Ten Teams in Ten Days: Arizona State Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 17, 2006
The 2006 season will be a challenge for the Arizona State University soccer program, not only due to its tough schedule of conference and non-conference matches, but also because of the young roster the team sports this year. Although the squad of 26 players includes just two seniors and 14 rookies, sixth-year head coach Ray Leone is anxious to see what the Sun Devils can do on the pitch.
'Although we are young, we have many versatile players and that will make this team very exciting to watch,' Leone said. 'There is some great talent on this roster and we will have to see how each player can contribute to the program as we look for improved results from last year and try and reach the NCAA tournament.'
The Sun Devils, who ended the 2005 campaign with a 9-8-3 overall record and tied for fourth-place in the Pac-10 at 4-4-1, will be without the services of seven seniors from last year, including three players that led the team in scoring and rank among the Top 5 all-time in ASU history. Despite the graduation of the Class of 2005, Leone knows the best approach for his young squad this season.
'We need to approach this season with a positive outlook and patience,' Leone said. 'This group of players is coming together and have shown me a great work ethic and high level of competitiveness. I feel they will continue to work hard and come together as a team and that is what we need this season.'
Gaining experience against quality competition will not be hard to come by for the 2006 Sun Devils as the team is set to face several strong programs this season, including two teams that advanced to the final weekend of play in 2005.
'Our schedule will certainly test our players and also help us to become a better team,' Leone said. 'We have two Final Four teams and other highly ranked programs on the schedule this year. For a young team, playing against competition is the best teacher and the matches we have schedule this year will certainly teach us a lot.'
In the opening week of the season, the Sun Devils will face one of the two Final Four squads as national semifinalist Florida State comes to town for the Heather Farr Kicks Against Breast Cancer Invitational. Later in the campaign, the Sun Devils also will play host to Pac-10 rival and national runner-up UCLA at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium.
Along with FSU and UCLA, the Sun Devils will face nine foes that competed in the NCAA Championships last year with seven of those matches taking place in Tempe. After two matches played in 2006, the Sun Devils will face two tournament teams in a row, including FSU and St. Louis. Also on the schedule are UNLV and Pepperdine, both at home. In conference, the Sun Devils will face tournament participants Arizona and USC at home while traveling to both Stanford and Cal.
While the roster runs 26 players deep, the team has only two active seniors and five juniors to comprise the upper class of the program in 2006 with just six of those players competing for a majority of the season last year. With the roster's 14 freshmen and four sophomores, the Sun Devils will rely on its youth movement heavily in 2006.
Solid defense is a common key to success for most teams and the Sun Devils do boast a solid group in the back line area for 2006, led by strong goalkeeping and experienced defenders around the box. Goalkeeper Kim Bingham is set for her senior campaign and, along with redshirt freshman Briana Silvestri and freshman Katie Cochran, will look to anchor the defense and help ASU transition into the offensive end of the field.
'We need our defense to play strong and they will be key for our success,' Leone said. 'I look for our keepers to work well with the defense and really help us transition into our offense with strong counters.'The back line will be a mix of experience and youth as Kylla Sjoman and Kyleyn Felts return from last year's squad with several new additions to the roster to bolster the defense.
'Sjoman played well as a true freshman in 2005 and I look for her to continue to improve her game and become a leader,' Leone said. 'Felts also made strong contributions to the team last year and we feel she is ready for a breakout season for us. Throw in several talented freshmen and the addition of transfer Michelle Deatherage (three year starter at Utah) and I feel we will have a solid group of athletes helping Bingham defend our goal.'
Although a strong defense is crucial for success, finding a way to put the ball in the back of the opponent's net also is of paramount concern. The top returning scorers from last year include Alissa Oldenkamp and Lara Kezer, both of which had four points.
'In recent years, we had a few players that pushed forward and were able to score a lot of goals,' Leone said. 'We still have players that could do that, but I feel we will have to score by committee this fall. Our versatility will allow different players a chance to push forward and score. We may not have two or three players with a handful of goals this year, but I think you will see us have a handful of players with two or three goals.'
Even though the program lost the scoring of Manya Makoski, Brittany Cooper and Elizabeth Bogus, it brings back Kezer (two goals) and the speedy Oldenkamp (four assists). Also entering the mix is Carla Scanniello, a transfer from Memphis that netted six goals two years ago with the Tigers, and Courtney Crane, who returns from a redshirt season. Several rookies also could factor into the scoring scene following impressive prep careers, both with their high school and club teams.
INTERNATIONAL FLAVORInternational players Sjoman and Nieva return this season with Nieva joining the team following her summer with the U-20 Mexican team at the World Championships. The Sun Devils also have added another international player in Bjorg Thordardottir, who has recorded eight career caps with the full Icelandic National Team.