2008 Women's Soccer Outlook

Aug. 8, 2008

BERKELEY, Calif. - With nine NCAA Tournament berths in the last 10 years, California has earned its reputation as one of the best teams in the nation. In 2008, the veterans and nationally regarded newcomers look to take another step forward on the national stage.

Last fall, Cal posted a 15-5-1 overall record and tied for third in the Pac-10 with a 6-3 mark in head coach Neil McGuire's first year in Berkeley. The Golden Bears advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on the momentum of a 7-0-1 record over the final eight games of last season.

'Our expectations haven't changed,' McGuire said. 'We came in last year with the goals of competing for Pac-10 and national championships. The players' knowledge of our system will make a significant difference. We all have a much better understanding of our team's dynamic.'

Cal will be young this season after losing six starters from last year's team. However, the Bears are confident they can maintain their high standards with the addition of 10 newcomers who comprise Soccer Buzz's No. 4-rated recruiting class. The returning starters are goalkeeper Gina Pellegrini, defenders Nkechi Kanu and Megan Jesolva, and forwards Alex Morgan and Valerie Barnes.

Morgan and Barnes, 2007 honorable mention All-Pac-10 honorees, are Cal's top returning scorers. Morgan, who joined Jesolva as a Soccer Buzz second-team Freshman All-American, led the Bears in points (18) and goals (8) as a rookie and has emerged as a leading attacker for the U.S. Under-20 National team. Barnes was second on the team with career highs of 16 points and seven goals.

McGuire's focus is on replacing parts of what he termed the team's spine, which was comprised mainly of seniors in 2007. The Bears will be without central defenders Courtney Hooker, a two-time All-American, and Kristine Relja, and central midfielders Caroline Lea, Caitlin Hannegan and Laurie Gartrell. McGuire is confident he has the personnel to fill those critical holes.

'We can be very successful if our players jell together the way we are counting on,' McGuire said. 'When you bring in a group of 10 players to join a group of 16, chemistry will be critical. It's also equally important that we can score goals and defend teams. We will be tested early, which should help us in the Pac-10 and in the postseason.'

Cal returns three goalkeepers who helped the Bears record 11 shutouts in 2007. Junior Gina Pellegrini started 18 games last fall and posted a 0.95 goals-against average in over 1500 minutes in the net. Pellegrini also registered two assists for the Bears.

Redshirt junior Rosie Aguilera, who played her freshman year at UC Irvine, saw action in five games in 2007 and is coming off a strong spring campaign.

The Bears welcome back their inspirational leader, Jorden LaFontaine-Kussmann. The redshirt freshman recorded a 0.69 GAA in five games before being diagnosed with lymphoma in October. LaFontaine-Kussmann remained in school, and she was declared cancer free in the spring after six months of treatment.

Senior Nkechi Kanu and sophomore Megan Jesolva provide speed and experience at the outside back positions. Kanu, a 2006 honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, has started 40 of Cal's last 41 games, helping the Bears record 23 shutouts during that stretch. Jesolva was named Pac-10 All-Freshman after starting 18 of 21 games as a rookie.

Junior Brianna Bak is expected to anchor the center of the Bears' defense after periodically starting during her first two seasons. One of 11 Pac-10 All-Academic choices for Cal last season, Bak excels at taking set pieces.

Freshman Danielle Brunache, a U.S. Under-18 National team player, is a strong candidate to fill the other center back spot. Brunache also has the capability to impact the game up top and enters Cal ranked No. 23 nationally by Soccer Buzz. Freshman Kaitlin Paletta, who contributed to two USYSA national championships, could also be a factor on defense.

Senior Katherine Daiss and sophomore McKenna-Louise McKetty saw most of their minutes on Cal's frontline in 2007, but they may contribute as defenders this year.Freshmen Gina Woodward and Miranda White add depth to Cal's backline.

Cal must replace its entire starting midfield unit from last season. The Bears will be counting on junior Katie Oakes to emerge as a leader on the field. Oakes has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the country. As a sophomore, she registered two goals and a team-high three assists (all game winners) and stood out for the Bears during the spring.

Senior Nikki Schrey is an experienced midfielder and forward. Schrey netted three goals and one assist as a junior, including the game-winning goal in a 2-0 triumph over Santa Clara in the first round of NCAAs.

Sophomore Emily Shibata looks to earn a spot in the midfield rotation after playing in 19 games and making six starts last season.

Freshmen Katrin Omarsdottir, Caroline Dagley and Katherine Suits will have the opportunity to contribute immediately. Omarsdottir, who hails from Reykjavik, Iceland, has honed her skills as a member of the Iceland National team. Dagley is a two-time Marin County Athletic League Player of the Year. Suits played on the 2006 Olympic Development Program national championship team and contributed to three Region IV crowns.

Sophomore Alex Morgan and senior Valerie Barnes combined to score 15 of Cal's 39 goals in 2007. Morgan is playing her best soccer since suffering an ACL injury as a senior in high school. Her quickness and explosiveness up top has returned, as evidenced by a hat trick in Cal's 3-2 victory over 19-time national champion North Carolina in the spring season.

Barnes is coming off a breakout junior year. Despite undergoing knee surgery in the middle of the season, her 16 points last season more than doubled her combined 10 points as a freshman and sophomore.

The Bears' frontline is loaded with veterans and new options. Redshirt junior Katherine Daiss registered career highs for points (8), goals (3) and assists (2) primarily as a reserve last year. Redshirt junior Torrey Delaplane was a key reserve for the Bears a year ago, posting a goal and an assist in 21 games. The versatile McKenna-Louise McKetty netted a goal against Santa Clara in Cal's 2-0 first-round NCAA Tournament victory as a rookie.

Redshirt sophomore Lisa Kevorkian is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Natasha Richardson is prepared to bolster Cal's attack after also missing 2007 with a knee injury.

Camellia Senemar and Katie Benz have the potential to help Cal's offense as freshmen. Senemar has played for the Iranian National team and was the leading scorer for the 2007 ODP Region IV team. Benz netted a combined 57 goals during her final two seasons at Sonoma Valley High School.

Freshmen Mariam Azimi and Miranda White could be in the mix, as well.

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