Women's Soccer Begins 10th Year Of Existence

Aug. 28, 2002

The 2002 season marks the 10th anniversary for women's soccer at USC. After a modest beginning, the program has made great strides to produce nationally competitive teams. With a young and exciting nucleus, the Women of Troy are looking to join the nation's elite programs over the next several years. The foundation was set last spring when USC defeated national powers Nebraska and Notre Dame in scrimmages.

'We have done well over the last five years, but now we have to change what we are doing and work towards the next level,' said seventh-year head coach Jim Millinder. 'We got some positive results in the spring and we have some good core players returning. There is a lot of hard work ahead for us in order to become one of the nation's best programs. You have to start with your recruiting classes and see what these kids can bring to the table once they are here and how much they want to work.'

USC (10-7-2 overall in 2001, 5-3-1 in the Pac-10 for fourth place) features a squad this season with only two seniors and three juniors. Millinder needs to be patient with a young squad, but understands the potential down the road.

'We have a lot of question marks, but we have a good group of returning players,' said Millinder. 'We need to get our returning players like Amanda Roach, Nikki Goza, Shannon Cross and Ashley Casas healthy for us to be successful. We know we have some question marks, but I think we will be okay.'

'We are not going to make a ton of changes. For the most part, the team that played for us in the spring will be our starting lineup in the fall. I think a lot will depend early on how the freshmen perform during the preseason. Jenna Killion (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS) might break into the starting lineup and I'm encouraged to see some strong play from Hillary Schwarzbach (Ben Lomond/San Lorenzo Valley HS), Tina Sutorius (Pleasanton/Amador Valley HS) and Jocelyn Leche (Pinole/Salesian HS). We have a lot of players who just have to learn about playing at the Division I level.'

After the team scored only 24 goals last season, USC looks to increase its offensive production for 2002 based on the health of the returning forwards and the infusion of new talent. The offense centers on two players, junior Jessica Edwards and sophomore Cross, who are both recovering from knee injuries last year.

'I thought our production from Edwards and Cross would have been better had they been healthy,' said Millinder. 'We need to bring along our freshmen in case some of the veterans go down so they can contribute immediately. We will focus on that as we get deeper in the preseason.'

Although the squad is young, depth will be a luxury this season for the Trojans.

'This is the deepest team that we have ever had here at USC,' said Millinder. 'Last year, we had our top kids get injured and it was difficult to compete at that level. We will be tested early, but at the end of the day it will make us better and make this program better in order to give our kids a lot of confidence.'

Here is a look at the 2002 Women of Troy position-by-position:

Edwards becomes the focal point of the offense again after teammate and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Megan Kakadelas transferred in the off-season. Edwards will look to rebound from a difficult season, scoring only two goals and five points after registering 11 goals and 29 points in her freshman season. She had a good spring season, including a two-goal effort in a 3-2 scrimmage win at Nebraska. Millinder will work on keeping Edwards in the penalty box to take advantage of her strengths as a goal scorer.

Cross was a pleasant surprise last year as she led the team with 10 points and tied for the team lead with four goals. She also led the Women of Troy with three game-winning goals. The question for Cross will be her ability to rebound from knee injuries that have hampered her last two seasons. She did not play her 2000 freshman season and made only four starts in 10 games last year. She has shown flashes of brilliance during the preseason and will work to gain her stamina back in the early part of the season.

Senior Jackie Fodor can provide some experience off the bench and can utilize her talents as a strong one-on-one player.

The surprise in training camp has been Sutorius, who gives the Trojans the big target forward they have lacked in the last couple of seasons. Leche has tremendous leg speed and will work on her consistency to take advantage of her athleticism. Schwarzbach is a versatile athlete and might also see some action as a midfielder or defender.

The heart of the midfield is junior Megan Abbamonto. She earned All-Pac-10 second team honors last year after starting in every game and providing leadership in a central midfielder role. As someone who can perform well in terms of ball control and physical play, Abbamonto is a valuable member and will be the key to the team's success this season. She will be moved into an offensive role this season to get more involved up front.

Helping Abbamonto in the middle are three solid sophomores: Casas, Kelly Blais, and Lindsey Green. All three played in every game last season, with Blais making the most starts of the trio with 13. Blais will be switched to a defensive role and will be a catalyst for the Trojans. Casas is recovering from summer surgery on the meniscus in her left knee, but should be at full speed in the early part of the season. Her strong work rate makes her a key starter. Green can play in the midfield or backfield and entered training camp in great shape.

This year, the Women of Troy will utilize four defenders, with the key switch involving the move of senior Ali Fennell to the back. Fennell adds quickness as the right back and has the ability to move up on the flank if needed. She earned Pac-10 second team honors in her freshman and sophomore seasons and will finish her career in the top 10 all-time at USC for goals, assists and points. Fennell had a strong preseason and has the tools to put together an All-America season.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Pruett was an anchor as the central defender last year, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors. Her steady play and strong one-on-one skills make her a key component as a last line of defense. She has the potential to be one of the nation's top defenders as her career progresses.

Injuries to sophomore Goza and junior Roach last year diminished the strength of the defense. Goza is highly regarded by her teammates and was named a co-captain prior to last season, but an ankle injury allowed her to play in just one game. She has not been as sharp as in the past, but her attitude will allow her to regain her play quickly. Roach is a physical defender who paired up well with Goza two years ago. Roach started in 13 of 14 matches last year before an ankle injury ended her season. She has recovered and should sit in the middle well with Pruett.

Killion has an opportunity to gain some playing time in the back, possibly as a starter. She has gained a lot of composure in a short time and her understanding of the game will make her a quality defender for the Women of Troy.

GOALKEEPERS As with most teams, the goalkeeping position can make or break a season. This will be the youngest position for the Women of Troy with sophomore Julie Peterson, who played in only two matches last year, and freshmen Katy Boynton and Samantha Platt. At 5-10, Peterson provides the Trojans with a tall keeper, but still needs to gain experience as a starter. She had a strong preseason and her increased confidence will make her an important player during the next couple of years. 'This is Julie's job and she knows she has to step up,' said Millinder. 'The lack of playing time showed at times with her during the spring. However, once she gets comfortable, she will do a good job for us.'

The Trojans' young players will have to grow up in a hurry. USC is faced with a schedule that is one of the toughest in the nation with 11 games against teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament. Along with the competitive Pac-10 slate, the 2002 schedule includes last year's national champion (Santa Clara) and runner-up (North Carolina). Among the other non-conference opponents are BYU, Penn State, Wake Forest, San Diego and Virginia.

'We need to be healthy going into the first game against Wisconsin and we need to beat them,' said Millinder. 'We are not looking at any of the games down the road. If we can get a good start then we can deal with the other teams. Once our younger players understand how we apply pressure in our system and learn about our game organization, we are going to be a really good team.'

The coaching staff is showing cautious optimism for this year's group, but knows the future can be bright for the Trojans.

'I have a good feeling about these players,' said Millinder. 'This is probably the best collection of players that we have had here, but staying healthy will be the key for us. I hope the freshmen will earn some playing time. We have the luxury this year of bringing them along slowly and getting some seasoning for them.'

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