Young Players Took The Stage In 2003

Jan. 12, 2004

CORVALLIS, Ore. - -

One of the biggest factors in Oregon State's 7-11-2 season in 2003 took place more than 2,500 miles from Corvallis before the season even started.

OSU's quest for an appearance in the NCAA Women's College Cup suffered a blow on a preseason trip to Costa Rica when senior forward Courtney Carter - the team's leading returning scorer and only senior who had seen playing time - suffered a broken tibia and fibula in her left leg. She broke the bones in the third game of the trip in a collision with the opponent's goalkeeper.

The injury sent Carter home early, but opened the door for a young frontline to showcase its abilities and gain valuable experience in Carter's absence. Carter subsequently received a medical redshirt year and is eligible for competition in 2004.

'Obviously, Courtney's injury was the downside of the trip, but that aside, it was a fantastic 12 days,' OSU coach Steve Fennah said. 'We achieved so many of the goals that we set for the trip, one of which was to bring the group together with so many new players. We played fairly well there, and a lot of new players really became part of a tight-knit group. It was an excellent start to the year for us.'

Rather than stumble out of the gate with five new opening-day starters, 10 new faces on the roster and no seniors in the lineup, OSU shot out to a 3-0-1 start that included a 1-0 win at San Diego State and a 0-0 draw with San Diego.

OSU struggled over its next five matches, the first four of which were on the road against No. 10 Duke, Wake Forest, California-Santa Barbara and No. 6 Pepperdine. The Beavers dropped all five contests by narrow margins, and fell in three of their next four before finding their form in Seattle to claim a convincing 2-0 upset of No. 13 Washington on Oct. 17.

OSU finished the weekend with a 1-1 tie at Washington State and won two of its next three games against Stanford and Arizona to earn a 3-2-1 mark in Pac-10 play and 7-8-2 overall before dropping its final three contests.

Three conference wins were the most for OSU while facing the current nine-game Pac-10 schedule, which was adopted in 1997.

The Beavers finished alone in sixth place in the Pac-10, marking the best nine-game conference finish in school history.

'At the end of the day, last year was our highest Pac-10 finish for an Oregon State team,' Fennah said. 'We're not getting too excited about it, because our goal is to be much higher and compete for the conference championship.

'We did prove that we can go and beat the strong Pac-10 teams and win Pac-10 games on the road. This year we were able to get over some of those hurdles and take some very positive steps. I think if I hadn't put together such a tough non-conference schedule our record would have been at .500. And sixth-place in the Pac-10 at .500 (likely) puts you in the NCAA tournament.

'Given that - and not to make excuses, but we did have to deal with some injuries - you put all those bits and pieces together and you have a team that could have had a very good record. We just fell short.'

The Beavers again faced a grueling schedule that included 10 teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2003, six of which were ranked among the top 25 at the end of the year.

More than ably filling the scoring void in Carter's absence was sophomore Tessa Baker, whose 25 points (11 goals, 3 assists) were the most since Val Williams put up 37 in 1995. Baker finished third in the Pac-10 regular season scoring race in 2003 after an injury-riddled freshman campaign limited her to seven points.

'Tessa looked sharper and stronger than the year before, and she improved from week to week,' Fennah said of the second-team All-Pac-10 forward. 'In fairness to her, it wasn't as if she got a bunch of goals in easy games - she scored big goals in big games. When she gets opportunities to score, she takes advantage of those opportunities. She has the knack of being in the right spot at the right time.'

Also stepping up their play were sophomore Stacey Mescher and junior Janelle Joy, who saw the first consistent action of her career and posted nine points (4 goals, 1 assist). Mescher continued her stellar play out wide that gained her a reputation as a dangerous setup threat with pinpoint crosses. She also tallied nine points (3 goals, 3 assists).

'Stacey is the perfect complement to Tessa,' Fennah said. 'She scares people because she runs with them. She's so fast that she draws a lot of attention.

'We clicked very well offensively - Janelle, Tessa, Stacey Mescher - all played very well for us up front.

'Across the midfield, we did a better job of passing and creating opportunities that we had in the past. And we looked very solid in the back. Aly Vislay's (defense) injury was another loss for us - she'd been outstanding for us in the early part of the season. Her injury, too, gave other people the opportunity to step up, and step up they did. Cara Miller, Lauren Whipple, Tiara Hong all stepped up.'

Another preseason question was answered when freshman goalkeeper Melissa Onstad posted a shutout in her first two collegiate games. Fennah had been faced with the challenge of rreplacing standout Jo Fletcher, who completed her career after the 2002 season.

Onstad held the starting job until the final five games of the year when Amy Johnson, a sophomore transfer, took over and earned a shutout of Stanford in her first start as a Beaver.

'I'm very pleased with our goalkeeping situation,' Fennah said. 'I really like the mix of those two. They push each other and have a very positive, competitive relationship. It's a good situation for us.'

The young team's strong play has Fennah optimistic for 2004.

'Next season, we'll have a very competitive schedule again, but we do have a balance between home and away games; this year we were the road warriors, and next year we have 11 at home and nine on the road,' Fennah said. 'So we're looking forward to that and we're very excited about the spring season. We're also excited about getting our senior captain back and having the leadership of Courtney Carter.'

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