Ten Schools in Ten Days: Oregon Women's Soccer Preview

Aug. 29, 2005

For the first time ever, the Oregon soccer team was not led by Bill Steffen when it broke camp in August. The only coach the program had ever known stepped down following the 2004 season.

But it is a veteran squad that returns under new head coach Tara Erickson, who faces a daunting challenge in building the Oregon program into a Pac-10 competitor.

Erickson, a successful rebuilder who took Portland State from a zero-win season to the Big Sky Conference regular season title in just four years, returns to her roots in the Pac-10. The Puyallup, Wash., native was a two-time all-Pac-10 selection at Washington while leading the Huskies to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.

And Erickson will use that experience as both a winning coach and player to find the right balance between 14 returners -- seven of them seniors -- and 10 newcomers in a complete overhaul of an Oregon team that won just three times and scored only 14 goals in 2004.

While injuries undeniably took their toll during the previous coaching regime, there is guarded optimism for the coming season with the healthy return of senior forward Nicole Garbin who is arguably the best offensive player in school history.

Garbin and running mate Andrea Valadez capitalized off each other on the front line in 2003, combining for 14 goals and 13 assists.

And a couple of solid, if relatively unnoticed seniors anchor the middle and back lines as well. Midfielder Cristan Higa has started all but one game during her Oregon career, while Katie Abrahamson leads a veteran corps of defenders.

Forward

Oregon's current group of forwards accounted for exactly zero goals in 2004. While that is a problem that must be addressed immediately, the number is a bit skewed due to that fact that sophomore Kami Kapaku (four goals in 2004) is an academic casualty this fall, and Nicole Garbin lost last season due to a knee injury.

Step back to 2003 when Garbin, a senior from Wailuku, Hawaii, and Andrea Valadez combined for 14 goals and 13 assists when they teamed on the offensive side of the ball, and there is hope.

When healthy, Garbin has been a rare bright spot for Oregon during her career. Given the fact that she will apply for, and is expected to receive, a sixth year of eligibility in 2006 due to medical hardship, she will likely become the Ducks' leader in virtually every offensive category. She is already Oregon's career leader in assists (13) and ranks third in goals (12) and points (37), second in game-winning goals (6) and fourth in shots (112).

But she will need help. That could come in the form of midfielder Valadez, who played off Garbin for seven goals and five assists as a sophomore in 2003. The senior from Torrance, Calif., struggled with just one goal and one assist going it alone in 2004.

Several newcomers look to claim minutes on the front line, including a pair of intriguing transfers. Junior Madison Cheek returns to the State of Oregon after playing her first two years at Memphis, where she led the Tigers in scoring in 2005 with six goals added a pair of assists. The Tigard, Ore., native also led the Conference USA school with four assists as a freshman.

Eugene's Tiffany Smith is the one player familiar with Erickson's system, having played her first year of college under the Ducks' new coach at Portland State. Smith was a part-time starter for the Vikings, who saw more action as the season progressed.

A pair of freshman round out the front line. Sarah Yoro, from Mililani, Hawaii, hopes to follow in the footsteps of her fellow Islander Garbin, while Leigh Quinlan may be an under-the-radar find from Victoria, B.C., but may redshirt the 2005 season recovering from a knee injury.

Midfield

Beyond the play of unsung senior Cristan Higa, the midfield never seemed to settle in last season, and controlling that section of the field is a priority for Oregon's new coaching staff.

Higa, from Diamond Bar, Calif., will be counted on to steady that unit, which will probably feature more new players than any other position on the field. While not playing a position that lends itself to a lot of stats, Higa is already in the top 10 in Oregon's career matches started (56) and played (57).

Valadez moves back to her natural midfield position, and will be joined by senior Caitlin Gamble -- another Duck who, when healthy, has shown the potential to be an effective offensive midfielder. The Salt Lake City, Utah, native tallied five points from that position in 2003, and got off to a fast start in 2004 with two goals in the first four matches before a knee injury sidelined her for the season.

Kaily Winther, an oft-injured junior from Eugene, will be among those competing with a bevy of rookies for playing time.

A couple of freshmen could be among those newcomers ready to contribute immediately. Taylor Callan, from Portland's Jesuit High School, was one of the state's most solid ODP performers in recent years, while late signee Nicole Dobrzynski of Danville, Calif., may turn out to be the new coaching staff's first diamond in the rough. Junior Kate Nelson, a transfer from San Francisco, should provide even more depth in an area of need for the Ducks, as could Cheek and Sabrina DeMonte if moved over from other positions.

Defense

Defense is the one position on the field where returning players will be abundant. However, after allowing 2.33 goals per game in 2004, it too will be under construction.

The defense has the potential to be Oregon's most cohesive with four players having started at least 13 games in 2004, including Katie Abrahamson, Valerie Mayer, Dylann Tharp and DeMonte.

Somewhat of a late bloomer during her Oregon career, Abrahamson has emerged as the leader of this group. After only playing in 14 games with no starts as a freshman, the senior from West Linn, Ore., native played in all 19 last season, starting 16.

Mayer, a senior from Pleasanton, Calif., and DeMonte, a junior from Torrance, Calif., join Abrahamson as seasoned veterans on the back line, while Tharp, an unexpected surprise as a rookie, leads a group of underclassmen who saw increasing minutes as the year wore on last fall. Tharp, from San Pedro, Calif., ended up starting 18 of 19 games in 2004.

Two other players with veteran-like experience, sophomore Lisa Tedford from Hood River, Ore., and junior Rachel Grushkin from Eureka, Calif., truly make the defense Oregon's most experienced position.

And freshmen Darcie Gardner from Bellingham, Wash., Allison Newton from Eugene and Dobrzynski add to its depth. Sophomore Jen Cameron could see action late in the year, but a spring ACL injury likely means a redshirt season for the Sherwood, Ore., native.

Goalkeeper

Senior Domenique Lainez will be one of the most experienced keepers in the Pac-10. Though she had a rough go of it last year, making 88 saves with a 2.30 goals against average, the San Bruno, Calif., native will be looked to for leadership and confidence in 2005.

Junior Emily Marrer from Glendale, Ariz., has been game-tested and is ready if need be. Marrer saw action in three games last season and made 10 saves.

The final new member of the team is Jessie Chatfield, a freshman from Eugene, who was one of the top prep keepers in the Northwest and will certainly be the Ducks' net-minder of the future, while still pushing for minutes in 2005.

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