Aug. 16, 2010
BERKELEY - With this season's lone exhibition under its belt, the No. 14 California women's soccer team is set to kickoff its 2010 campaign this weekend. This year's squad boasts a talented senior core of four in its crew of 17 returners in addition to 12 decorated newcomers. CalBears.com recently sat down with head coach Neil McGuire, who enters his fourth year at the helm, to discuss this year's team.
CalBears.com: What kind of differences are you seeing between this year's team and last year's squad?
Neil McGuire: We have significantly more depth at each position. I think our overall team speed has increased and our ability to keep the ball has improved. There has been a tremendous focus on team chemistry with our Live Like Champions theme being at the forefront of all our discussions. The players have had significant buy in to that ideal, which is making relations, both on and off the field, very, very strong.
CalBears.com: What will help the team be more successful in 2010?
NM: Our ability to use our entire squad. In years past, we've had to rely on too few players to play too many minutes. Because of the preparedness of the squad, we should be able to balance players' minutes better.
CalBears.com: Once again, you've scheduled an impressive nonconference slate, two highlights of which may be Portland and Santa Clara at home. Can you speak to how that will prepare you for conference play?
NM: All the nonconference games will test us in a variety of ways. Our players will have to learn to react to different systems and difference styles of play. That will in turn to prepare us for what we'll face in our Pac-10 games as well as in the NCAA Tournament.
CalBears.com: The Bears play a lot of home games this year - 15 including last week's exhibition to be exact. How do you think that will impact your 2010 campaign?
CalBears.com: The schedule does not get any easier once conference play begins. The Pac-10 is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, women's soccer conference in the country. Who do you think will be big players this year?
NM: Because of our youth, it was important to allow them to feel comfortable as they grow into the college game; hence the high number of home games. On our home field, we're able to play with an upbeat style of play, which in turn, should hopefully lead to good results.
Cleary, Stanford and UCLA have been the powerhouses in recent years and will continue to garner that kind of respect. USC, Cal, Washington State, Washington and Arizona State have all been moving in a very strong direction. There are certainly no easy games. We'll have to prepare for each of the games from top to bottom in the conference. We have to be at our best to give ourselves the best opportunity to win the conference.
CalBears.com: You've got three underclassmen - sophomore Lauren Hein and freshmen Emily Kruger and Kathleen Messinger -from which to choose for goalkeeper. Who do you foresee spending the bulk of the time between the posts?
NM: At this point, the decision has not been fully made. In last Friday's exhibition against Fresno State, we were able to play Emily Kruger and Lauren Hein for 45 and both did equally well. Moving forward, that decision will be based on their training.
CalBears.com: How is the defense looking?
NM: I think that we have the players to be very, very successful and strong on defense. It's important that they can link together so they're all on the same page. At each training, the players get better, and they're committed to doing whatever it takes to be successful.
CalBears.com: How is the midfield shaping up?
NM: It is extremely competitive. We have two, if not three, lines of players who could play and start in our midfield. Right now, we're nowhere close to making the decision on starters. Our possession ability, our attack flare and our goal-scoring mentality are very strong. Finding the right balance of players that fit the best together is still under consideration.
CalBears.com: Who are you think of playing at forward?
NM: Alex Morgan and Lauren Battung are our two returning players who look to be the starters on this team. Both offer us different styles, but they play very well together. They're equally dangerous in front of goal and can score from different spots. Grace Leer, Mekenna DeBack and Katie Benz bring us another scoring threat off the bench.
CalBears.com: This is your second year with Libby Bassett as assistant coach as well as the second season with Kelly Lindsey on the sidelines, though in a different facet. How does have a returning core of three coaches impact your expectations for this season?
NM: Consistency is the key to any organization's success. Having Libby and Kelly for a second year has helped the players in terms of their comfort level. It also helps us stay organized and on top of things. They're also prepared to have a strong say in what they think is right, which will help us as coaching staff make quality decisions.
CalBears.com: Just as in years past, the Bears have a plethora of players with national team experience, both in the States and abroad. What does that kind of experience bring to the Cal team?
NM: Playing at the international level allows you to see the game very different in terms of tempo and rhythm of play as well as what it takes to be successful against the very best opponents. Our international players are using that wisdom very well to try and guide the younger players.
CalBears.com: You have quite the group of newcomers this season - 12 freshmen. How has that impacted your preseason training?
NM: Without question, they have added enthusiasm, an infectious attitude and thirst for learning that is inspiring the older players. They are inquisitive, want additional practices and added tremendously to team chemistry in that they are fun loving and excitable but yet committed to winning.