May 25, 2001

Takin' It to the Top

May 25, 2001

By BRIAN ELSNER
The Santa Clara

A new league formed this year with a big television contract, crazy team nicknames and women in short clothes. Of course the contract is with TNT, the nicknames include CyberRays and Beat and the women are soccer players. And with superstar players all over the league, including a strong Santa Clara presence, the Women's United Soccer Association has no intention of folding anytime soon.

With the opening game played on April 14, the WUSA spent much of the early part of the season marketing the league to families and children. Part of that marketing strategy is having players placed regionally into their hometown teams. The Bay Area CyberRays are a perfect example with four Broncos on the roster.

"It is so much fun to play with them [Santa Clara players]," CyberRays reserve forward Megan Horvath said. "I have a sense what they will do on the field already so it makes it much easier to play."

Horvath along with superstar midfielder Brandi Chastain, defender Lisa Nanez and reserve forward Jacqui Little form a foursome to contend with for CyberRays' opponents. Chastain leads the CyberRays in scoring with two goals, as well as being team captain. As a player at Santa Clara, Chastain led the Broncos in scoring in both 1989 and 1990. After spending years on the U.S. National Team, Chastain enjoys seeing the Bronco presence.

"It's great to have so many Santa Clara players on the team," Chastain said. "It makes you feel a sense of pride to see Santa Clara players throughout the league."

Nanez also spent a few years on the national team and the Mexican National Team. While not quite making it to the level of Chastain, Nanez showed her value to the CyberRays early on as she became a starter in the defensive backfield. The defender from the Bay Area, who three times earned second team All-WCC as a Bronco, also feels the excitement of playing with Santa Clara alums.

"I think there are something like 14 players all over the league from Santa Clara," Nanez said. "It is a great feeling to know we are representing Santa Clara."

Nanez knows her facts. With 14 players all over the league, the Santa Clara presence is undeniable in the WUSA. In fact, all eight teams have at least one Bronco on their roster and most of those players are key contributors.

Santa Clara's all-time leading scorer, three-time WCC Player of the Year and two-time All-American Mandy Clemens (1996-99) plays significant minutes for the Philadelphia Charge.

Defender Kim Pickup (1996-99) showed the world her famous flip-throw when she scored from out-of-bounds to tie a match for the San Diego Spirit. Mikka Hansen (1993-96) starts for the Carolina Courage and scored a goal last weekend against Mia Hamm and the Washington Freedom. The list goes on and on.

"It feels really good to see so many Santa Clara players out there," Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith said. "There is obviously a sense of pride for me, but it also shows how hard-working those girls are."

Smith may be feeling even more proud in years to come with talented players such as junior Danielle Slaton, sophomore Devvyn Hawkins, junior Anna Kraus and sophomore Aly Wagner on the Broncos. All four players have international experience and are sure to make a mark in the WUSA in the next couple years.

Yet the importance of the WUSA for Santa Clara players is not how many of them make it into the league, but what they do once they get there. For many of them, the opportunity to play professional soccer is simply amazing.

"It is a dream to be playing professional soccer," Horvath said. "I don't know what I would do if I wasn't doing this."