Women's Soccer Slotted As No. 18 In Preseason National Poll

Aug. 15, 2005

In the quest for that perfect formula for success, there are two big factors already established as key elements: good leaders, and good players to be led.

After 10 years at the helm of the USC women's soccer program, head coach Jim Millinder has chiseled both those elements into his tablet for the 2005 season. His 2005 Women of Troy are a dynamic blend of youth and experience, with 12 newcomers and 12 returners. If you're keeping count for that formula, that's a solid dozen coming back to lead, and another even dozen to be led.

Just don't be surprised if there are more than a few natural leaders in that batch of newcomers.

From its starring returning starters to the best recruiting class in school history, the USC squad has all the makings of a team set to do some serious shining this season. Despite a .500 season in 2004 (9-9-1 overall, 3-6-0 Pacific-10), the USC coaching staff was able to rustle up a load of new players touted as the top recruiting class in the country and receive a No. 18 national preseason ranking from SoccerBuzz for 2005.

The balanced and talented roster also helped score the Women of Troy a No. 4 pick in the west region, making them the second highest ranked team from the Pac-10 behind UCLA. Headlining the studded list of newcomers is U.S. national team player Amy Rodriguez, the 2004 Gatorade National Player of the Year. What she brings to the front lines for USC, another freshman with national team experience -- Meagan Holmes -- will add to the defensive back row. Toss in the return of USC's top scorer who is climbing in the school history books -- Rosa Anna Tantillo -- and the healthy reemergence of the team's most experienced defender -- Hillary Schwarzbach -- and that formula is looking more and more dangerous for USC's 2005 opponents.

'There are a lot of good players and a lot of combinations,' Millinder said. 'It's going to take shape. The pieces are there, now we have to manufacture the right combinations.'

Although outnumbered by their 12-player freshman class, Schwarzbach and her three fellow seniors are geared up to lead by example, boasting a combined 226 games and 146 starts among them. Tina Sutorius and Jocelyn Leche both were mainstays in the USC starting lineup last season, and together with Schwarzbach and Amy Mann, the foursome constitute the Trojans' respected senior returners.

Since the top school records have pretty well been monopolized by USC graduate Isabelle Harvey, it was only fitting that Harvey make the jump back to Troy to pass along her soccer prowess as a member of the coaching staff. She joins second-year associate head coach Nat Gonzalez at Millinder's side for the 2005 campaign, which kicks off Aug. 26 against Florida State. It's the first of 10 nonconference games leading into Pacific-10 conference action, all of which the Women of Troy plan to power through in order to burst back into the NCAA Tournament.

'There are more options than this program has ever had,' Millinder said. 'It's going to be fun to see how it develops.'

Here's a look at Millinder's competitive 2005 formula, position by position:

THE FORWARDSThe front lines are brimming with speed and talent. Sutorius and junior Tracy Lansing are USC's only returning starters at the forward position, but their experience at the position is deep enough to truly complement the new energy and skill that joins them. Opponents also know they will have to account for Rodriguez's dangerous attacks while also trying to hold off Lansing and battle-tested senior Leah Gallegos, a transfer from Florida State.

'We know what Amy can do, and Leah is a proven Division I goal scorer,' Millinder said. 'She's so good in and around the penalty box. She's one of the cleanest players technically in America. Tina is a physical force up front. You need a big strong body up front to be successful. And Tracy is very technical and has a good nose for scoring goals. She has a good chance to play in the midfield as well.'

While those players and sophomore Lauren Brown already have spent their time under the spotlight and enter the season expecting to have a target on their backs, the new face of freshman Nini Loucks should bring an extra element to the front lines.

'Nini epitomizes hard work,' Millinder said. 'She's very good in the final third of the field, has great pace, and can certainly fit into the mix right away, too.'

Freshman Marihelen Tomer will redshirt her first season to heal a torn ACL.

Not far behind the frontal assault from the forwards is the USC midfield, where junior Tantillo tends to play her starring role. The team scoring leader, Tantillo is always a threat to defenses as a spark lingering just behind the Trojan strikers.

'Rosa Anna has had two good seasons; this is her time,' Millinder said. 'She has great feel for the game and her vision is tremendous. She's a dynamic, attacking player.'

On the more defensive end of the midfield position are Mann and junior Jocelyn Hein, while the rest of the Women of Troy slated for the position are all freshmen.

'Mann always brings great energy to the midfield. She's great at winning the ball, and we're looking for her to make a big contribution,' Millinder said. 'Hein is more of a holding midfielder, and she has the ability to spread the ball around.'

In the set of freshman talent cued up for midfield duties, Stacey Strong stands out as a capable midfielder with solid ball distribution abilities, with fellow freshmen Kelley Finch, Ashley Nick and Janessa Currier also in line for time as midfielders with important field awareness and tenacity.

'We're going to be more of a possession team, because now we can do some of these things,' Millinder said. 'We'll play better team defense and we're going to possess the ball more. As a midfield, that's kind of the engine, so everyone's gotta do their work in there.'

Experience is thriving in the USC defensive lines. Schwarzbach anchors things from right back, and she has a skilled set of defenders by her side. Returning at left back is Leche, who has established herself as a key part of the Trojans' transitional game. She led the team in assists last season and is expected once again to be in that starting rotation.

'Hillary gives us an attacking presence out of the back with her ability,' Millinder said. 'And Jocelyn also does a great job of getting forward on the attacking half -- you might see her in multiple positions.'

Sophomore center back Kat Stolpa is right back where she left off as one of the Trojans' best conditioned and reliable defenders. Lindsay Parker also spent significant time as a starting defender last season, and she returns to Troy as a versatile junior. Sophomore Laura McKee is expected to see time in the back as well.

USC's most anticipated incoming defender is Holmes, who is expected to be an impact player in the Trojans' stubborn defense.

'Meagan is a tremendous one-on-one defender,' Millinder said. 'She'll be in that back four; she's too good. Her anticipation is excellent --- she can take top players out of their games.'

Holmes is joined by two other freshman defenders, Jessica Potter and Shannon Dickerson, who bring some height and skilled left feet to that side of the field. When not being used in the midfield, Currier also may get the call for time in the backfield.

If any balls are to get through USC's defensive back line, returning goalkeeper Veronica Simonton will be there to track them down. The sophomore was a force last season, when she split time in goal. In her 10 appearances, Simonton allowed just eight goals, racked up 29 saves and finished her first season of action with a 6-2-1 record.

'If she remains focused, she can be one of the top goalkeepers in the country,' Millinder said. 'Behind every good team, there's a good goalkeeper, and she's got the tools.'

Now with three shutouts under her belt, Simonton is keyed up to dominate the goal once more for the Women of Troy. Also set to protect the goal this season is true freshman Brittany Massro, who is expected to be in the mix for the position in her first year as a Trojan.

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