Ten Teams in Ten Days: UCLA's Women's Soccer Preview
Aug. 23, 2006
Question & Answer with UCLA's Head Coach of Women's Soccer, Jillian Ellis.
Q: What are your thoughts about the upcoming season?
JE: I believe we are a deeper team than last year, especially with the addition of an outstanding freshman class. I think this is a team that can have a very successful year. One of the biggest challenges we will face will be developing chemistry on the field. Having players involved with the U-20s has been great for our program and now we will have to work on getting them integrated as quickly as possible and establishing good team play. (Note: Christina DiMartino, Lauren Cheney, Erin Hardy, Danesha Adams and Valerie Henderson will miss the first part of the season while playing with the Under-20 U.S. National Team).
Q: What was your overall assessment of this team in the offseason?
JE: What the spring showed me was that every player here has something to offer. Our players really blossomed and I thought it was our best spring ever. It was extremely competitive and featured the highest level of play that I've ever seen in a spring season since I've been here. The players really committed themselves to work hard and prove, not only to me but to themselves, that they have a lot to offer. This now strengthens their ability to impact us this fall. The spring reaffirmed my belief that everyone can contribute. If you're a player coming off the bench, then it's your job to chase down the starters. If you're a starter, now it's your job to be the most impactful player in a game or at practice. If you're injured, then it's getting yourself as healthy as quickly as you can. Maximizing your personal potential benefits the team, and if everyone grasps this concept, we are going to be successful.
Q: How will you adjust to the absence of Kara Lang, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the offseason?
JE: As much as I like to emphasize just how deep this team is, the loss of Kara definitely impacts us. She came in as the top recruit in the country last year and worked hard to become an impact player for us. She is a great target player and inevitably we will miss her goal production. But I'm also looking forward to seeing other players rise to the challenge and give us an attacking presence. We're going to move Bristyn Davis back up top. She did extremely well for us on defense last year, but she's an experienced goal scorer who is excited to get the opportunity to return to her more natural attacking role.
Q: With three-straight College Cup appearances, this team features a number of players who are extremely seasoned in terms of tournament play. How do you see that helping this year?
JE: Without question that is an asset. This year's senior class is the only one in school history to have played in the College Cup every year of their career. Having that experience is invaluable. These players know what it takes to reach the highest level, to experience the ups and downs of a season, and to play in the pressure situations. After falling in the championship match the last two seasons, I can only hope that the motivation level of these players is at an all-time high. I sincerely believe that the driving force for this team is to win the 100th national championship for UCLA and to leave that legacy at this school.
Q: In talking about goalkeeping, having a player as experienced as Valerie Henderson returning has got to make you happy.
JE: Certainly. Val has done extremely well and is continuing to develop and improve her game. Her presence and strong mental attitude gives us experience in the back. Our other goalkeeper Ashley Thompson has worked very hard this summer to prepare herself for the opening match against Penn State. With Val gone with the U-20s, I know Ashley will step in and do a terrific job. Ashley received a lot of experience in games this spring and I know the whole team has confidence in her. The playing time she will gain during the early part of the year will make us stronger at this position upon Val's return. I'm also hoping that Val's experience in Russia will make her a stronger player and someone who is eager to get back and make this team better.
Q:Defense has been a key element to the team's success the last few years. With starters Erin Hardy and Mary Castelanelli returning, along with the addition of several standout freshmen, how do you see the defense shaping up this year?
JE: Well, having Erin and Mary back is obviously key for us. Mary is one of the top attacking defenders in the nation and a dynamic presence in the back. She also has the ability to push forward and create chances for our offensive players. Erin's learning curve last year was just phenomenal. She grew as the season went on and I'm excited to see what she will do with one year under her belt. We have also added two of the top freshmen defenders in the country in Lauren Wilmoth and Lauren Switzer. These two players have had a lot of exposure at the U.S. Youth National Team level, and I expect them to step in and make an impact right away. Cat Calvert, Jessica Harris, and CoCo Kleinert all had very strong springs and will be pushing for playing time. Newcomers Dea Cook and Britney Scannell also have the athleticism to step in and contribute to the back line.
Q: The midfield is the one area that didn't suffer any departures and is basically the same unit as a year ago. What kind of look will it have this season?
JE: Returning Stacy Lindstrom, McCall Zerboni, Danesha Adams and Christina DiMartino will give us a veteran midfield. Add to that Steph Kron, Michelle Gleason, Caitlin Ursini and Caitlyn Mac Kechnie, and it will probably be our most experienced area. I'm anticipating transfer Molly Kruger will compete for playing time as well.
Q: With Lang out for the year, most of the attention up top will be focused on incoming freshman Lauren Cheney. Is she ready to step in and have the type of breakout year that Lang enjoyed last season?
JE: Lauren is a special player and we're just so excited to see what she brings to the table this year. She's only in her first year, but she's really ahead of the curve in terms of her ability to hold the ball and then seize the opportunity to finish when she gets an opening. As I mentioned before, Bristyn will be playing up top, as will Alma Playle and Blake Zerboni, two players who really did some great things in the spring. Freshman Kristina Larsen, who is coming off and ACL injury, is also expected to give us a boost up there. A lot of players are going to get a chance to see what they can do in the attacking half of the field.
Q: With the departure of seniors Iris Mora and Jill Oakes, which players do you see assuming leadership roles this year?
JE: Well, our captains are Lang, Castelanelli and Davis, and I really like this group because they all bring different characteristics to the leadership role. They all have their own personalities, but at the same time have the ability to lead on and off the field. We're fortunate in the fact that when you go deep in the tournament and play in big matches year in and year out, leaders are born. One of the things that really stood out in my mind last year came in the final against Portland. Although we were losing, I saw the will and determination in freshmen like McCall Zerboni, Lang, Hardy and DiMartino. They never gave up, and that showed me a lot about their character. That proved to me that these players, although now only sophomores, are ready to lead despite their youth. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I expect the leadership this year to come from many different areas, starting with, but not limited to, the senior class.
Q: Have you set any goals for this season?
JE: Our goal every year is to compete for a conference and national championship. In the grand scheme of things, if we meet the primary goal of developing players, we will have a good chance every year of positioning ourselves to winning a championship. This program has come very far quickly, and as one of the top-5 in the country, we are the youngest. We've had to close ground on schools who in some instances have had programs around 20 more years than we have. We've managed to do that and establish ourselves as a team that can compete year in and year out for a national championship.
Q: How do you assess this year's schedule?
JE: As usual, I think our schedule is one of the most competitive in the country. Our non-conference portion of the season will be very challenging, but it will make us stronger in the long run . We're fortunate because our tournament brings together three excellent teams in Santa Clara, UConn and Texas A&M. We also start the year back east against two great teams in Penn State and Maryland, so we will see some tough matches right off the bat. It doesn't get any easier once conference play begins, especially since the Pac-10 had six teams make the NCAA Tournament last year. But I truly believe that playing the competitive schedule that we do is what makes us stronger in the latter part of the year and into the postseason.
Q:Looking back on seven seasons at UCLA, what are some of the things that stand out in your mind?
JE: I'd have to say the relationships that I've made with people who are involved with this program is what stands out most in my mind. The players who have come through here and the coaches I have worked with have made this a great seven years, and have given me some wonderful memories. CiCi Peterson is a player who really stands out. I was her third coach in three years and she came into my office on my first day here and was essentially about to quit. I talked her into giving it another week and she ended up being one of the best goalkeepers in this program's history. Watching Jill Oakes work her way back from a devastating injury and emerge as one of the top players in the country is something I will never forget. And then players like Danesha Adams and Erin Hardy who have grown in the program and worked their way on a U-20 World Cup team. That is definitely a lasting memory. Finally, watching players like Karissa Hampton, Staci Duncan and Tracey Milburn move into the next stage of their lives and call me to share their professional and personal accomplishments is a big reason why I coach.
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