Ten Teams in Ten Days: Oregon's Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 20, 2006
A solid defense anchored by all-Pac-10 freshman goalkeeper Jessie Chatfield, and the return of senior forward Nicole Garbin -- arguably the best offensive player in school history -- have the Oregon soccer team thinking about uncharted territory in 2006: the NCAA Tournament.
To reach those goals, Oregon will have to replace the graduated Katie Abrahamson, a defensive stalwart in the center of the field, find someone to complement Garbin's abilities up front, and perhaps most critically, rebuild a midfield that has been Oregon's trouble area for years.
The Ducks' ability to address those three issues will be the keys in recording that first winning season and taking part in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
Even though it was expected, the best news of the spring came in April when the NCAA approved senior Nicole Garbin's petition for a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship. She lost her 2002 and 2004 seasons due to major knee injuries.
On pace to become Oregon's career leader in virtually every offensive category, Garbin (Wailuku, Hawaii) scored a school record 10 goals in 2005 on the way to earning all-Pac-10 second team honors. Seven of the 10 goals were game-winners, another UO single-season mark.She's already Oregon's career leader in game-winning goals (13), assists (14) and shots (173) and ranks second in goals (22) and points (58).
The challenge will be to find someone who can play off Garbin, and hopefully take some of the opposing defenses' focus away from the All-America candidate.
Of the returning players, junior Tiffany Smith was a likely candidate to team with Garbin on the front line, but a spring ankle injury has put her 2006 season in question. Smith may end up taking a redshirt season this fall, but that determination likely won't be made until just before the Aug. 25 opener. The Eugene, Ore., native had one goal and a team-high three assists in 2005.
That leaves three freshmen -- Melissa Buich, Leigh Quinlan and Megan Watson -- as the candidates to claim the Ducks' No. 2 forward slot, and all will likely see time there at some point during the season. Quinlan (Victoria, B.C.), a Canadian youth national team player, redshirted the 2005 season recovering from knee surgery. The coaching staff is anxious to see what she can do, but will proceed cautiously as Quinlan returns to playing a full field for the first time more than a year.
Buich (Alamo, Calif.) was a prolific scorer for her high school and club teams, while Watson (Lake Oswego, Ore.) earned MVP honors in her respective high school league. All three are expected to contribute right away.
It's been no secret that the Oregon midfield has been riddled with myriad problems over recent seasons. Last year was no exception with Cristan Higa, Andrea Valadez and Kate Nelson all missing games due to injury. Higa and Valadez have graduated, while Nelson, who would have been a senior in 2006, had to retire from the game due to a series of concussions.
The Ducks will also miss the graduated Caitlin Gamble, who was a pleasant surprise as Oregon's second-leading scorer with four goals in 2005.
Facing the possibility of an entirely new starting midfield, the Ducks will look to as many as seven freshmen to help control the middle section of the pitch and support the offensive attack in a manner that has been lacking in years past.
Oregon may actually have a few pieces to the midfield puzzle in place among the returning players. Sophomores Darcie Gardner and Taylor Callan (Portland, Ore.) were forced into playing extended periods as freshmen and can use that experience to earn minutes in 2006. Gardner, however, may be more valuable playing among the back four. Rachel Grushkin (Eureka, Calif.) is one of only three seniors on the squad to provide veteran leadership for Oregon's large sophomore and freshmen classes.
The Ducks will also benefit from having a healthy Jen Cameron back in the mix. The sophomore from Tigard, Ore., redshirted 2005 with a knee injury,but came out of the spring looking like the impact player she was expected to be out of high school and may be the person to unseat at center defensive midfield.
The new faces in the midfield coincide with the coaching staff's effort to make the Ducks' middle one of the best in the Pac-10. And among those seven are the Oregon state player of the year in Rianna Mansfield (Eugene, Ore.) and the Washington state player of the year in Dani Oster (Mill Creek, Wash.). Adding Teresa Bowns (Redmond, Wash.), Danielle Sweeney (Pleasanton, Calif.) and Watson should make for highly competitive practices this fall.
A pair of walk-ons who more than held their own this spring -- redshirt freshman Kara Beasley (Portland, Ore.) and Adriana Montes (Eugene, Ore.)-- add depth to the roster. Montes is a transfer from Lane CC.
The young Duck defense was tested under fire in 2005 as goalkeeper Jessie Chatfield and defenders Nicole Dobrzynski and Allison Newton all stepped into starting roles as freshmen. The result was an improvement of more than half a goal allowed over the previous season, and an all-Pac-10 freshman selection for Chatfield.
Therefore, the defense should again be Oregon's most cohesive unit, with Newton (Eugene, Ore.) and Dobrzynski (Danville, Calif.) anchoring the wings and Dylann Tharp likely holding one of the two center spots. Tharp, a junior from San Pedro, Calif., has become one of Oregon's most consistent players and has started 37 consecutive matches.
Oregon is looking to fill the other center back position, patrolled successfully the last two seasons by Abrahamson, and Gardner emerged in the spring as a viable candidate. The Bellingham, Wash., native got her freshman campaign off to a strong start, but hit a wall about a month into the season and played more of a reserve role. Fortunately, Gardner had one of the best springs among the returners and has become one of Oregon's better players in terms of winning loose balls in the air.
The Ducks will also be hard-pressed to keep freshman Barbara Blocker off the field. The Sacramento, Calif., native was a Soccer Buzz top 100 recruit.
Chatfield (Eugene, Ore.) is quietly becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the Pac-10. Along with Gardner and Cameron, Chatfield may have shown the most growth of any Oregon player during the spring season.She set UO single season records for shutouts (7), consecutive shutouts (3) and shutout minutes (355:47) and is heading into the fall looking even more confident as the Ducks' defensive general.
Chatfield will be backed up by senior Emily Marrer and freshman Emily Zaler. Marrer (Glendale, Ariz.) suffered a shoulder injury during the spring and may not be available at the outset of the fall campaign.Which may mean that Zaler (Scottsdale, Ariz.) could be called into duty earlier than planned.
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