Oct. 13, 2010
BERKELEY - With the California women's soccer team's nonconference slate complete and already a week into the Pac-10 Conference schedule, CalBears.com caught up with Neil McGuire after practice on Wednesday for a midseason check-up. The Bears bring a 5-3-4 overall record into the second week of Pac-10 play after going 5-1-4 in nonconference play for their best record since 2006.
CalBears.com: Against their nonconference opponents, the Bears outscored them, 27-11, including a four-game winning stretch where Cal had a 19-2 goals-scored ratio. What's working well for your squad on offense?
NM: I think that we've got a lot of really gifted players. We have the ability to penetrate both with our strikers and with our midfield. I think that we've a lot of good speed in our wide areas. I think that we're difficult to defend in the fact that we can unbalance teams and attack from any area.
CalBears.com: With their 5-1-4 nonconference record, the Bears posted their best pre-conference play record since 2006. The .900 winning percentage of the 2006 squad narrowly outshines the .875 clip of this year's team. Can you speak to how you thought the nonconference schedule went this season?
NM: I think it went really well. We were very pleased with our play. Obviously we want to make sure that we focus on winning as much as we do on the team development. I felt for the most part, our team performed very, very well. We can't forget that we're a young team. We have 12 freshmen, which makes up a large bulk of our squad. I think we're learning very quickly. I think we're gaining strength even though we had tight games recently.
The players get all of the credit for what has been achieved so far this season. We've had a lot of ties, but 12 games into the season with only three losses, that's an impressive statistic considering we've played some of the best teams in the country. We're very, very proud of them. They deserve tremendous credit for applying themselves in the manner that they are. Even in times of adversity, they've shown tremendous character. The growth of the team in the last few months has been very impressive. We're very proud of the players.
CalBears.com: With a strong freshman class of 12 available players, who has made a real impact on the field?
They've all impacted in different ways. Emily Kruger
has been sharing time as a starter. She's very composed, she's very calm. As she learns our defense, she's going to become a pretty big asset. Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick
is growing into the player that we thought she could be. She, just like all the freshmen, still tactically needs work, but I think she's having an offensive impact. Kate Bennett
connects us very well. Genessee Daughetee
has proved to be exceptional, now as our starting left back. It took her a little while to find the rhythm of the game. Emi Lawson
has been a stalwart at center back and we've also used her up top and has proved to have the leadership qualities of many seniors. I think they're all exceptional.
CalBears.com: In goal, you have been splitting time between sophomore Lauren Hein and freshman Emily Kruger. Can you speak to their strengths?
NM: Emily has a very good kicking game. She's very calm. Obviously with the fact that she's long-limbed, she covers a lot of the goal. She's good at handling crosses. As a result of her calmness, she has a good ability to organize. Lauren Hein is very aggressive off her line so she deals very well with one-v-ones. She's becoming a much better organized and more assertive goalkeeper. There's really not much between them.
CalBears.com: To touch upon the scoring ratio once more, what does only allowing 11 goals in nonconference play say about your squad's stingy defense?
NM: I think that because we were very aggressive offensively, it kept the ball relatively far from our goal which clearly helps your goals-against average. That being said, I think our backline has gelled really well. Kelly Lindsey has done a tremendous job with the defenders and Libby Bassett with the goalkeepers in teaching them themes of play to believe in. The team is very trusting right now. We've had some tough results as of late, but the performances really have been very good.
CalBears.com: Can you speak to who has been performing well on defense?
NM: To be honest with you, I think there is any number of players who fit that. Sam Walker, until she received a bit of an injury, has been doing exceptionally well at right back. She's got great pace. She likes to attack, recovers well and understands the defensive concepts. Emi Lawson and Danielle Brunache have been solid centrally, not giving up much in the central corridor. Earlier in the season, Bronwyn Studman started, but Genessee Daughetee has proved to be our greatest asset at left back. She has grown tremendously in the last several games.
CalBears.com: Which games do you think were most evocative of your team playing its best game?
NM: I think the second half of the USC game, when we were down 2-0, showed the character of our team. It was an adverse situation on the road against a ridiculously talented team and we came back to score four very good goals. The effort, intensity and desire to win were there, but also, the quality of play was also at a very high level. I also think we showed great maturity in how we handled that situation. So I'd say the second half of the USC game has been one of our best performances. In the first half against Portland, where we played very calmly, very controlled and very disciplined in dealing with an extremely talented team, which is a perennially powerhouse. All of these games have been great experiences. Even though we lost those games, I think it's going to put us in good stead as we move towards the rest of the Pac-10 and NCAA Tournament games.
CalBears.com: After spending the past six questions discussing the positives of your team, what are some things on which you would like to improve as you head down the stretch?
NM: We actually just got done talking about our turnover ratios at practice as we move forward. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to go backwards or forwards too much. When we look forward, our entry ball into our strikers is not as accurate because of the fact that we turn the ball over to our forwards. Then we're back on defense, so we have to sharpen up our 30-40 yard balls, which is something the players have committed to working on before each practice.
CalBears.com: While it is the Cal women's soccer team and not the Alex Morgan team, how has having a player of Alex's caliber - a U.S. senior national team goalscorer, no less - as well as the other Bears with national team training on the pitch?
NM: There's no question that Alex is an exceptional talent. I think that you're dealing with one of the best strikers in the world, and we're fortunate to have her. She is doing a great job in balancing her time with the national team and then coming back to play with the Bears. After three weeks away, she came back and scored a hat trick against USC. One of the things that we focused on, we're Cal and we're not one play. If Alex is here, she's part of Cal's team. If Alex isn't here, we still have a lot of tremendously talented players. We've dealt with player absences before with Betsy Hassett playing with the [U-20 New Zealand] national team and Katrin Omarsdottir with the Icelandic national team. Having national team players brings a wealth of experience. They just know how to play the game and have experienced the game at high levels, and that's always going to help your younger players. We love them when they're here and we miss them when they're not. This is a team ripe with talented players and they all step up and take responsibility.
CalBears.com: The team has instituted a new way of life in the Live Like champions brand, how do you see it still in effect halfway through the season?
NM: I think the players are doing an absolutely outstanding job. I've never been around a team that has acted in a way that they have. They are first class in every way. Their work ethic at practice and their discipline in the way that they're trying to learn what we're trying to teach them have really been a pleasure. The way that they act publicly and the things that they're doing, it really is an absolute pleasure. In my 14 years of coaching, I've never had more fun coaching a team. We really try and touch upon it at any juncture we can, even if it's just in passing conversation. It's not easy being a Division I athlete, and the rigors of the academics here at Berkeley put a lot of pressure on the players. I think they've handled themselves in a remarkable way, and I'm proud to be their coach.
Calbears.com: An important fact of the Live Like Champions creed is giving back to the community. How have you done that so far this semester?
NM: A number of the girls have had a number of individual events that they've done. Many of them helped clean up the shoreline with SAAC a few weeks ago. We had a free soccer clinic for kids after a game that involved the Live Like Champions theme.
CalBears.com: The Bears play an incredible nine-game stretch of games at home to start the season. How do you think playing in your comfort zone affected the team's preparation and development this season?
NM: The home schedule was by design. Coming into the season, we knew that we were going to have a lot of young players and we needed to grow together without the stress of travel. If I were to do it again, I would probably do it the same way in scheduling these home games. I really feel like the team truly grasped the concepts of what they needed to do to continue to evolve this season. I think it's been a good thing. Now that we're starting to travel, the student-athletes played down there like they were playing at home. Unfortunately, we weren't able to grab the win. I do think that our overall level of performances have been very good because we found our rhythm at home. I think that we take that same comfort on the road.