Aug. 31, 1997
Cal Women's Soccer - 1997 Season Outlook
Setting a New Standard
At first glance, the University of California women's soccer team may appear to have a difficult time surpassing its achievements of a year ago. The 1996 season saw Cal breeze through the majority of its schedule as the Golden Bears posted a 13-3-2 (.813) overall record (5-2 Pac-10) and came within an eyelash of earning the squad's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1993.
But first year-head coach Kevin Boyd thinks otherwise. And there's good reason to believe his optimism regarding the 1997 edition of the Golden Bears is far from misplaced.
Granted, duplicating last year's on-field success will be difficult, especially after losing what proved to be the core of last year's squad -- six senior starters, including three All-Pacific-10 selections, have since graduated. But Boyd and his staff believe the Bears possess the right mix of players not only to make another strong run at the Pac-10 title, but to take the next step and earn a berth in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.
"We are very excited about the make-up of this year's team," said Boyd. "We were so good last year because of our depth. We have seven new players coming in who are great players. They will push our current starters even harder, which means we are going to have depth again, and I think we are actually stronger at each position than we were last year."
Last season proved to be a break through campaign for Cal, as the Bears registered their highest win total of the current decade.
"What we got last year was nothing but a taste of our potential and we're not done yet.," stated Boyd. "We want to take the success of last season and build on it, improve upon it and we are going to be very disappointed if we do not make the NCAA Tournament."
Cal returns 17 letterwinners off the '96 squad and has added a recruiting class of seven that includes one member of the Under-16 U.S. National team and five additional regional Olympic Development team players.
The following is a position-by-position look at the 1997 Golden Bears:
Carroll, who was a starter in all 18 matches for Cal last season and totaled three goals and five assists, is perhaps the squad's fastest player. While Oades, who tied for the team scoring lead with 14 points on six goals and two assists as a starter in 15-of-18 games, just may be the team's strongest player holding the ball.
"Courtney is extremely fast and because of her speed, we're always looking to expose her behind defenses," noted Boyd. "She also has a cannon for a leg and can hit bombs with either foot.
"Mary, on the other hand, is as strong as a truck," he added. "She can turn with the ball and roll through people. Occasionally, people step in her way and she goes right through them and keeps going, always staying on the ball. Defenders have a difficult time getting her off the ball."
Balavac, who appeared in all 18 games (starting four), was fourth on the team in scoring with 13 points on five goals and three assists. Mallison saw action in 17 matches, finding the net twice and assisting on another goal. Both saw extensive playing time last season, though mostly in support roles, and according to Boyd bring an element of smoothness and finesse that contrasts well with their senior counterparts.
"Amy is one of the shiftiest players on the team with the ball," said Boyd. "She is also very smart and, more often than not, is in just the right spot on the field to capitalize on an opponent's mistake.
"Stacey is also a very tricky player," Boyd continued. "She is very deceptive with the ball at her feet and has the ability to find lanes where teammates are running into open space. Together with Courtney and Mary, our opponents will have to constantly adjust. They won't be able to single out just one player in our offensive scheme. They are going to have to pay attention to all of them because they are all equally dangerous."
Leading the group is sophomore Kim Brown. A second team All-Pac-10 selection as a freshman, the local Berkeley product tied for the team lead in scoring with 14 points on six goals and two assists from her center-mid position in 1996. She has the endurance to run all day long and the skills to make a difference once she arrives at her destination.
"After attending the US National Team Under-20 camp this summer, she is realizing her potential," said Boyd. "She did a tremendous job for us last season in only her first year on the collegiate level. She is strong, very quick, and consistently puts the ball in the back of the net."
In addition to Brown, another sophomore, Tami Pivnick, is expected to see a lot of playing time. A starter in the first seven games for Cal in 1996, Pivnick was sidelined with a stress fracture of the femur early in the season which kept her out of action down the stretch. Despite only appearing in eight matches, Pivnick still managed to uncork 10 shots and assist on five goals, including the game-winner against Hartford.
"Tami possesses great playmaking skills and is excellent on the ball," said Boyd. "She is also a very smart player and can find anyone on the field. This is a crucial role in our offensive scheme."
Junior Shelly Fouts, who saw action in eight matches as a sophomore, should also have an impact on this year's squad. Fouts made great strides during spring workouts, according to Boyd, starting every match for the Bears.
"Shelly is technically great on the ball and, along with Kim Brown, may be one of our best players in the air," said Boyd. "She is deadly finishing crosses, but her best asset lies in receiving the ball in a crowd, keeping possession and finding an outlet."
Junior Ashlee Hunt, whom Boyd calls "a meat-eating, ball-tackling machine," should also challenge for a starting spot. Injured much of the 1996 campaign, Hunt showed a lot of improvement during the spring, exceeding the expectations of coaches coming off of the injury.
Other players expected to see action in the midfield for the Bears this season are sophomores Sarah Kaminsky, who appeared in seven matches last year, and Sarah Conner.
Freshmen Jennifer Medina, Gretchen Vanderlip, Stacy Schearer and Natalie Stuhlmueller, all members of the regional Olympic Development team, bring an influx of new talent to Cal and should push the starters for playing time.
The defense will be headed by junior speed merchant Jessica Stanton. A versatile defender who can play either marking back or sweeper, she started 17-of-18 matches for Cal last season, and will most likely hold down the sweeper position for the Bears in '97.
"Jessica can flat out fly," said Boyd. "She also possesses tremendous leadership skills which will help us this year. Between her leadership and her speed, I am confident we will be very solid at that position again this year."
One of the outside back positions will be filled by another junior, Ryan McManus. A starter in 16 games on defense for the Bears a year ago, McManus has the ability to be a dominating physical presence along the back line. A converted forward who tallied four assists in 1996, she also boasts excellent offensive skills and is very dangerous coming forward as an extra attacker.
"Ryan is a very strong and solid defender," noted Boyd. "She is also our biggest offensive threat from the back line. She has a big shot, offensive skills that allow her to dribble people, and the ability to serve the back post, which is how she gets a lot of her assists."
A third back to watch for in the Bears defense will be sophomore Stephanie Strocco. A starter down the stretch for Cal during her freshman campaign a year ago, Strocco recorded a pair of assists, including the game-winner against Portland State. Known as a heady defender, she has the innate ability to read the flow of a game and a knack for positioning herself in key defensive positions.
"Stephanie won a starting job toward the end of last season," recalled Boyd. "On defense, it is crucial to get to the air ball, and she is one of the best we have. She is also excellent with the ball on her feet and does a great job crossing the ball."
Depth along the back line will be provided by a pair of freshmen and a sophomore. Freshmen Elizabeth Martindale, whom Boyd termed, "one of the purest athletes on the squad," and Maresa Zanetti, bring a lot of ODP and club team experience to Cal and should push for playing time, while sophomore Lulu Monti continues to improve and should be a key reserve. Cal will miss sophomore Amy White who will sit out the 1997 campaign with a knee injury suffered during spring workouts.
"We lost a keeper who will go down as perhaps the best to ever play at this university in Karen Cook," Boyd said. "But I feel Jill (Stephenson) is more than ready to step in. Last season, she came in cold in a couple of games and, under pressure, came up big. Jill definitely has what it takes to be an impact player in this league."
A sophomore, Stephenson is ready to take on the starting role in goal for the Bears this season. Last year, Stephenson appeared in eight matches, as Cal's keeper. In 215 minutes of action, she allowed only one goal and fended off five shots on her way to posting a 0.42 goals against average.
Stephenson's agility and foot speed, in conjunction with her 5-11 frame, allow her to cover much more goal space that the average keeper. An ex-field player, she also traps the ball well and has the ability to punt the ball past the half-way line.
Providing depth in goal this year for the Bears will be a pair of freshmen, Miren Zabala and Gabriella Ronick. Both are excellent athletes and should push Stephenson for playing time throughout the season.
Zabala played for Boyd as a member of the Les Bois club team in Boise, Idaho. Given the nickname "The Wall" by her teammates in Boise, she is a physical player who is good on both crosses and in one-on-one situations.
Ronick, who is an unheralded but talented keeper, should also figure in the mix and will battle the other two for playing time throughout the season. A tremendous athlete who is solid in the goal, she has the skills to be a starter for most collegiate teams.
The Bears open competition, and play their first two matches of the season, as hosts of the four-team Adidas/Lady Foot Locker Classic, which will be contested in Pleasanton. Following the tournament, Cal travels to southern California for matches against the University of San Diego on Sept. 5 and Cal State Fullerton on Sept. 7 before returning home to Witter Field for the next three games including a Sept. 21 match-up with Bay Area rival Santa Clara. Last season, the Bears and Broncos played to a 0-0 draw in one of the most hotly contested games of the year.
The Bears then go back on the road for contests versus North Carolina, which will be played in Houston, and national power Massachusetts, scheduled to be played in Dallas.
Cal then enters the Pac-10 portion of the season with two crucial home matches out of the gate. The Bears first will play host to UCLA in a Friday afternoon tilt on Oct. 10 to be followed by a visit from USC on Sunday, Oct. 12.
The following week on Oct. 17, the squad travels to Stanford for its initial Pac-10 road game of the year. The Bears handed Stanford its only conference loss in 1996 and they hope to make it two-in-a-row over the Cardinal.
Cal then returns home for their final two home matches of the season against Washington and Washington State on Oct. 24 and 26, respectively. These matches should prove to be crucial for Cal's playoff chances as the Huskies and Cougars were responsible for two of Cal's three losses last season.
The Bears wrap-up the conference schedule with a four-game road trip that begins with games at Oregon, Oct. 31, Oregon State, Nov. 2, Arizona, Nov. 7 and concludes with the regular season finale, Nov. 9 at Arizona State.
"We have 17 players returning who know that they deserved to be there a year ago," Boyd said. "They knew they were better than teams that made the tournament and they know that they can compete against them."
That being said, the Bears will have to prove on the field that they belong.
"People are wondering if last year was a fluke. Last year was not a fluke because the depth and talent that we had is still here," Boyd added. "We lost some players, but with what we've got coming back, coupled with the experience they got last year, I think we'll prove that we can be even better."
Only time will tell whether or not this years team will earn Cal its first NCAA Tournament berth in four years. But one thing is certain, if the Bears do earn a spot in this year's NCAA playoffs, it won't come as a surprise to Boyd.