Ten Teams in Ten Days: USC Women's Soccer Preview

Aug. 24, 2006

You'll never see USC forward Nini Loucks take a dive on the soccer field. It'll take more than a nudge to get defender Lindsay Parker to give up the ball. And the day you see midfielder Rosa Anna Tantillo force crocodile tears in front of a referee is the day Tommy Trojan melts in the California sun. To say the least, 'FLOP' is not in the USC Trojans' dictionary.

This may be Los Angeles, but the only dramatics you can expect to see when the Women of Troy take the field in 2006 will be in the form of explosive offensive strikes, dazzling defensive plays and gutsy performances on every inch of that grassy pitch. It's soccer season, and the USC women's team is ready to go.

As head coach Jim Millinder enters his 12th season overseeing the USC soccer program, he has the luxury of guiding a 2006 Trojan team with a talent pool deep enough capsize any opponent. In addition to associate head coach Nat Gonzalez, who enters his third season at Troy, Millinder has added assistant coach Kiha Thomas to his staff this year. The trio heads up a roster brimming with 16 returning players, including nine starters. Last year's bumper crop of newcomers now have a big year under their belts and return to Troy as 10 older, wiser and sturdier sophomores. Four seniors and four juniors are in line to guide the Trojans, who have four freshmen added to the roster for 2006.

'I think that the dynamics are good this year,' Millinder said. 'All those freshmen have had a year of experience and seen the Division I level and seen the Pac-10 competition. I think that will be helpful as the season progresses. We have good players all over the park.'

Last year, USC's unique blend of half new and half veteran players was able to gel relatively quickly and put together a strong run into the NCAA Tournament. USC posted a 13-6-2 overall record and made a strong statement in the Pacific-10 with a third-place finish on a 6-2-1 record. A program record 12 shutouts along with an all-time low of 20 goals against and only two tight Pac-10 losses propelled USC into NCAA action, where the Trojans picked up a first-round win before falling in the second round. The Women of Troy have yet to push past the NCAA Second Round. This season, it's time to break through.

'We have a lot of balance,' Millinder said. 'We want to improve in all facets of our game -- from finishing, to the midfield, to our possession game, to team defense, to individual defense. The goal this year is to make the NCAA Round of 16 or better.'

Headlining the charge is returning All-American and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Amy Rodriguez, who starred on the front lines as a freshman, knocking in a team-leading nine goals and earning 25 points. She returns for her sophomore season with the spotlight still shining on her after earning national and conference honors for her freshman efforts and having spent the summer in training with the U.S. National Team. It's no secret that Rodriguez is smart, dangerous and skilled, but she still manages to confound opposing defenses and will be the sparkplug in USC's attacking corps once again.

Rodriguez is just one of several Women of Troy who earned 2005 accolades and are back for more. Now a senior, Rosa Anna Tantillo has been hauling in awards and racking up points for USC for years ever since being named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year herself in 2002. The standout midfielder dished up a whopping 11 assists last season and finished second on the team with 19 points to claim both regional and all-conference honors.

Three other Trojans also garnered All-Pac-10 recognition along with Rodriguez and Tantillo, showcasing the versatility and depth coming back to the pitch this year. Meagan Holmes, Nini Loucks and Stacey Strong each hold down a different part of the soccer field, and all three were named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team last year. Defender Holmes also racked up All-American honorable mention and was a First Team Freshman All-American. Midfielder Strong received Freshman All-American honorable mention on the national level, and forward Loucks plugged herself onto the All-Pac-10 honorable mention list following a stellar first season at Troy.

And while returning junior goalkeeper Veronica Simonton's domination in the goal may have been overlooked by those bestowing 2005 honors, she already has chiseled her place in the USC record books. She was the goalie of record for all 13 wins to hold USC's top mark of the most wins in a season, and she claimed full ownership of 11 of the Trojans' 12 shutouts -- including a streak of three straight shutouts -- to lock down two more USC season records in 2005.

All told -- from the front lines to the last line of defense -- the 2006 Women of Troy are bursting with returning talent at every spot on the field. Take a look at how the Trojans are locked and loaded to make a run at the 2006 season...

Familiar faces and feet will pack the front lines for the Trojans this year. In addition to Rodriguez and Loucks tearing up the attack, USC returns senior striker Tracy Lansing and junior Lauren Brown up front.

'Amy is one of the most dynamic strikers in the world. She demands double and sometimes triple teams, and that open up others. She has the ability to score three goals a game, and there's not a lot of players you can say that about,' Millinder said. 'Nini is also very dangerous. She's relentless out on the field, and her strength is her pace and determination.

'Between Tracy and Lauren, there aren't many better players on our team in and around the penalty box as far as scoring ability. Tracy is very heady and smart. Lauren had a great start last year and then got injured, but she showed she is also a great goal scorer.'

Lansing has been a mainstay at forward in her career at USC with seven career goals. Brown got off to an outstanding start in her sophomore season with three goals in USC's two games early in the year, but was sidelined by a facial fracture soon after. Now fully healed up, Brown is back to rejoin USC's offensive unit, while redshirt freshman Marihelen Tomer also has powered back from injury. A torn ACL kept Tomer out of the lineup all last year, and her debut on the front lines for USC is eagerly anticipated as she brings her strength up front.

'Mari is relentless on the attack and a tremendous 1-v-1 player. She adds another dimension to the attack,' Millinder said.

The Trojans' other fresh faces at forward are true freshmen Jacquelyn Johnston and Jamie Petrossi, who will add some extra speed to USC's attack on opposing defenses. Petrossi may also spend time in the midfield for the Trojans.

'J.J. is good at holding the ball. She's smart and hardworking and knows her role on the team,' Millinder said. 'Jamie will be an impactful player. She has great skill and great composure.'

The Trojans' flexible midfield is almost entirely intact from last season. In addition to the overwhelming presence of Pac-10 honorees Tantillo and Strong, USC has senior Jocelyn Hein anchoring the midfield along with sophomores Kelley Finch and Ashley Nick.

'In my opinion, Rosa Anna is one of the best midfielders in America. She's got it all,' Millinder said. 'Stacey had a great freshman campaign and could be one of the most complete players that we've had. She has a great engine to run up and down, and I think she'll do great things in the midfield this year.'

What Tantillo and Strong bring to the offensive role of the midfielder, Hein, Finch and Nick hold strong to the more transitional side of the game, rounding out USC's powerful possession game.

'Jocelyn has the ability to score goals out of the midfield. I expect her to step up her game in her senior year here,' Millinder said of Hein. 'Ashley can spray the ball around and does a good job of holding the ball. She's that vehicle we want to play through from the back to get the ball forward. She and Kelley will run that midfield this year. Kelley has gained experience and confidence, and her organizational skills in the midfield will be vital.'

The Trojan defense was the staple of the season last year, pitching a record 12 shutouts thanks to the reliable anchors on the defensive line. At the core of that unit sits sophomore Holmes, who tracks down strikers and puts a stop to attacks from her central position in the back. Just ahead of her stands sophomore Janessa Currier, who has taken on the role of stopper for the Trojan defense.

'Meagan really held the fort in the back last year. She's so athletic and has outstanding speed. She gained tremendous experience last year and as a team we'll be better for it this year,' Millinder said. 'Janessa has good composure and skill on the ball. Her aerial game is one of the best in the country.'

On the left wing resides senior captain Lindsay Parker, whose speed, power and smarts make her another crucial returning element in USC's defensive scheme.

'Lindsay just gets it done. She exemplifies what a good captain is, and she's a conscientious defender,' Millinder said.

Juniors Kat Stolpa and Laura McKee are also back. Stolpa wields trusted skills both in the air and on the ground to further the Trojans' deft ability for takeaways and transitions, and McKee also has proven herself entirely capable of shutting down strikers and feeding into the Trojan counterattack.

'Kat is more confident this season. She's full of energy, a good header of the ball and gives good direction,' Millinder said. 'Laura has come into her own as a very solid defender. She's more focused and is having fun with the game.'

Sophomore Jessica Potter sat out much of 2005 to heal a torn ACL, but is in line for time onfield this season along with newcomer Briana Ovbude, who is the resident freshman on the back line for 2006.'Jessica has done a good job and will be competing for minutes at left back,' Millinder said. 'Briana will vie for playing time. She's very good in the air and has great speed.'

For USC's last line of defense, the Trojans have a trio of goalkeepers with gloves readied for action this year. Junior Simonton has the nod for the starting job, having shouldered 14 shutouts in her career after posting a school-record 11 in 2005. She's now just one shutout shy of tying the all-time career mark.

'We expect a lot from Veronica,' Millinder said. 'She's a confident player and good shotblocker and she's really improved her communication in the back and organizes the back four.'

Simonton's athleticism and experience makes her the top gun in the goal for the Women of Troy, although there are definitely capable hands backing her up. Redshirt freshman Brittany Massro sat out 2005 with an ankle injury and will be in the mix for playing time this year as a hard-working, athletic keeper. Also joining the Trojans for her first season of action is true freshman Kristin Olsen, who has played both the field and in goal during high school. At 6-0, Olsen offers up the size to help cover the goal well for the Trojans.

'Brittany is fired up and ready to go.She's an outstanding shot blocker and a very strong girl,' Millinder said. 'Kristin has a chance to be a great goalkeeper. She has good hands and is extraordinarily athletic.'