Ten Schools in Ten Days: UCLA Women's Soccer Preview
Sept. 1, 2005
Q: How do you think the loss of six seniors from a year ago will affect this year's team?
Jillian Ellis: With just several seniors, I think on paper it looks like we have a young team, especially since we have a very large freshman class coming in. However, I think after winning the Pac-10 and going to the College Cup the past two seasons, the underclassmen who are returning have gained a tremendous amount of experience. It's always a plus when you have players who have been in the trenches and experienced pressure situations, especially in the NCAA Tournament. After making deep runs in the postseason the past two years, our young players have been forced to grow up quickly and that is something that I believe will serve them well this season.
Q: Two of the seniors that you do return are All-Americans Jill Oakes and Iris Mora. Do you expect those two to lead the team this year?
JE: I'm certainly expecting a lot out of both Jill and Iris this season, especially with it being their last year of collegiate soccer. With Iris, we're definitely dangerous in the attacking third of the field. We're also extremely confident with Jill anchoring our back line. However, I think they will be the first to acknowledge that a successful team is much more than two individuals. It's going to be a collective effort, and other players are going to need to step up if we are going to achieve the goals we set out to accomplish this year. So to answer your question, Jill and Iris will be very, very important to our success this season, but I believe they will have tremendous support from the younger players.
Q: Do you expect Jill Oakes' move to defense to be a smooth transition?
JE: Definitely. Jill is very comfortable in the back. She is very good in the air. Her distribution is excellent. Having her anchor the defensive line gives us a good balance because there is a very good chance that we will have freshmen on the field, even possibly in the back. Her leadership and communication is something that we are going to rely on.
Q: What will ultimately determine the look of this year's team?
JE: That's a good question. Because there are so many new faces, this preseason is going to be crucial in terms of deciding on the right combinations of players who work well together and who bring us the best team chemistry. What I do like about my team is that they understand the role of the team and the importance of the team. At the end of the day, they will be willing to play any position. I'm only able to do this because of the tremendous versatility our players possess.
Q: With 10 newcomers how important will team chemistry be?
JE: I think this program prides itself on how well the players interact with each other both on and off the field. We tend to have a very cohesive team that interacts socially outside of practice. I think if you asked most of the players on the team, they would say that their teammates are their closest friends. If you recruit the right personalities and the right people, you do not need to fabricate chemistry. It is a natural occurrence. I think we as coaches do a good job in emphasizing that this is a team and not a group of individuals. Feeling confident and happy in your environment plays a large part in how well you perform on the field.
Q: This year's freshman class has been ranked as one of the top-2 in the country by most people. Kara Lang, Christina DiMartino and Kelsey Davis, to name just a few, come in with some impressive credentials. What is your overall assessment of this class?
JE: Without a doubt, this is a special group of players. This class, along with every class I've ever recruited to UCLA, will have the same opportunity to come in and contribute right away. We were fortunate enough this year to land a group of players at every position. Some players have international experience and others have played extensively at the high school and club levels. But at the end of the day, the contribution of a player is measured by their performance on the field and not their resume. With that being said, I'm confident that this group is going to do some great things before their time at UCLA is over.
Q: Is there an area of the field where you feel the most confident?
JE: Probably the midfield is where we return the most experience. Having Stacy Lindstrom and Stephanie Kron back after redshirting last season for the Under-19 World Championships will be important for us. But honestly we are pretty deep in all areas of the field. Having Kara Lang, Iris Mora and Danesha Adams as our attacking presence, along with Jill Oakes and Mary Castelanelli in the back, I'm confident that we have a good balance throughout the thirds of the field. In addition, Valerie Henderson, Kelsey Davis and Ashley Thompson give us a number of options in goal. Our overall depth will make us very competitive and I think we will be an exciting team to watch.
Q: Without getting too in depth, what are your thoughts on each position?
JE: Lets start with the goalkeepers. Val (Henderson) had a tremendous freshman year. I think both she and Ashley (Thompson) worked very hard this spring to strengthen the areas they needed to work on. Now add Kelsey Davis to the mix, and I feel very excited about our goalkeeping situation. All three have exceptional athletic qualities and play at a very high level, so seeing those players battle for the job will be a challenging process that I am looking forward to. As for the forwards, what will be fun about our attacking players is the differences that they all bring to the game. As a coach, you never really want to have the same type of personalities up front. You want to have players that can run at defenders and you want to have players who can hold possession or are good in the air. With Iris (Mora), Kara (Lang), Christina (DiMartino), Blake (Zerboni), along with the possibilities of having Danesha (Adams) and Bristyn (Davis) up top, we have a wide range of attacking personalities to choose from. In the midfield, as I mentioned before, having Kron and Lindstrom back gives us a big boost in this area. We are blessed to have tremendous depth, something that has been fortified with the addition of our freshmen class. Additionally, returnees like Michelle Gleason, Caitlin Ursini, Bristyn Davis and Danesha Adams will be looked upon to provide the experience in this part of the field. We will have a lot more flexibility than we did last year. Due to injuries and some other factors we were forced to convert players to different positions. This year we have more players in their natural positions and I think it will be easier for them to adjust. Finally, our defensive unit will be anchored by Jill Oakes and Mary Castelanelli. These two players are as good as any two in the country. The other positions will be up for grabs. Theresa Oda-Burns, Erin Hardy, Nicole Kleinert and Jessica Harris will all be trying to own two of the four spots. The strength of this unit will be bolstered by the fact that our goalkeeping unit is so strong.
Q: What expectations have you set for this team? Are there any team goals?
JE: When it comes to goal setting, we sit down as a team after the first week of the season and do it together. Clearly my focus is on winning a national championship, and I believe the players will generate the type of desire and excitement to reach that goal. To go back to the College Cup and to win another Pac-10 Championship are two goals that we put upon ourselves. But specifically, I wait until I sit down with my players and we are able to go over it as a team.
Q: What is your overall assessment of this year's schedule?
JE: The non-conference part of the schedule is very competitive. Most of the teams that we are playing have been to the NCAA Tournament and have been in the rankings throughout the previous year. Having Penn State and Colorado here for our tournament will be a wonderful test for us. Going out to the University of Miami and being able to face Princeton, a team that we played at the College Cup last year, is definitely something that we look forward to. So we will have some early season tests for sure. As for the conference schedule, I think every team in the Pac-10 has strengthened its roster from a year ago. The Pac-10 will be extremely competitive this season and it's going to be a real test for us to win our third title in a row. But it is a challenge we look forward to.
Q: What will be the key for this team to have a successful season?
JE: Our success will be dependent on the cohesiveness of this team and the attitude of the players in how we approach every game. We cannot get caught looking past opponents or just expecting results. We are going to have to know that teams are going to play their best games against us and in turn we are going to have to bring our finest performances as well.
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