2004 Cal Women's Soccer Outlook
July 16, 2004
BERKELEY, Calif. - The California women's soccer team looks to reclaim its long-standing status as one of the nation's elite teams during the 2004 season.
The Golden Bears are coming off a frustrating 2003 season - one that saw them finish under .500 for the first time in eight years and without an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in six years. According to head coach Kevin Boyd, Cal consistently outplayed its opponents but was hurt by injuries and a lack of scoring.
Despite the Bears' difficulties, 2003 had its highpoints, including a win against No. 22 Dayton and ties versus No. 3 Santa Clara and No. 25 Princeton. Cal maintained a Top-25 ranking until the final three weeks of the year and was in contention for a postseason berth until a 2-1 overtime road loss to Stanford in the season finale.
'Everyone wants to prove something and get us back into the playoffs,' said Boyd, who enters his eighth season as the Bears' winningest coach (85-48-10), in terms of victories, in the program's 22-year history. 'Last year was frustrating, however, it wasn't because we didn't play good soccer. We played great soccer but didn't get the results.'
A young but talented group looks to prove that last year's record (7-8-4) was a fluke. After losing six starters, Cal returns 14 letterwinners - seven juniors and seven sophomores - and welcomes 11 true freshmen and one redshirt.
'We lost some experience to say the least,' said Boyd, who in 2004 will field his youngest Cal team. 'What we lost in experience, we're going to make up for in excitement and energy.'Some of the leading returners are juniors Tracy Hamm (D), Dania Cabello (F), Liz Eisenberg (F), and sophomores Nadia Al-Lami (M/D), Alivia Mazura (D) and Katie Ratican (F). Al-Lami was one of Cal's three All-Pac-10 choices in 2003.
Headlined by midfielder Chioma Igwe from Belmont, Calif., and midfielder/forward Caroline Lea from Lakewood, Colo., Cal's recruiting class was rated No. 10 in the nation - No. 1 among Pac-10 schools - according to Soccer America and Soccer Buzz. Both athletes were among the Top 25 recruits mentioned by Soccer Buzz, while Soccer America rated Igwe No. 17 on its Top 25 list.
This year's Bears are fast everywhere, especially on the backline. That asset will go a long way to helping Cal return to the national spotlight and advance far into the NCAA Tournament.
Cal netted only 22 goals (1.2 per game) last season, but Boyd is confident he has the personnel to improve the Bears' scoring output this year.
'We attacked well this spring,' he said. 'I thought we were going to goal much better. A few of the players who struggled to score goals last season should step up this year.'
Cabello tallied only six points (two goals, two assists) as a sophomore after showing her true potential as a freshman, finishing third on the team with 17 points and first with seven assists.
Eisenberg paced Cal with two game-winning goals in 2003 and showed vast improvement during the spring season, while Ratican is the Bears' top returner for points (seven) and assists (three). She should be ready to play this fall after spring knee surgery.
Freshman Stephanie Wieger, a local product from Concord, earned first team all-league honors as a junior and senior at Carondelet High School and could give Cal an immediate scoring punch.
Cal must replace Kimberly Yokers, a three-time All-Pac-10 playmaker who now stars for the California Storm of the WPSL. A trio of youth national team players - Nadia Al-Lami, Chioma Igwe and Caroline Lea - are expected to carry the load in the midfield.
'We could have three national team pool players in the midfield,' said Boyd. 'That's quality. They may be two freshmen and a sophomore, but they're very good.'
A U.S. under-19 B team captain, Al-Lami is tabbed as Cal's defensive midfielder this season. As a freshman, she started 17 games on defense or in the midfield, netting a goal and an assist.
Igwe, an alternate for the United States at the 2004 U19 World Championship in November, competed on the U.S. U19 team at the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament in Ottawa, Canada. Lea has spent time on the U.S. U17 and U19 national teams.
Juniors Sierra Schlesinger and Lindsay Clute may see significant minutes this season. As a sophomore, Schlesinger participated in 11 contests, earning the team's Most Improved Player award. Clute has seen limited action the last two years but is primed for a breakout fall following a strong spring.
Freshman Laurie Gartrell offers experience as a U17 adidas national team player. She possesses the ability to deliver balls into the final third of the field with accuracy and different types of spin.
Adding depth to the Bears' midfield are sophomore Beth DeAraujo - considered the team's most technical player - and freshmen Jenny Wendell (a 2003 redshirt and NSCAA All-American), KatieWilcox and Caitlin Hannegan.
Junior Jamie Mangiardi will likely redshirt the season to rehabilitate an ACL injury suffered during spring drills.
To add more speed and toughness to its defense, Cal moved junior Tracy Hamm and sophomore Alivia Mazura from the frontline to its backline. The duo brings the added benefit of being able to attack out of the back.
Hamm led the Bears with nine goals as a freshman and tied for the team lead with 18 points. Mazura played multiple positions for Cal in 2003 and was voted the team's Freshman of the Year.
Freshmen Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja are top contenders for the other defender roles. Hooker plays for one of the nation's top five soccer clubs, SoCal United, and Relja propelled nearby Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton to a North Coast Section championship.
Freshmen Katie Martinez and Dayna Queisser should bolster the Bears' defense.
'This may be the quickest group of defenders since I've been here,' said Boyd. 'We're not going to get beat easily in one-on-one situations.'
Redshirt junior Ashley Sulprizio and sophomore Anna Key are the frontrunners for the starting goalkeeping nod. Sulprizio posted a 0.45 goals-against average as the starter for the first four games of 2003 before missing the rest of last season with a broken thumb. Key assumed the starting role as a freshman and recorded a 1.16 GAA with five shutouts.
Pressuring the incumbent goalkeepers is freshman Nicole Jarbo, who Boyd describes as a terrific athlete who improves every time he sees her play.
'It should be an interesting battle between Ashley and Anna,' said Boyd. 'I'm also interested in seeing how Nicole competes with our two returners.'