August 29, 2002

Santa Clara has Focus on a Repeat

by Dwight Chapin
Chronicle Senior Writer

Aug. 29, 2002

Jerry Smith would seem to have every reason to be one happy coach heading into the season.

His Santa Clara team finally overcame years of frustration in 2001, winning the school's first NCAA women's championship by defeating longtime nemesis North Carolina 1-0.

The hero of that title game, midfielder Aly Wagner, returns to a team that went 23-2 overall and 6-1 in the West Coast Conference, and she's the odds-on favorite to be named the college player of the year.

There's also plenty of other returning talent, headed by preseason All- Americas Devvyn Hawkins and Veronica Zepeda and sophomores Leslie Osborne and Jessica Ballweg. The Broncos added a notable transfer, sophomore forward Megan Kakadelas, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year at USC last season.

Little wonder, then, that in the past few days, two of the country's soccer publications have tabbed Santa Clara at the top again.

That's where Smith, a voice of caution at the moment, takes his cue.

Many of his star players, he said, will be in other action for significant parts of the regular season. Osborne, Ballweg and Kakadelas currently are competing for the U.S. Under-19 national team.

"It's a great opportunity for them," Smith said, "but we're struggling without them. They'll miss all of the preseason and the first few games."

Zepeda has been hampered in workouts by shin splints, and another starter, sophomore forward Bree Horvath, had knee surgery in the spring, and will be out until mid-to-late September.

Even worse, Wagner could miss eight to 10 games in service with the U.S. national team as it tries to qualify for the 2003 Women's World Cup, and Hawkins might be tabbed for that squad, too.

Considering all that, Smith said: "We may have an up-and-down regular season, but I hope it won't upset our chemistry and rhythm going into the playoffs. In 2000, we had a terrible regular season, but we won some tough games in the playoffs and got to the national quarterfinals. I'm going to keep reminding my current players of that."

Santa Clara also will be minus All-America defender Danielle Slaton, the newly named WUSA Defensive Player of the Year, Taline Tahmassian and Anna Kraus, but Wagner thinks the team can continue to prosper, largely because of Smith.

"Jerry does an amazing job in preseason getting us ready to play defense," she said. "That's a very good foundation, and we can build on that." The players don't think there will be undue stress in trying to defend that historic national title.

"We definitely don't feel pressure to repeat," Wagner said. "We have a very difficult schedule, but maybe now that we've won, we'll have the confidence in knowing we can put it together again."

There are high expectations for at least a couple of other local teams, too.

A rundown of the other Bay Area Division I women's squads:

STANFORD (15-4-2 OVERALL IN 2001, 6-2-1 Pac-10): The Cardinal finished the season ranked ninth in the nation, and nearly everyone is back for coach Andy Nelson, who says, "Finally, we have a senior-dominated team."

Most of the offense again should come from senior Marcia Wallis (13 goals, 7 assists) and junior Marcie Ward (10 goals, 11 assists). Also back are midfielders Kelsey Carlson, Callie Withers and Becky Myers and defenders Katherine Harrington and Allyson Marquand, who spent the summer with the U.S. Under-21 national team.

The new faces include sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart ("She's just unbelieveably athletic and very strong physically," Nelson said) and freshman forward Jennifer Farenbaugh, who scored 35 goals in high school in Reseda (Los Angeles County) last year.

ST. MARY'S (15-3-2, 5-2 WCC): Coach Paul Ratcliffe did a terrific job in directing the Gaels into the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, and has most of his key components back, although he'll miss senior defender Jessica Poole, out with a torn ACL, and the graduated Katie Sticinski.

Leading the Gaels, who are ranked No. 13 in the Soccer Buzz preseason Top 25, is senior goalkeeper Ruth Montgomery, who Ratcliffe believes might have a future in the WUSA, and last season's top two scorers, forwards Katie Frattone (13 goals, 7 assists) and Lucianne Crenshaw (8 goals, 4 assists). Also key are defender Chelsea Montero and midfielder Shauna Rech.CAL (12-7-2, 4-4-1 Pac-10):

In two words, Laura Schott. The two-time All-America forward looks to become the Bears' career points, goals and shots leader, erasing national team veteran Joy Fawcett from the record books in those categories. Coach Kevin Boyd's squad has been picked to finish fifth in the Pac-10, but could get its fifth straight NCAA tournament bid if players such as midfielders Kim Yokers and Brittany Kirk and defender Kim Stocklmeir continue to emerge. The newcomers who could help most are midfielder Carly Fuller, a transfer from Duke, and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Ashley Sulprizio.

USF (9-10-1, 2-5 WCC): Coach Pam Kalinoski concedes that her Lady Dons are still "very much in a growing phase," and are playing in a very difficult conference. Still, only one player graduated, so she is looking for some improvement. The top returnees are midfielders Shannon Allen, Stacey Caro and Caty Harris, forwards Meghan Daly and Rebecca Shook and goalkeeper Stephanie Beall, who had 54 saves. The most promising newcomer looks to be freshman defender Cameron Hernandez of Merced.

SAN JOSE STATE (5-12-1, 3-5 WAC): The Spartans are in a rebuilding phase, too, but coach Tamie Grimes' team generally was competitive, losing six times by one goal, including three in overtime, and just one starter -- All-WCC pick Christina Jacob -- has departed. Grimes is hoping for an improved offense, with Vanessa Afonso and converted midfielder Emily New. Two former all-league picks, Jessica Hernandez and Cynthia Harrah, return to the back line, and Eryn Meyer will be starting her third year in goal.