Aug. 7, 2002
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Head coach Jerry Smith enters his 16th year at the helm of the Santa Clara program. The Broncos ended the 2001 season on the highest note, going 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament and winning the College Cup by defeating perennial power North Carolina by a 1-0 score. The team finished their season with a 23-2-0 mark, defeating 10 nationally ranked opponents and ending the undefeated seasons of five squads. The Broncos led the nation in scoring offense and captured their sixth West Coast Conference title.
Smith's squad will begin practice on the Mission Campus next week in preparation for the upcoming season which begins August 30 as the Broncos take on Bay Area rival Stanford at Buck Shaw Stadium; kick off is slated for 7:30 p.m. Recently, Smith sat down and shared his thoughts on the upcoming season. For a complete look at the upcoming season, check out the 2002 Season Outlook.
Q. After winning the national championship in 2001, is the team already beginning to think about taking the title this coming season?
A. I think it's always been understood in our program that the goal is the national championship. Having won that, I think it will be a more tangible goal, something we can feel and appreciate and understand more, but it just won't be something we'll be focusing on. It will be very rare that it will come up in conversation with our team. I do that intentionally.
Q. Why is that?
A. I think it interferes with development. If you're focusing on the championship, you're not focusing on the here and now. I think that's always been our approach and because we're a task-oriented group, rather than a long-term oriented group, we can really work at improving and then once we put ourselves in a position to go to the championship, then we discuss it.
Q. Your opponents are gearing up to play the national champions, are you looking forward to the intensity?
A. Every time we step on the field, the opponent will be playing the national champion. That brings even more determination from our opponent in terms of knocking us off. We'll have to battle that for sure, and that's great because the only way to really find out what your weaknesses are is to play the best teams and get their best game. You're going to get everybody's best game and that's really going to expose all the weaknesses in our game and give the coaches and players an opportunity to address those before we get to the playoffs. I'm really looking forward to that. It will help us in the long run.
Q. How did the team perform during spring practice?
A. I have to be honest with you, our spring practice did not go well. It didn't go well for a lot of reasons, the first being I think we were guilty of post-championship attitude, which was not being hungry right now. Secondly, we were missing some key players. For example, Jessica Ballweg and Leslie Osborne were with the Under 19 National Team and Devvyn Hawkins, Aly Wagner and Veronica Zepeda were spending time with the Under 21 or Full National Teams. Plus, injuries played a large role and we were also missing assistant coaches.
Q. How does that affect the fall season?
A. What that spells is a slow start to our season. We didn't have a chance to re-establish a new team.
Q. What are your thoughts on the rapidly approaching 2002 season?
A. I think we have a lot of obstacles to overcome. I think it's going to be a really tough season for us, but I think we have an amazing attacking team. We have so many attacking weapons. What we lost from our team more than anything else was leadership and defending ability. Kerry (Cathcart) was a great defensive midfielder and Danielle (Slaton) and Anna (Kraus) were great central defenders. So the big question marks for us are our back four and our ability to defend. We're looking at Aly, Devvyn, Kristi (Candau) and Chardonnay (Poole) to step up and be our new leadership group. It will be very good, but there are still some question marks.
Q. Do you expect your offensive to live up to the standard set last season?
A. I feel good about our ability to score goals. We led the country in scoring last year and if we have everybody there for a game, we have a more dangerous attacking team than we had even last year. But we're less likely to win a game 1-0 and more likely to win a game 2-1 or 3-2. We're going to be a more dangerous attacking team, but probably not as good as a defensive team.
Q. Honda Award Winner and Soccer America Player of the Year Aly Wagner will be coming back to anchor the midfield, how do you predict her season will go?
A. Aly is getting better all of the time. She is better now than she was last fall and will be better this fall than she is today. What will be hard for Aly is balancing between the U.S. National Team and Santa Clara. I think that's going to be really hard for her and undermine her ability to have an amazing season. But when she's here, she's going to be a player our opponents will be hard-pressed to stop. She will score goals, she will get assists and she will be very determined to repeat as national champions in her last year of eligibility. I will never bet against her.
Q. The coaching staff has a slightly new look this season, are you excited about working with them?
A. We lost two great coaches, Rich Manning, who is now at Utah, and long-time assistant Eric Yamamoto, who now works solely with the men's team. But at the same time, I couldn't be more excited about the new staff. They're great people, hard workers and good coaches who communicate very well, which is going to help our team.
Q. Do you feel that playing in front of a home crowd at Buck Shaw Stadium has any effect on the players?
A. One of the reasons we've been successful is because we do get so many fans out to our games that really cheer hard for our team. Students and local community come out. Our players genuinely get very excited to play in front of their home fans. It's not at the same level, but it's almost like how a rock star feels before going on stage. Your fans are screaming for you, and here, our fans scream for the players. Relatively speaking, it's the same type of experience. If we didn't have so many fans at the game-not only in number of people, but the number of people who cheer-I'm sure that our team would not play as well and less likely to win our game. It would be less entertaining. It's more fun to get out there and entertain somebody if you're fans are reacting to what you're doing. We love the oohs, ahhs, claps and screams. It means we're doing something well.