Aug. 1, 2006
BERKELEY, Calif. - Coming off a third-round appearance at the 2005 NCAA Tournament, California is eager to take the next step on the national scene this season.
The Golden Bears recorded a 16-4-2 overall record last year and placed second in the Pac-10 at 7-1-1 for their best-ever record in conference play. It was Cal's first venture past the third round of the postseason since 1988.
"The team feels confident," said Kevin Boyd, who enters his 10th season at Cal as the winningest women's soccer coach in school history at 112-58-15 (.646). "By getting to the third round, we believe that we belong in the third round every year. The focus should be on taking the next step."
Despite returning only five starters, Cal welcomes back 13 players who saw significant playing time last year. Three of those starters are from the Bears' dominant backline. Senior Alivia Mazura and juniors Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja were huge factors in the Bears ranking seventh in the nation in 2005 in goals-against average with a school record 0.475 mark.
"Our defense is excellent," Boyd said. "We didn't focus this spring on defending, so we didn't quite have the high pressure that we had in the fall, but our defense didn't give up anything."
Cal's focus in the spring was its offense. The team has graduated four of last year's top-five leaders in points, including second-team All-Pac-10 selection Liz Eisenberg, who paced the Bears with 26 points and 11 goals last season.
Boyd is confident that this year's attack, led by seniors Katie Ratican and Julia Schnugg, has the potential to be potent. Ratican led Cal with six assists a year ago and ranked third on the team in points (12), and Schnugg - a second-team All-ACC pick at Florida State before transferring to Cal - came on strong late last season, finishing with six points (one goal, four assists).
"We dominated opponents in the spring," Boyd said. "We were dangerous and saw a lot of creativity from our players."
Senior Anna Key is the frontrunner to replace Ashley Sulprizio, who had a dazzling 2005 senior season. Key has played in 15 games and made five starts over the last two years, allowing only four goals in 723 minutes in the net for a 0.50 GAA. As a freshman, the Oakland, Calif., product started 14 of the 15 games she entered, posting a 1.16 GAA.
Redshirt sophomore Nicole Jarbo gained experience in the spring after seeing action in only one game last season.
Freshman Gina Pellegrini is also targeted to challenge for minutes in goal. A member of the 2005 National Select team, Pellegrini was a three-time all-league selection at Santa Rosa High School. The Bears have also added Rosie Aguilera, who transferred to Berkeley after posting a 1.37 GAA in 14 outings in 2005 as a rookie for UC Irvine.
"You'd expect Anna to be the starter, but there could be a battle for playing time," Boyd said. "Nicole had a great spring, and Gina is solid in goal. Rosie gained valuable experience at UC Irvine last year."
Senior Alivia Mazura returns as a starting outside back, while juniors Courtney Hooker and Kristine Relja will continue to anchor the center of the Bears' backline. All three athletes have been regular starting defenders over the last two campaigns. Mazura was chosen Cal's Freshman of the Year in 2003, when she started up top or in the midfield.
Hooker, who spent time with the U.S. under-20 national team in the spring, received second-team All-America and first-team All-Pac-10 accolades as a sophomore. Relja brings a physical presence to the defensive unit, while Mazura is known for being the team's iron woman and a leader.
"Our backline is experienced," Boyd said. "In the spring, when we played teams 30-minute halves, we were giving up one shot at most, and it wasn't even dangerous."
Senior Emily Ward and sophomore Nkechi Kanu are prime candidates to replace second-team All-Pac-10 selection Tracy Hamm, who has exhausted her eligibility. Kanu saw minutes in six games last year, including one start, and recorded an assist in Cal's game against Florida State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Ward played in 12 games as a junior.
Senior Nadia Al-Lami and junior Caroline Lea look to lead Cal's midfield. Al-Lami has started 53 games during her career, earning three honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. In 2005, Al-Lami launched the game-winning goal in a 2-1 come-from-behind win over USC and registered the game-winning assist in a 1-0 road triumph over Utah.
Lea, who participated in a U.S. under-21 national team camp in June, garnered second-team All-Pac-10 recognition as a sophomore after notching game-winning goals against Washington (1-0) and Stanford (2-0).
"Nadia and Caroline play well together and complement each other's game," Boyd said. "Nadia is more of the ball-winner and destroyer, while Caroline excels at creating a rhythm for the team. They're both great in the air."
Juniors Caitlin Hannegan and Laurie Gartrell are slated to play bigger roles in Cal's midfield in 2006. Hannegan missed most of last season with a knee injury after competing in 14 games, making three starts, as a freshman. Gartrell has been a sparkplug off of Cal's bench in 38 games over the last two years and was credited with the second goal in Cal's 2-0 victory over Rice in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
Redshirt junior Jenny Wendell, who missed the 2003 and 2005 seasons with knee injuries, and freshmen Katie Oakes and Kelly Menachof should find time in the rotation. Oakes is listed as one of the top 100 recruits for 2006 by Soccer Buzz, and Menachof helped her Colorado club team to five state titles.
Senior Beth DeAraujo looks to crack the midfield rotation.
Veterans Julia Schnugg and Katie Ratican are expected to ignite Cal's offense during their final season. Schnugg helped Florida State to the 2003 NCAA semifinals by posting 22 points (six goals, 10 assists) and added 17 points (seven goals, three assists) in 2004 for the Seminoles.
Ratican has improved her offensive numbers each season, recording seven points (two goals, three assists), 10 points (three goals, four assists) and 12 points (three goals, six assists), respectively.
"Katie and Julia stood out for us in the spring," Boyd said. "We're hoping to get a lot out of both players this fall. We need someone to stick the ball in the back of the net with regularity like Gidget (Eisenberg) and score goals when we need them."
Junior Stephanie Wieger battled injuries to both ankles last season and is now on track to get back to her freshman-year form. In 2004, Wieger posted 19 points from seven goals and five assists. Redshirt junior Bri Wiles will also battle for time after participating in 18 contests, including two starts, as a sophomore.
Sophomores Valerie Barnes and Katherine Daiss will be counted on for contributions. Barnes was voted the team's Freshman of the Year and tallied the game-winning goal in the Bears' 2-1 decision over UTEP in the second round of the postseason. Daiss saw playing time in 13 games, logging a goal against Oregon and the game-winning assist vs. UC Santa Barbara.
Freshmen Katie Oakes and Lisa Kevorkian may also be factors on the frontline. Kevorkian netted 143 goals during her fours years at Monrovia High School. Redshirt freshman Torrey Delaplane hopes to see action, as well.