2008 Women's Soccer Season Preview
Aug. 25, 2008
SEATTLE - Don't mention the word rebuilding with Washington women's soccer head coach Lesle Gallimore.
It's an overused word she'd rather not associate with the Huskies as they enter the 2008 season looking to return to prominence.
The first Pac-10 team outside of the state of California to win the conference, Washington will look to rebound this season after three consecutive disappointing campaigns since a program-best Elite Eight finish in 2004.
With 17 returning players and one of the program's best recruiting classes, the time is now for the Huskies to ensure the word 'rebuilding' is no longer used.
'I'm really tired of the word `rebuilding,'' Gallimore said. 'We just need to get back to the expectation of winning. It's always been a part of this program but everyone knows it's difficult. It's difficult in Division I sports and it's difficult in the Pac-10 and it's something you have to work hard to achieve.'
Winning is particularly difficult in the Pac-10, which features defending NCAA champion USC and national powerhouses Stanford and UCLA. UW finished just eighth in the conference in 2007, but three of their six losses in conference play came by just one goal, including a 2-1 loss to USC.
'I think after the 2007 season our team realizes we have to work harder to earn wins,' Gallimore explained. 'They showed us between January and May when we finished up our spring season that they've bought into it and they're ready to put it on the field.'
The Huskies return five of their top seven scorers, led by seniors Melissa Beal and Jenna Robison. They are among four seniors - along with Katie Hall and Dana Stirn - who are looking for redemption after enduring three difficult seasons.
'This group has lasted and they've had a great amount of fortitude to get to this point and for me, personally, there's nothing I'd like to see more than that group finish their careers here on an up note and I think they're feeling the same way,' Gallimore said.
With just two seniors on the squad having played significant minutes over the last couple years, the team will rely on a solid group of juniors and a talented core of sophomores who saw plenty of time in 2007. Additionally, Gallimore has a freshman class which she feels has the potential to be the best class she's had at Washington.
'Our junior, sophomore and freshman classes combined have a ton of talent and they add to the talent and experience of our seniors. You can't put too much on the shoulders of freshmen because they've done great things before they arrived on campus,' Gallimore said. 'We certainly have high expectations for them, but at the same time those expectations have to be realistic. It's the returners who have to carry the group. We think we have a freshman class that can really put the icing on the cake for us.'
The group of freshmen is led by two-time Washington State Player of the Year, Kate Deines, who will fight it out with a talented group for time in the midfield. Seven other true freshmen will fight for playing time, including Kari Davidson, who will look to win a three-player battle at the goalkeeper position.
With such a young team, Gallimore knows the task ahead is not easy, but she no longer feels her team is in a rebuilding mode, and it now has the determination and desire to restore the winning tradition to Husky soccer.
'The key for us is finishing games and learning how to win games,' Gallimore said. 'Everything in between we've been very good at the last three years. Being a goal-scoring team that doesn't give up soft goals has to be our mantra and that will give us more wins than in past years.'
GOALKEEPERSWhile the Huskies have one of the top goalkeeper coaches in the world in former U.S. National Team goalkeeper Amy Griffin, the group will have to soak up as much knowledge from her as they can while she is around. During the summer, Griffin helped lead the U-17 U.S. Women's National Team to a berth in the first-ever FIFA U-17 World Cup and she will miss a large portion of the Huskies' 2008 schedule to travel with the team to New Zealand.
Before she leaves, Griffin and Gallimore will evaluate a group of three goalkeepers to determine who will get the starting nod and the bulk of the playing time.
Just one goalkeeper with college experience returns, junior Alex Phillips, who has spent just 135 minutes in goal.
'We're confident that we have the talent at this position to do well,' Gallimore commented. 'Alex Phillips has made a ton of progress in the off-season but she doesn't have a full collegiate season under her belt. We have a lot of confidence in Kari that she's going to be a great goalkeeper but it's hard to put that kind of pressure on a freshman, particularly at a pressure position like goalkeeper.'
While she lacks the collegiate experience, Davidson does bring with her some impressive credentials.
'I feel we'll be much improved at that spot. Alex has the most collegiate game experience but that's just a couple games in the fall and the spring,' Gallimore said. 'She has to get in there and make her experience be the difference between her and the next two.'
DEFENDERSThe defense should be solid and much-improved after the team allowed 1.82 goals per game in 2007.
'That's the place where we were most proud of our improvement in the off-season,' Gallimore said. 'I think that group is as solid as we've seen them in past years. We've sorted some things out by moving Kendyl Pele from the outside to the inside. She's a physical specimen and just a tremendous athlete.'
As a freshman, Pele started all 19 games for the Huskies, the only freshman to do so. She'll look to assert herself more with a full season under her belt. Also returning to the backfield are junior Lindsey Kasser, sophomore Hannah Greig and fifth-year senior Dana Stirn, who will look to rebound after a series of injuries.
'Lindsey Kasser was all-world in the spring so putting her and Kendyl Pele in the center of the back really helps us,' Gallimore said. 'Getting Dana Stirn back finally and getting her speed back on the outside has really helped us as well.'
Greig, who started 10 games as a freshman, will make the move from the left to the right side, which Gallimore thinks will make the defense that much stronger.
'We have depth and some quality players who will push for roles in the back,' Gallimore said, 'but those four are going to be tough to beat out.'
MIDIFELDThe midfield is crowded with several players fighting it out for playing time, a luxury Gallimore isn't disappointed to have.
'That's the place where we will probably have the most competition, especially in the center of the midfield,' Gallimore said. 'It's a really, really deep position for us and a really talented position where we should be able to and expect to dominate other teams.'
The midfield is highlighted by senior Jenna Robison, who is the Huskies' second-leading returning scorer. Additionally, junior Nikki Murray will make the move from center back to midfield after showing a knack for scoring and creating.
'Nikki had the best spring of all our center midfielders after making the transition,' Gallimore said. 'You throw Jenna Robison in there, who is very talented and skillful, Chelsea Bumbaugh who has played a significant amount of minutes in her first two years here and two sophomores - Jane Mitchell and Sara Turcios - who are very talented and they are going to get after each other for time.'
Also getting into the mix will be Gatorade State Player of the Year Kate Deines, one of Gallimore's most heralded recruits. Deines led Issaquah (Wash.) High School to three Class AAA state titles and a 75-5-3 record in her four years.
At the wide midfield position, Alex Kirk and Kellye Joswick return after each playing in 18 of the team's 19 games last season. Freshmen Faustine Dufka and Siana May will all challenge for time as well. Gallimore also expects junior Erin Foley can bounce back from a series of injuries to contribute.
FORWARDSScoring will once again be the determining factor for the Huskies in 2008 after they scored less than a goal per game in 2007 and were shut out on five occasions. The front line will rely heavily on senior Melissa Beal, whose scoring dropped off in 2007 after she led the team her first two seasons as a Husky.
'Melissa has shown she can score goals so her consistency and her ability to play significant minutes is going to determine what's going to happen on our front line,' Gallimore said. 'She has been a go-to person for us.'
Beal will have two solid returners to take some pressure off her in junior Veronica Perez and sophomore McKenna Waitley. Both players showed their talent last season with Perez playing all 19 games and scoring five points while Waitley played in 18 games as a freshman and scored four points.
'McKenna Waitley probably had the best overall spring of anyone on our team,' Gallimore commented. 'Any type of competition or games or scrimmage against an outside opponent, she was a factor in everything. She's going to be able to come in and do some great things for us.'
'They are both physically very capable freshmen who we can get some production out of,' Gallimore said. 'It's exciting for us to have new people in just about every position blended with veterans who know the expectations.'
THE SCHEDULEAs usual, the Huskies face a daunting schedule but hope that some quality wins lead to their first berth in the NCAA tournament since 2004.
The Huskies will face nine teams who were in the 2007 post-season including defending national champion USC.
'I feel a difficult schedule pays off in the long run,' Gallimore said. 'Our goal as a program has never been to just be a tournament team. When we get to the tournament we want to win. We want to go as far as we can and challenge for a national championship and win the Pac-10 and we've shown we're capable of doing both.'
A Pac-10 schedule alone will make them as tested as any team in the country.
'The Pac-10 is just so competitive. For a long time there was a top half and bottom half,' Gallimore said. 'There is absolutely no easy game in our conference now. There is so much parity, on any given day anyone can beat anyone. It's daunting, but it's fun because you realize you're not the only one looking at the daunting task. Everyone else is looking at it too. I think our team is ready for a test and I think they'll stand up to it.'