Ten Schools in Ten Days: California Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 26, 2005
California has reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2005 season.
The Golden Bears return everyone from last year's team which posted an 11-6-3 record and earned the program's sixth NCAA Tournament bid in the last seven years. This year's squad features six seniors and nine juniors.
'The mood is excited because the entire team sees our potential,' said Kevin Boyd, who enters his ninth season at the helm at Cal as the winningest women's soccer coach in school history at 96-54-13 (.629). 'Everyone is looking at this fall like this could be a very big year. They're seeing that our strength is not only our talent but our depth of talent.'
Cal showed its potential against nationally-ranked teams last year, knocking off No. 24 Arizona and No. 6 UCLA - the Pac-10's co-champions. The Bruins also were the national runner-ups.
Led by senior forward Liz Eisenberg's 21 points, the Bears welcome back six double-digit point scorers from last season. In addition to points, Eisenberg led Cal in goals (9) and game-winning goals (3) in 2004 after combining for four points during her first two years. Also returning from last year's leaders are sophomore forward Stephanie Wieger (19 points, 7G, 5A) and a quartet of players who notched 10 points - seniors Dania Cabello and Sierra Schlesinger and juniors Nadia Al-Lami and Katie Ratican.
Add forward Julia Schnugg, a junior transfer from Florida State, to the mix and a couple of promising freshmen, and it's no wonder Boyd is excited about the offensive outlook.
'We have so many players who are capable of scoring,' Boyd said. 'It's going to be spread out. I'm hoping we get a couple of players to score at least 10 goals each.'
The Bears ranked third in the Pac-10 in goals-against average last season at 0.76, and the team's defense should be even stingier this year. Senior Ashley Sulprizio and junior Anna Key combine to be one of the most dominant goalkeeper tandems in the country. The starting backline of senior Tracy Hamm, junior Alivia Mazura and sophomores Kristine Relja and Courtney Hooker have another year of experience under their belts.
Opponents will be well aware of the depth of Cal's talent pool this year. 'Last year, we did quite well with a very young, unheralded team,' said Boyd, who plans to utilize many reserves in 2005 to always keep a fresh team on the field. 'It was a team nobody knew anything about. We wanted to prove people wrong. We did that very well last year. When you return your entire squad and add a few talented players, you're not going to sneak up on anyone. We have never had this many talented players this deep into our roster.'
Cal's offense showed dramatic improvement from 2003 to 2004, jumping from ninth in the Pac-10 with 22 total goals to third in the conference with 37. Look for six players to see ample playing time on Cal's frontline - seniors Liz Eisenberg and Dania Cabello, juniors Julia Schnugg and Katie Ratican and sophomores Stephanie Wieger and Bri Wiles.
'Those six are the ones we're primarily expecting to rotate up top,' Boyd said. 'But, we've added three talented freshmen in Katherine Daiss, Valerie Barnes and Torrey Delaplane. Preseason will show how they will factor in this season.'
Eisenberg, Cabello, Ratican and Wieger tallied double-figure points for the Bears last season, with Eisenberg leading the way with three game-winning goals and Wieger and Cabello finishing second with two each. Wieger, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, netted the only goals in 1-0 wins over No. 6 UCLA (in overtime) and No. 24 Arizona.
Schnugg joined Cal in the spring and made an immediate impact, according to Boyd. The Alamo, Calif., product helped Florida State to the 2003 NCAA Final Four by posting 22 points (six goals, 10 assists) and earned second team All-ACC honors in 2004 with 17 points (seven goals, three assists).
'Julia is a giant boost to our team,' Boyd said. 'She is a different style in terms of the frontline. We're expecting quite a bit from her.'
Seven players will compete for three or four midfield spots. Anchoring the midfield from the holding spot is junior Nadia Al-Lami - Cal's 2004 team MVP and a two-time honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick. Sophomore Caroline Lea, a U.S. under-20 national team player, made a smooth transition in the spring from forward to defensive midfielder, giving the Bears the luxury of not having to play Al-Lami for 90 minutes.
Seniors Lindsay Clute and Sierra Schlesinger and sophomores Chioma Igwe, Laurie Gartrell and Caitlin Hannegan round out the other five contenders. Schlesinger recorded a career-high 10 points last season while starting 18 of 20 games, while Clute made eight starts and added a career-high seven points.
Igwe, who also has U.S. U20 experience, was critical to the Bears' ability to control the tempo of games last season. She started 13 of the 19 games she entered, tying for the team lead with five assists, including one in a first round NCAA Tournament game at Santa Clara.
'We're excited about the depth we have in the midfield,' Boyd said. 'If you rotate six deep for three spots, it gives you the luxury of not missing a beat if you take an injury.'
Juniors Jamie Mangiardi, who has been plagued by knee injuries, and Beth DeAraujo and sophomores Katie Wilcox and Dayna Queisser bolster the Bears' midfield. Sophomore Jenny Wendell will assist the coaching staff this year due to a knee injury.
The same physical and fast backline returns from last season when Cal permitted only 16 goals - 14 in the regular season - and four fewer than they did in 2003. Senior Tracy Hamm and junior Alivia Mazura patrolled the outside of the Bears' formation in 2004, while sophomores Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja anchored the center of the defense.
Hooker garnered numerous honors during her rookie year, including Soccer Buzz Freshman All-America, second team All-Pac-10 and third team all-region.
Junior Emily Ward and sophomore Katie Martinez are expected to play bigger roles this season, and freshman speedster Nkechi Kanu, from Pleasanton, Calif., should also have an impact.
'Tracy and Alivia both are capable of coming forward and being active in the attack,' Boyd said. 'Courtney and Kristine had unbelievable freshman seasons and play well off each other. Nkechi has a different speed than everyone on the field.'
Redshirt junior Karissa Goodwin adds depth to the defensive unit.
Senior Ashley Sulprizio and junior Anna Key will battle for the starting goalkeeper job again. Both saw considerable playing time last year, with Sulprizio posting a 0.87 goals-against average in her 16 starts, and Key making four starts and allowing only three goals (0.49 GAA) in about 547 minutes in the net. Sulprizio even scored a goal in the Bears' dramatic 1-1 tie against Stanford last year.
'The battle for goalkeeping is going to be pretty intense,' Boyd said. 'Ashley and Anna have matured and gained confidence over the last few years.'
Redshirt freshman Nicole Jarbo made strides last year despite tearing her ACL.