It's About The Team: 2004 Season Outlook
Aug. 17, 2004
'It's About The Team.' The adoptive slogan for the USC women's soccer team will be a mantra used throughout the 2004 season. It's a philosophy that was created last spring and will be utilized as a foundation for what the Women of Troy believe will lead to eventual success. USC (9-8-4 overall in 2003, 5-3-1 in the Pac-10 to tie for third place) features eight returning starters and 18 letterwinners from last year's squad that reached the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was the Women of Troy's sixth straight tournament appearance. The team lost only three graduated seniors in 2003 All-Pac-10 first team midfielder Megan Abbamonto, forward Jessica Edwards and defender Amanda Roach. 'I think it's a good group of players as far as their character and willingness to work with each other,' said USC head coach Jim Millinder, who starts his ninth season at the helm. 'We have good players, but I think it's more of a team where the players understand their roles. I have a good feeling about this group.' Senior goalkeeper Julie Peterson holds several school records, including career goals-against-average (1.04) and career shutouts (15), and will be a key for the defense. Fifth-year senior Nikki Goza anchors a solid USC backfield while senior Ashley Casas will control things in the midfield. Casas will be joined by sophomore Rosa Anna Tantillo, who was the 2003 Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year. Tantillo is being moved to the midfield after leading the Women of Troy last year in goals (seven), points (16) and game-winning goals (three). Despite a class of seven freshmen and sophomore transfer Taviana Shabestari (San Diego State), the team will have the luxury this season of not having to push the young players into action right away. 'We have a lot of returning players with a lot of experience and at the end of the day, it will be important,' said Millinder. 'I'm not really relying on the freshmen this year to come in and make an impact. There may be one or two freshmen who will start and a few more who have a chance to play a lot of minutes. I think it will be good for them that they have a chance to sit back and see what it takes to play at this level.' This season, the Women of Troy added a new member to its coaching staff with associate head coach Nat Gonzalez. Gonzalez spent the last three years as the head coach for the men's program at UC Riverside and played as a college goalkeeper at UCLA. 'Nat brings a lot of experience as a head coach,' said Millinder. 'He can make a lot of suggestions and is another good set of eyes that I can rely on. He possesses a great disposition and the girls like him as a coach.' Here is a look at the 2004 Women of Troy position-by-position:FORWARDS Junior Tina Sutorius is the team's tallest forward and provides the Women of Troy with a tall target forward to battle opposing defenses. 'Tina had a great spring with a strong summer,' said Millinder. 'She has a lot of confidence now and we are hoping she can break out for us this season.' Senior Shannon Cross has battled injuries throughout her career and, if healthy, she can produce a lot of offense. 'Shannon is a great one-on-one player and seems to be at the right place to score goals,' said Millinder. 'She has a good understanding of the game and if she stays healthy, she will be an offensive threat.' Sophomore Tracy Lansing had a terrific spring and will be one of the leading candidates to be a starter. Sophomore Lindsay Parker has been a pleasant surprise and may also push for starting duties. Freshmen Taylor Smith (Irvine/University HS) and Lauren Brown (Chino Hills/St. Lucy's Priory HS) can both play up front or in the midfield. Redshirt freshman Natalie Nunn should also see some playing time off the bench. 'Taylor is a good athlete and can grow into a solid Division I player,' said Millinder. 'Lauren plays with a lot of composure, which will help her at this level.' Goals might be a premium this season for the Women of Troy, but that might change as the season progresses. 'This might be the question mark for the team this year,' said Millinder. 'The good part, however, is that all of these players can contribute and if they can produce for us, we will score our share of goals.'MIDFIELDERS Casas and Tantillo will provide a strong 1-2 punch for the Women of Troy. 'Ashley is a stud for us,' said Millinder. 'I never worry about her and she gets better with more confidence. Rosa Anna can make an impact on the game at any point and I believe she will help our team with the offense running through her.' Senior Kelly Blais started in every match last season and will be counted upon to win key aerial battles. 'Kelly is hungrier than ever,' said Millinder. 'She will be our defensive midfielder and key player to distribute balls out of that area.' Junior Amy Mann can log key minutes off the bench while sophomore Jocelyn Hein can play here or up front if needed.DEFENDERS This will be the strength for the Women of Troy. Goza will be one of the central defenders for the team and a valuable asset. 'Nikki really came in where she left off in the spring,' said Millinder. Juniors Jocelyn Leche and Hillary Schwarzbach have enough speed on the flanks to be worthy defenders. Both players will be able to provide pressure for opposing forwards. The one surprise in the backfield has been sophomore Lauren Shepherdson. Thanks to a solid spring, she has given the coaching staff a reason to be confident. 'I thought Lauren was our best player and the most consistent during the spring,' said Millinder. 'She will be able to fill Roach's spot in the lineup.' Sophomore Paige Janes also had a surprising spring and can play in the midfield or backfield while freshman Kat Stolpa (Palo Alto/Palo Alto HS) might also see some playing time. 'Kat is very good in the air,' said Millinder. 'She just needs some time to get used to the learning curve at the Division I level, so there are no expectations on her to produce right away.' Senior Rachel Field will also be able to contribute off the bench.GOALKEEPERS Peterson is the team's No. 1 goalkeeper and has been solid during the preseason. Her backup, redshirt freshman Veronica Simonton, will see some playing time this season. 'Veronica can press Julie at any time this season,' said Millinder. 'It's all about confidence. It's difficult to change goalkeepers at any time like normal field players. We will see how the preseason goes, but we would like to give Veronica some matches this season.' The 2004 schedule does not have the rugged difficulty as in past seasons, but that does not mean wins will come easily. 'I eased up a little on the schedule, but I know there is no such thing as an easy game,' said Millinder. 'We are facing NCAA Tournament-caliber teams and some tremendous individual players. You can't look anymore on your schedule and say you will get a win because it doesn't happen that way. The Pac-10 schedule will be tough as always and it takes a lot out of us. We have to be focused on the task at hand.' The Women of Troy will face three players in their first four games who are on the watch list for the 2004 MAC Hermann Trophy as the national college player of the year. USC travels to Tallahassee, Florida, on the opening weekend to face Rhode Island in the season opener before taking on forward Leah Gallegos and host Florida State. The following weekend, USC opens its home schedule against Hawaii, led by forward Natasha Kai (she led the nation in scoring last year with 29 goals), and Rutgers, led by three-time U-21 National Team midfielder Carli Lloyd. Also, 2003 NCAA Tournament participants Tennessee, BYU and San Diego will be a part of the nonconference slate before the start of the rugged Pac-10 schedule. For the 2004 Women of Troy to garner success, it's about the team. 'You can have superstars, but it doesn't guarantee you anything,' said Millinder. 'We took the posture that it's about everyone understanding their roles and playing hard for each other for 90 minutes. If we go out and play hard, we are going to surprise some teams this season.'