Nov. 1, 2002
By Josh Griffin
The Santa Clara
The 2001 Santa Clara women's soccer team won the national championship with a collective team effort, but was led by senior defenders Danielle Slaton and Anna Kraus, and junior midfielder Aly Wagner. With the loss of both Slaton and Kraus to graduation, Wagner was expected to carry the team toward a title defense.
However, the combination of outstanding play from the team's underclassmen and Wagner's role with the United States National Team have made the team stronger on the whole, and less dependent on Wagner. The Broncos have already defeated Montana and Tennessee without their All-American midfielder, and narrowly lost to nationally ranked USC in a hostile road environment.
This is no knock on Wagner, who has made 10 appearances this year with the national team, tallying one goal and four assists as one of the youngest players on the team. On the contrary, it is a testament to the development of the younger players to a level that will allow them to carry the team during their star's absence throughout the remainder of the offseason.
Many factors have contributed to the development of the younger players, including last year's run to the championship and new opportunities to start this season. "For those of us freshman who started last year, a year of college experience has helped us," said Ballweg. "Some didn't get as much playing time last year, but they are stepping up big time now."
Wagner has contributed seven goals so far this season, including the game winner last weekend over rival Saint Mary's. Leading the team in goals is reserve junior forward and team captain Kristi Candau with eight, and sophomore forwards Leslie Osborne and Megan Kakadelas, who each have seven goals. Kakadelas came to Santa Clara this off-season as a transfer from USC.
The defensive line will remain intact at least through 2003, with junior Chardonnay Poole, and sophomores Jaclyn Campi, Lana Bowen and Ballweg along the back line. The defense has held three of their last four opponents to shutouts, allowing only one goal in that same span.
In the midfield, senior Devvyn Hawkins has been stellar all season, playing a key role at the holding midfield position that gives her immense offensive and defensive responsibilities. Freshman midfielder Micaela Esquivel has scored five goals as a regular starter, and fellow freshman Kelly Giddings has seen regular minutes in place of Wagner.
Playing without the reigning national Player of the Year does not change the disposition of her teammates before games.
"Aly is the best player I've ever played with," said Ballweg. "All of us know she is crucial to our team's success, but we go out in the games when she's not with us with the mindset to win with what we have."
With the experience gained from playing throughout the season without Wagner, another national championship is not out of the question for the young Broncos. This year, next year and the year after for that matter.