2007 Women's Soccer Preview: California

Aug. 20, 2007

Courtesy: Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz, Cal Media Relations

With a mix of experienced veterans, a No. 5-ranked incoming class and a motivated new coach, California looks to advance far into the NCAA Tournament this season.

Neil McGuire takes over a Cal program which posted a 12-5-5 overall record last season and advanced to the second round of the postseason. Last year marked the Golden Bears' third consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament and eighth in the last nine seasons.

'It's always been my goal to be part of winning a national championship as a coach,' said McGuire, who arrived in Berkeley after serving as the head coach at Texas Tech for the last two seasons. 'There aren't many schools which offer the opportunity of a national championship in women's soccer, but Cal is one of them. If you look at the quality of the recruiting base in California, the magnificent academic reputation and the history of this program, I don't think there's anything finer than Cal.'

Cal returns seven starters and six seniors who have all seen a lot of playing time for the Bears. Three of the returning starters are from Cal's dominant backline. Seniors Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja and junior Nkechi Kanu played major roles in the Bears posting 12 shutouts and a 0.69 goals-against average last year. Hooker earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors, and Kanu was an honorable mention choice.

The Bears also feature two Pac-10 honor recipients in the midfield in senior Caroline Lea and sophomore Kelly Menachof. Lea garnered her second straight second-team conference selection, while Menachof was named to the first-ever Pac-10 All-Freshman team.

Cal looks for a collective effort from its frontline in 2007, as the Bears lost their top two scorers from last season - Katie Ratican and Julia Schnugg - to graduation. Senior forward Stephanie Wieger is Cal's top returner for points with nine and is tied with Menachof as the top returner for goals with three. In addition to Wieger, junior Valerie Barnes and sophomores Lisa Kevorkian and Torrey Delaplane were part of the forward rotation in 2006.

McGuire believes he has assumed the reins of a deep, talented team that will suit his style of play.

'We want to be an up-tempo team,' McGuire said. 'We will be a team that attacks, looks to keep the ball on the ground and moves the ball so that everyone is involved. Our staff wants this to be a player-driven team. We're going to guide them, but they need to take ownership in their development as players and as a team.'

Cal's roster features four goalkeepers who will challenge for the starting nod. Sophomore Gina Pellegrini boasts the most experience playing for the Bears, posting a 0.15 goals-against average and four shutouts in eight games as a rookie.

Redshirt junior Nicole Jarbo performed well under tough circumstances in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Jarbo, who had play 10 minutes through her first two seasons, started both postseason games for the Bears due to injuries to two other keepers. Jarbo recorded nine saves to help her team beat Auburn, 3-1, in the opening round and tallied two saves in the second round versus Florida State.

Freshman Jorden Kussmann comes to Cal after being selected a 2007Parade Magazine All-American and earning a No. 12 national ranking by Soccer Buzz. Kussmann and all off the Bears' freshmen have spent time in the U.S. youth national team system.

Redshirt sophomore Rosie Aguilera, who transferred to Berkeley after seeing action in 14 games in 2005 for UC Irvine, could also be in the mix.

Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja have been fixtures in the center of the Bears' backline during their careers. Speedster Nkechi Kanu emerged as a starting outside back for the Bears a year ago. Hooker, a 2005 Soccer Buzz second-team All-American, and Kanu were both invited to a U.S. Under-21 National team camp last April.

Sophomore Brianna Bak gained valuable experience last year after Relja tore her ACL nine games into the season. Bak played in 18 games, making six starts, and headed in the game-winning goal against Stanford in the 89th minute.

Freshmen Megan Jesolva and McKenna-Louise McKetty are versatile and may impact Cal's defense. At No. 10, Jesolva has the distinction of being rated the highest by Soccer Buzz of any of Cal's newcomers. McKetty earned a top 75 rating by the national women's soccer Web site.

Redshirt freshman Jessica Mazura adds depth to Cal's backline and midfield.

Seniors Caroline Lea, Caitlin Hannegan and Laurie Gartrell have a combined 160 games of playing experience for Cal. Lea spent time with the U.S. Under-20 and Under-21 National teams over the last two years after beginning her collegiate career as one of the top 25 recruits in the country, according to Soccer Buzz.

Hannegan battled back from a knee injury as a sophomore to being a regular member of Cal's midfield rotation as a junior. She started 12 of the 21 games she entered last fall and netted her first collegiate goal in the Bears' NCAA Tournament win over Auburn.

Gartrell also saw time as a starter last season after serving as a reserve for two years. In 2006, she started 12 of Cal's 22 games and was one of 13 Bears who earned Pac-10 All-Academic recognition.

Kelly Menachof distinguished herself as one of the top rookies in the Pac-10 last season. Menachof competed in all 22 contests in 2006 and was tabbed as a starter for six of the Bears' final nine games.

Sophomore Katie Oakes and freshmen Emily Shibata (under-19 regional team) and Megan Jesolva should find time in the rotation. Oakes played in 12 games as a freshman on the heels of being chosen one of Soccer Buzz's Top 100 newcomers.

Stephanie Wieger, Valerie Barnes and Lisa Kevorkian have the most experience in a Cal uniform. Wieger, a 2004 honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, has a talent for scoring in big games. Five of Wieger's 11 career goals have come against ranked opponents, including in a 1-0 overtime triumph against No. 4 Santa Clara last season.

Barnes also has shown an ability to score timely goals for Cal. In 2006, she delivered the game-winning score in 1-0 victories over Indiana and Wisconsin, adding to her game-winning strike in a 2-1 decision over UTEP in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

Kevorkian posted five points as a rookie, and after beginning last season as a reserve, she started six of the final nine games of the year.Torrey Delaplane, who was selected the Bears' Most Improved Player last fall, should also be a factor in the lineup. Redshirt sophomore Katherine Daiss played in 13 games as a freshman and looks to get back into the mix after redshirting 2006 due to a knee injury.

Cal's newcomers - junior Nikki Schrey and freshmen Alex Morgan and Natasha Richardson - have the potential to bolster Cal's offense immediately. Schrey transferred to Cal as Saint Mary's leader for points and goals the last two seasons, with a most recent effort of 13 points and five goals last year. Morgan is currently a member of the U.S. Under-17 National team and is listed as a top 50 recruit by Soccer Buzz, while Richardson has spent time in the U.S. Under-17 National team pool.

The Bears' frontline rotation could also benefit from Megan Jesolva, a 2007 Parade Magazine All-American, and McKenna-Louise McKetty, a three-year member of the Olympic Development Program regional team.

Freshman Jacque Liu, a product of Sao Paulo, Brazil, hopes to see action, as well.