2007 Women's Soccer Preview: UCLA

Aug. 23, 2007

Courtesy: Danny Harrington, UCLA Media Relations

UCLA returns nine of 11 starters from a team that advanced to its fourth-straight NCAA College Cup in 2006. The Bruins are also coming off the school's fourth-straight Pac-10 title, ending last season ranked No. 3 nationally in every major poll. Joining UCLA's nine returning starters will be 12 newcomers, making up what was ranked the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. In what has become customary in Westwood the last several years, UCLA enters the season listed in the top 5 in the early-season rankings (#2 in Soccer Buzz and #3 in Soccer America). Head coach Jillian Ellis brings a 153-31-7 (.825) record into her ninth season at UCLA. Her overall coaching record, which includes two seasons at the University of Illinois, stands at 172-49-7 (.770). Joining Ellis on the coaching staff this season are assistants Shannon MacMillan and B.J. Snow. MacMillan, a former U.S. National Team star, begins her first season of college coaching, while Snow, a four-year starter at Indiana, was elevated to assistant coach after serving one season as a volunteer assistant at UCLA in 2006.

With All-Americans Danesha Adams, Lauren Cheney and Christina DiMartino all returning, UCLA features one of the most potent attacks in the nation. The trio, all M.A.C. Hermann Trophy candidates, accounted for more than half of the team's points in 2006 (94 of 145), not to mention nearly 70 percent of the team's goals. Add 2005 leading scorer Kara Lang, who missed all of last season with an injury, to the mix, and 2007 has the potential to be a special year for the Bruins offensively.

The most difficult thing for opponents this season will likely be figuring out exactly who to stop, as the Bruins feature a dynamic offensive attack that mixes both size and speed. Adams, who is nearly unstoppable in breakaway situations, will provide the speed up top, as the senior led the Pac-10 in scoring two years ago with 46 points on 21 goals and four assists. She is coming off a season in which she ranked second on the team in scoring with 28 points (12g, 4a). She enters this year just five game-winning goals shy of tying the school record of 26.

While Adams is most deadly on balls played behind the defense, Cheney was able to maneuver right through opposing back lines last season en route to posting a conference best 39 points (19g, 1a). Last year's Soccer Buzz National Freshman of the Year and first-team NSCAA/adidas All-American, she set new UCLA freshman records for goals (19) and game-winning goals (8).Although Adams and Cheney get much of the credit for scoring the goals, UCLA's most deadly player might just be 5-foot-2 junior DiMartino, as she is the fuel that keeps the Bruins' offensive machine running. The only consensus first-team All-American on last year's team, as recognized by NSCAA/adidas, Soccer America and Soccer Buzz, DiMartino led the Bruins and tied for second in the Pac-10 with seven assists.

Lang is the x-factor in this year's group, as she unfortunately was unable to follow up her spectacular freshman season of 2005 due to a knee injury. The good news for UCLA is that she has played solid at several international events, including the 2007 Pan American Games this past summer. The bad news is that the Bruins will be without her for the early part of the season while she competes for Canada at the Women's World Cup in China. Once she returns, however, she will hopefully pick up where she left off two years ago when she ranked second on the team in scoring, registering a UCLA freshman record 40 points (17g, 6a). She and Cheney, both standing at 5-10, give the Bruins a formidable advantage up top, especially on set pieces.

Sophomore Kristina Larsen also figures into the mix, as she ranked fifth on the team in scoring as a rookie last season (3g, 0a).

Senor Alma Playle and junior Blake Zerboni join freshmen Liz Zadro, Carli Castaneda and Nicole Sweetman as players who figure to compete for playing time up top.

UCLA's midfield is probably the deepest area of the squad, with seven or eight players all capable of seeing a lot of playing time. In addition to DiMartino, who will likely play mostly at forward until Lang returns from the World Cup, the Bruins also return McCall Zerboni, who was a starter in 15 matches last season, She ended the year with six points on two goals and two assists. Two freshmen who will be making an immediate impact are U.S. Youth National Team players Kylie Wright and Sarah Salazar. Wright was one of four Bruins selected to represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games this past summer, while Salazar has seen extensive time with the U-16s and U-17s. Caitlyn Mac Kechnie, who played in 10 matches a year ago, joins freshmen Dana Wall, Taylor Cochran, and Elise Britt as other possible contributors in the midfield area.

Junior Erin Hardy and sophomore Lauren Wilmoth are the key returning defenders from a back line that surrendered less than a goal a game in 2006 (19 in 25 matches). Despite missing four matches last season while playing at the FIFA Under-20 World Championships with the U.S. National Team, Hardy has been the Bruins' most reliable defender the last two seasons, starting every match of her career. She was named a fourth-team Soccer Buzz All-American in 2006, helping the Bruins post 13 shutouts. Like Hardy, Wilmoth has started every match since arriving on campus. Her ability to step in right away as a freshman was key to UCLA's College Cup run last season, as the Bruins lost defensive leader Mary Castelanelli to injury just nine games into the year. Wilmoth kept busy in the offseason, recently helping the Jillian Ellis-coached U.S. Under-20s to a second-place finish at the Pan American Games in Brazil.

Joining Wilmoth and Hardy as a starter on the back line will likely be incoming freshman Lauren Barnes. Rated as the No. 2 recruit in the country by Soccer Buzz, Barnes brings a wealth of experience into her first season in Westwood, as she has been a stalwart with the U.S. National Team Program since the U-15 level. She and Wilmoth should work well together, as the two were teammates on Team USA's Pan American squad.

Two returning players that figure to get a lot of playing time in the back are junior Catherine Calvert and sophomore Dea Cook. Calvert played in both the midfield and on defense last season, starting 20 of 25 matches. Cook was starting on defense before and injury towards the end of the year limited her playing time down the stretch. Redshirt freshman Jenna Belcher could also log significant minutes on defense, as the Santa Clara transfer is a former U.S. Youth National Team player. She received a medical redshirt after playing in only three matches for the Broncos last season.Rounding out the defensive unit in 2007 will be returning players Britney Scannell and Nicole Kleinert. Scannell played in eight matches a year ago, including four of five during the NCAA Tournament. Also adding depth to the defense is freshman Nicki Friedberg.

UCLA returns what many consider to be the most experienced goalkeeper in the country, as Valerie Henderson embarks on her final season of college soccer. The senior All-American has been the starter in three NCAA College Cups, playing in the final in 2004 and 2005. She broke the UCLA record for career victories last season and currently has 56 in her three-year career. She is coming off a season in which she owned an 18-3 overall record, including an 0.72 goals against average. She also had eight shutouts, giving her 30 for her career (just one behind school record holder Lindsay Culp). Joining Henderson in goal are senior Ashley Thompson and freshman Lisa Jett. Thompson gained valuable minutes last season, going 3-1 overall with an 0.89 goals against average. She played in seven matches in 2006, making four starts. Jett, the tallest player on the team at 5-foot-11, is an athletic keeper from College Station, Texas, who figures to gain valuable experience this year with two seasoned goalkeepers teaching her the ins and outs of the college game.