At 5-9, Hein gives the team another target player in the box. Freshman Joyce Kim (Beverly Hills/Marlborough HS) could be utilized as a forward or in the midfield.

Freshman Natalie Nunn (San Mateo/Aragon HS) could be redshirted, but is similar to Leche in being able to add some raw athletic talent to the program.

MIDFIELDERS This position is the strength of the team this season. Abbamonto can dominate the field and is not afraid to get down and dirty if the play turns physical. She has looked good so far in training camp after her knee injury at the end of the 2002 season.

'We will see how long it takes for Megan to get into a rhythm once the games start,' said Millinder. 'When she is healthy, she is one of the top midfielders in the Pac-10.'

Junior Ashley Casas may only be 5-1, but she plays a lot bigger and is always a threat thanks to her ball possession skills and work rate. Sophomore Amy Mann adds another capable midfielder after a solid freshman campaign.

Junior Kelly Blais stepped up her game in the spring and has worked extremely hard over the summer.

The new element to the team's midfield is freshman Rosa Anna Tantillo (San Diego/La Jolla HS), who is arguably the crown jewel of this year's freshman class. Her technical skills will be a plus for the midfield with the only question being how fast she can adjust to the Division I level.

Several freshmen may see time as a midfielder or defender: Lindsay Parker (Los Altos/St. Francis) and two teammates from Corona del Mar High, Paige Janes and Lauren Shepherdson. Junior Lindsey Green can also provide valuable minutes off the bench, while junior Rachel Field will be pushed to gain playing time.

DEFENDERS The Women of Troy are fortunate to have two solid senior defenders in Goza and Roach, who will patrol the middle. Both have battled through injuries in recent years, but are up to the task of stopping opposing offenses. Schwarzbach uses speed and quickness as the right starting back and has shown a knack for keeping pressure away from the flank.

'We have some good freshmen coming in, but it will be tough to take away any time from these three veterans,' said Millinder.

The left back spot is the one up for grabs prior to the start of the season. Leche could be an option at this spot, along with sophomore Jenna Killion, who played in 20 games last season.

'Jocelyn's speed may help us back here,' said Millinder. 'Jenna also has a great opportunity to gain playing time and plays smart, which is needed as a defender.'

Freshman Shanna Hudson (Venice/Palisades Charter) will be brought along slowly, but could develop into a top-notch defender in the future.

GOALKEEPERS USC has a solid No. 1 goalkeeper in Peterson, who should be able to garner some regional attention at the position.

'I think Julie had a breakout year for us last year,' said Millinder. 'She just has to keep building on what she did and not take anything for granted. With our schedule, she has to be sharp from the outset.'

Peterson should be able to provide a lot of leadership in the back. She will be backed up by sophomore Katy Boynton. There is a chance that freshman Veronica Simonton (Chino/Ayala HS) may see some playing time, but more likely she will redshirt and be the team's goalkeeper of the future.

SCHEDULE The coaching staff will try to bring the freshmen class along at a slow pace.

'When you bring 10 players in, you hope they will be good players,' said Millinder. 'I felt this was our deepest recruiting class ever. I think a majority of them have a chance to contribute immediately and gain confidence as the season progresses. The best part, though, is that we are not forced to play all of them right away.'

Playing a difficult schedule has always been a trait of the USC women's soccer program and 2003 will be no exception. 11 of the 20 teams on the schedule were NCAA Tournament participants last year and eight teams are in the preseason Top 25, including five Top 10 teams.

The main factor for the team's success will be how the young players will handle three consecutive cross-country trips. USC opens the season at perennial NCAA Tournament participants Florida State and Florida. Following the opening weekend are trips to tournaments in Michigan (against Marquette and Michigan) and Virginia (against soccer powers Penn State and Virginia).

Two other non-conference games feature road contests at last year's NCAA runner-up Santa Clara and another NCAA Tournament team BYU.

USC was picked fourth in the Pac-10 Conference coaches' poll, but the Women of Troy will have three difficult road games at Stanford, California and UCLA to round out the schedule.

'I think we need to harden our younger players early,' said Millinder. 'My hope is that we gain experience for our conference road games in the latter part of the season. We started slow last year, but I think it's important for this team to get off on the right foot.'

Playing in the NCAA Tournament is always a goal for the Women of Troy, but a deep run will be the focus for USC in the 2003 season.

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