Q&A with senior defender Ali Riley

Aug. 21, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. -

This is the first year senior defender Ali Riley has been able to participate in Stanford’s preseason camp because of New Zealand national-team commitments. In 2006, she played in Oceania’s Under-20 World Cup qualifying. In 2007, it was the World Cup with the full national team. And in 2008, it was the Beijing Olympics.

Her presence is valuable indeed as Stanford breaks in 10 freshmen and revamps its back line, which lost two central defenders and captains to graduation.

Coach Paul Ratcliffe called Riley, “one of the best outside backs in the country,” and recently named her as one of three captains, along with seniors Alicia Jenkins and Kelley O’Hara.

Q: How seriously do you take being a team captain?

A: It’s definitely an honor to know that your teammates trust you to lead them, but at the same time, there are so many leaders on this team. Everyone leads in different ways, so, in some ways, it’s just a title. I trust anyone on this team, were all best friends. Any of our players deserves to be captain.

Q: Do you see your role changing this year?

A: It’s changed a little bit with Alicia now playing the center back position. We have Rachel Quon, an unbelievable outside back playing on the right. But it’s similar – speed down the sides, putting in crosses. It’s hard to fill the shoes of Marisa Abegg and Allison Falk, but we have maybe six players who are all doing an awesome job at center back right now.

Q: Is it going to be a different style of defense?

A: I don’t think so. We don’t have the height, but we have great headers back there. Mariah Nogueira is one of the best headers I’ve ever seen. So, I think we’ll still have strength in the air, even though we don’t have the height, and we’ll also add more speed back there.

Q: Do you relish the opportunities to take off on offense?

A: I do. As much as I love defending, it’s so great to sprint up the side and put a ball in, and I know that (Lindsay Taylor, Christen Press, O’Hara, and Morgan Redman) will all be there. It’s great. It’s such a fun team to be playing with. You know, sometimes I don’t find myself playing that much defense, because they just take it away, so it’s good to sit back and watch sometimes too.

Q: How different does this feel for you, to be in training camp for the first time?

A: Leading up to the season, I’ve usually been playing a game every three days out in China or wherever. Here, doing these double-days and fitness tests is exhausting, but at the same time I love seeing the team development and getting to know the freshmen really well. It’s nice to see the team getting better every single day. In the past I’ve stepped in and the team was already set up and ready to go. This is really different for me to see this and be part of this really developmental state and to be tired from running our tests.

Q: What’s next for you in your national-team career?

A: This year is a down year for us. The next event will be the 2011 World Cup. So, every three months we’ll try to get a friendly in there. The next one will be in Japan in November, right during playoffs. So, if all goes to plan, I won’t be going to Japan. We’ve gotten more games and we’ve been able to find a lot more teams to play against. It’s gotten a lot better for us in terms of practicing and developing.

Q: What is your position with the national team?

A: It changes a lot because we change our system a lot, but I’m an outside midfielder in a 4-4-2. It’s very similar, it translates to an outside back in a 4-3-3.

Q: What is it about Alicia and Kelley that make them good leaders for the captain’s role?

A: They’re both really experienced and players that can lead by example in the way they play. They give everything, so much heart, all for the team. They sacrifice everything for the team. Also, as friends, they’re so trustworthy. You can always go and talk to them. But I would say the same about a lot of players on the team. That experience definitely comes into play as seniors, because our team is so close and tight. You could go to anyone if you ever needed anything. They put so much heart into everything that I definitely think that they’re a great choice.

Training camp update

The Cardinal flew to Honolulu on Thursday for its season opener at Hawaii on Sunday. Before the team left, coach Paul Ratcliffe said the most difficult aspect of the trip would be leaving seven players at home. In the past, the team could bring everyone, but because of national budget restrictions, there is now a 20-player travel limit.

Ratcliffe described why Jenkins, O’Hara and Riley were selected as captains.

“All three are very hard workers and very talented players,” said Ratcliffe, who made the decision with input from players and coaches. “They’re respected by their teammates, they’re seniors, and all have great character.”

The team is still in flux as Ratcliffe looks to fill two empty spots in the backline and figures how to best use incorporate the freshmen.

“The chemistry’s coming together,” Ratcliffe said. “And we have good depth this year, so there will be hard decisions to be made because there are so many talented players.”

However, he said the experimentation will continue beyond the opening match.

“I would say the first six games of the year,” Ratcliffe said. “We need to figure out our starters, who’s coming off the bench, the chemistry of the group, and if you’ve selected the right players for those spots. It also depends on the opponents. Different opponents are going to make different players look good.

“It’s going to be work in progress through the first half of the year. I’m going to be juggling the lineup and seeing, leading up to Pac-10s, who the leading players are to play in which spot.”

Asked if anyone has stood out, Ratcliffe said, “Every day a certain player will stand out, and the next day someone else. But overall, they’ve all shown well. It’s a very talented group.”


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