SANTA CLARA, Calif. – With every team possessing a blank slate, No. 10 Santa Clara women's soccer begins its 2014 season this week with games vs. UC Irvine and Cal at Buck Shaw. The season-opener will be Fri., Aug. 22 vs. UC Irvine at 7 p.m. with the second game vs. Cal on Sun., Aug. 24 at 1 p.m.
"Opening day is always exciting," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith, in his 28th season leading the Broncos. "There are new challenges and a new group of people so there are a lot of unknowns and you're always curious. How will the work we've done to this point pay off? What will we look like on the field? How will the new players integrate? Even returning players oftentimes have new roles and so it's fun. It's the beginning of a puzzle. It's always exciting to start a puzzle and see where it goes. That's what opening weekend is every year."
The Broncos finished 2013 with the second-best offense in the country, scoring 62 goals, or 2.82 goals per game. They outscored opponents 62-25 and outshot other teams 398-242. Santa Clara registered 208 shots on goal while holding opponents to 127.
"We're notoriously a slow starting program and I don't think that part will change so I don't have super high expectations that we're going to play great soccer," said Smith. "But relative to other opening games I feel like we're in a really good spot and probably a little ahead from where we normally would be, on the one hand. On the other hand we did lose 10 seniors and seven senior starters. Anytime you have to lose that many seniors and that many senior starters, you know it's going to take you a little longer to work out all the kinks with all the new personnel. The team is good together and the chemistry is good. They're fairly fit and I think they have a really good sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses. In that sense we're a little ahead of where we would normally be."
Sofia Huerta, named to the M.A.C. Hermann Trophy Watch List, led Santa Clara last year with 16 goals and 40 points while tying for the team lead with eight assists. Jordan Jesolva is the second-best returning scorer. Jesolva found the back of the net five times and added two assists for 12 points. Both players were named to the Preseason All-WCC Team. Dani Weatherholt is the only other returner that scored more than one goal last year and she scored twice.
Alyssa Kleiner will be the only regular starter to return on the backline, but goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski will be in her third season as a starter in 2014. Last year Tostanoski started all 22 games and picked up 98 saves with a .803 save percentage. Santa Clara recorded nine shutouts in 2013 with Tostanoski picking up six solo while contributing to three more with her back up Molly Mettler.
Santa Clara is 10-0-1 all-time vs. UC Irvine with the first meeting coming in 1984. The Anteaters and Broncos tied their last match 1-1 in 2011.
Irvine finished 2013 11-7 overall and 7-2 on the road. The Anteaters outscored opponents 29-23 while outshooting them 199-148 and 96-71 in shots on goal.
Laura McGrail led the team in goals with seven and points with 17 while trying for the team-lead with three assists. The next highest returning scorer is Jenna Pellegrino who found the back of the net three times and added three assists for nine points. Cami Privett added two goals and two assists last year as well.
Both Irvine goalkeepers from a year ago return for 2014. Corey Tobin started 11 games and played just over 1,000 minutes. She allowed 14 goals for a 1.26 GAA and made 24 saves for a .632 save percentage. Jenn Randazzo started the other seven games in net and allowed nine goals for a 1.28 GAA. She picked up 22 saves for a .710 save percentage.
Last season Santa Clara tied Cal 1-1 at Buck Shaw during the regular season and knocked the Bears out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round 2-1. All-time the Broncos are 16-18-7 vs. Cal with the first meeting coming in 1980.
Cal outscored opponents 33-19 last season and outshot teams 301-277 with a 151-117 edge in shots on goal.
Ifeoma Onumonu led Cal in goals and points with eight and 19, respectively, while adding three assists. Samantha Witteman is the next-best returning scorer with six goals and four assists for 16 points. Both marks were either second or tied for second last season for Cal. Celeste Boureille rounds out the top three returning scorers with two goals last year.
The Bears lost their top goalkeeper in Emily Kruger to graduating. Kruger started 18 games while allowing just 15 goals and a .80 GAA. She made 79 saves for a .840 save percentage. Maddie Julian is the only returner in goal. She appeared in two games and made one start as a freshman with six saves and one goal allowed.