SANTA CLARA, Calif. – To be the best you have to beat the best is something Santa Clara women's soccer has taken to heart for several years and 2013 will be no different. For the second consecutive season the Broncos' regular season schedule will open against the defending national champion. The Broncos will face off vs. North Carolina at the University of Virginia Tournament on Aug. 23, after facing Stanford to open the 2012 season.
"Every year we try to play the most demanding non-conference schedule we can put together," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith. "Often times when you're trying to play the best teams in the country, there's not a lot of wiggle room with the expansion of conferences as it is. There's just not that many weekends left and it just happens that we play North Carolina on the opening weekend. It's a coincidence that it's happened two years in a row. It wasn't by design, but the idea of playing the top teams in the country in our non-conference schedule is clearly by design and so we're thrilled with the opportunity. It will be a big challenge but we're looking forward to it."
After traveling to Fresno State on Aug. 31, the Broncos will play eight consecutive home games from Sept. 6 through Oct. 12. The long home stand should help the Broncos pick up some early season wins.
"What we try to do on a consistent basis is try to schedule the best teams possible No. 1, and No. 2, try to play a lot of away games before our students get back," said Smith. "Typically once we get to that mid-September and the students come back, we've already played a number of away games and it's time to load up on some home games. That's not necessarily by design but generally speaking we don't want to play our home games when our students aren't back because they help fill up the stands and create an atmosphere that hopefully makes it a little tougher for our opponent when they come in town."
One problem that has plagued Santa Clara the last two seasons is the tie. The Broncos have tied six games in each of the past two seasons and Smith knows those ties need to turn in to wins if they want to get a good seed come the end of the regular season.
"I'm a firm believer that if you play good teams, which we do, they're going to score against you," said Smith. "It would be nice to get a shutout every game but it's just not realistic. Since a team is going to score, you have to be able to put your two or three goals in to greater ensure your chance of winning the game. I think this team has as much attacking firepower as we have had in several years so I'm optimistic that we'll be able to get two to three goals per game on a consistent basis. I think that combined with the senior leadership that we have on our team gives us a nice opportunity to have a successful regular season and position ourselves well for a possible NCAA birth and being one of the seeded teams in the tournament."
Despite missing the first seven games of the year while winning the U-20 World Cup as captain of the U.S. squad in 2012, Julie Johnston led the team in goals with eight and points with 21 thanks to adding five assists. She added three game-winners, including the overtime-winner in a 1-0 victory over CSU Northridge at Buck Shaw on Sept. 21.
Johnston saw the awards pile-up in 2012. She was named U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year, was a M.A.C. Hermann Trophy Semi-Finalist, was named a First-Team All-American, got her first cap with the U.S. National Team, was named one of Glamour Magazine's Top-10 Collegiate Women, was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Team of the Year, a All-West Region First-Team selection and was First-Team All-WCC. After accomplishing so much in her junior year, Santa Clara and its fans can't wait to see what happens in her final year on the Mission campus.
"Julie continues to impress and bring out level to new heights," Smith. "Julie's excited about being here all season. She was such a key player for us last season and she missed a third of the games. Julie is a natural leader and has really embraced her leadership role as a tri-captain this year. She wants to leave her mark on our program in her final year in the best way possible."
Sofia Huerta missed the team's first five games while playing for Mexico on the U-20 World Cup but still led the Broncos in assists with six. She also placed second on the team with six goals and 18 points. Huerta added two game-winners and was named First-Team All-WCC and All-West Region Second-Team.
Dani Weatherholt tied for third with five goals and chipped in two assists. She scored one game-winner while totaling 12 points. Weatherholt scored the lone Bronco goal in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Stanford.
Other returners with points include: Sarah Jackson (two goals, three assists, seven points), Katie Speidel (one goal, two assists, four points), Paige Robertson (two goals, four points) and Allie Vernon (one goal, two points).
Sophomore Andi Tostanoski looks to improve on her strong freshman season that saw her named to the WCC All-Freshman Team. In 20 games started, Tostanoski had a 1.14 GAA while recording seven shutouts. She made 79 saves, good for a .767 save percentage.
"There is no position in our sport where experience benefits the player more than in goal," said Smith. "I think as great a year as Andi had for us in goal as a freshman, she will have an even better year this year. The other two goalkeepers in our program will push Andi, which will be good for her and there will be some good goalkeeper competition. I think between the year of experience Andi had last year and her experience with the U-20 National team, she will really have some added confidence going into the season."
One of the biggest additions to the team will be Morgan Marlborough who will play her senior season at Santa Clara after transferring from Nebraska in 2011 and sitting out 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules. Marlborough was a 2010 All-American and has collected many awards. She has twice scored 20+ goals (21 in 2009, 20 in 2011) and just missed as a sophomore (19). Her scoring prowess has Smith excited.
"This is a highly unusual circumstance, where someone has played three years of college soccer and transfers with only one year remaining," said Smith. "It's even more rare when the player is an All-American or conference player of the year. There's tremendous anticipation for what Morgan will be able to do. I think we have to be cautious not to put too much pressure on her. I think it will take Morgan a little while to get into a groove even though she's been here for a year because the team and our style of play is different. Morgan will probably be able to hit her stride in the middle of the season and we're all excited about what she'll be able to do."
The Broncos did lose several key players from 2012 including Lauren Matheson who scored five goals and added three assists while playing in all 22 games. Meleana Shim and Olivia Klei each scored three times. Shim added one assist while Klei had three. In all, Santa Clara lost 12 of the team's 37 goals and seven of the team's 27 assists.
"We lost four great seniors in our program," said Smith. "We won't be able to fill their shoes right away but we hope by the end of the season there will be several players that will be able to step into those roles. I think one of the great things about our team this season is we have tremendous depth. It's a long list of players that have the potential to step up for us. One of the fun and challenging circumstances with a deep team is who will it be and will they be able to do it consistently."
With an eye on the Final Four and its second national championship, Santa Clara has big goals for 2013, but is making sure it doesn't get too far ahead.
"The six phases in our program from beginning to end are preseason, the first half of non-conference, the second half of non-conference, conference, the NCAA tournament and the Final Four," said Smith. "In our preseason we have goals about coming together as a team and preparing ourselves in a very short preseason before our very first match. This year our first game is against North Carolina, last year's national champs. We're just trying to figure out what will work well for us in preseason and how to come together as a new team. That allows us to not get too far ahead of ourselves. Ultimately, we hope to be setting some goals about winning games in the NCAA tournament and going to the College Cup and putting ourselves in a position to win the national championship but that will be a few months from now. Right now we are just focusing on getting our group in, meeting everybody and learning new faces and figuring out how to come together as a team."