Women's Soccer Season Outlook
MALIBU, Calif. - 2009 is not a rebuilding year for the Pepperdine women’s soccer program.
Yes, it lost six senior starters from last season in addition to five others. And yes, it’s ushering a dozen newcomers into the system, including 11 true freshmen and one transfer — but again this should not be defined a rebuilding year.
This is just another season in which 27 players of different sizes, skills and experiences will be required to combine those talents and build off the successes of last year’s 9-9-2 campaign.
And it doesn’t matter who’s on or who’s not on the team because the goals always remain the same: win the West Coast Conference title and go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m cautiously optimistic for this season,” said Tim Ward, who is at the start of his 15th year with Pepperdine and 12th as the Waves’ head coach. “I’m not living in Fantasyland — I know we’re young, but I see a special quality in these players and I know we’re going to be good. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
The veterans and newcomers have quickly blended together in camp, making it easy for Ward and his assistants to concentrate on the ins and outs of Pepperdine soccer. It’s also been great for them to see upperclassmen taking the youngsters under their wings to provide some one-on-one instruction.
“The team chemistry is outstanding,” he said. “There is a fantastic energy shared among these hard-working young women and I’m more than pleased to be working with this group. The quality of character we graduated was a concern, but the four seniors we have today have been doing a tremendous job leading the team from day one.”
Ward asked his senior class — Alexis Farler (Roseville, Calif./Granite Hills HS), Sophia ‘Bo’ Medina (Downey, Calif./Los Alamitos HS), Courtney Price (Corona, Calif./Colony HS) and Kelly Reilly (Cardiff, Calif./La Costa Canyon HS) — to lead by their actions rather than words and they all responded in kind by showing up in great shape with a hunger to exit their collegiate careers as winners.
Medina’s offseason was highlighted by her time with the Mexican National Team. A Pepperdine tri-captain, Medina was informed of the tryouts by Pepperdine associate head coach Twila Kaufman and ended up being one of just a dozen players called back to join the squad. Medina spent a few weeks stateside with the Mexican nationals and scored a goal vs. the Tulsa Spirit of the WPSL.
Medina at first hesitated to try out because she wasn’t sure how she wanted to spend her summer, but later realized she made the right choice in joining the Mexican nationals and came away impressed with their style of play.
“They’re smaller players, but at the same time they’re so much faster and agile and are just quick getting to those 50/50 balls,” Medina said.
Ward was thrilled to see Medina experience the high level of commitment involved with playing for a national team and is confident she came back to Pepperdine better than ever.
“I think Bo’s time with the Mexican national team helped open her eyes as she is playing with great determination and effort in camp right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride and professionalism involved with playing for a national team. It always requires a player to excel and perform at a level that’s a few notches above the collegiate game.”
One of the many benefits of competing in the West Coast Conference is that Pepperdine receives the opportunity to face a national-title contender in Portland once a year. The Pilots advanced to the Elite Eight of last year’s bracket and are again the expected favorites to win the conference crown.
Pepperdine beat and tied Portland during the regular season, ironically, in years which the Pilots have gone on to win the NCAA Championship. In 2002, when Portland defeated Santa Clara for the national title Pepperdine beat both its conference rivals en route to a program-best 18-2-2 record and its first WCC title.
The Waves gave the Pilots a tough game last season on the road before giving up the eventual game-winner in the 88th minute.
“Portland is at the top of our league and rightfully so,” Ward said. “They have a special group, but there’s a lot of parity in this conference and every team has gone out and recruited really good kids that suit their systems.”
Since the coaching staff is more than experienced with how things go in the WCC, it doesn’t spend a lot of time or energy thinking about the opposition. They know each match is equally important and that all seven opponents will rise to the challenge of facing Pepperdine.
“There’s no reason to intimidate our players with stories about how well the opposition is doing,” Ward said. “Our success always comes down to us executing our game plan better than our opponents. We have to take advantage of the chances we’re able to create.”
Pepperdine’s two goalkeepers this season are sophomore Lacey Heck (Long Beach, Calif./Wilson HS) and freshman Roxanne Barker (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge HS), two individuals that Ward believes can start right away.
“Lacey and Roxy make an awesome tandem and it’s going to be a war between them to see who will win the starting job day in and day out,” he said.
Ward and his coaching staff have thrown around the idea of splitting up Heck’s and Barker’s time in the net since both are training well, but Ward expects to eventually settle on one goalkeeper.
“It’s important to have continuity between the back line and the goalkeeper.,” he said. “Familiarity is invaluable, but it’s hard to reach that state if we’re constantly switching them around. Our goalkeepers are strong though and they know only one of them can be in there at a time. ”
Heck made four appearances last season. Two of which were quite memorable, while the other two somewhat forgettable.
Heck’s first collegiate season began with a member of the Northwestern Wildcats slipping a goal inside the near post for a quick overtime victory and ended with an unfortunate injury at Wisconsin a few weeks later.
In between, however, Heck shut out both Tennessee and Washington State in consecutive games, which earned her player of the week awards from the West Coast Conference and TopDrawerSoccer.com.
“Lacey’s a great athlete who has one year of very important experience under her belt,” Ward said. “She’s a winner and I think that was evident when she blanked a pair of big-name programs in Tennessee and Washington State in her first two legitimate starts.”
Since beginning her club career in 2001, Barker and her teammates have racked up approximately 15 titles, including the 2007 and 2008 Coast Soccer League Championships. And at Woodbridge High School, she won three MVP awards and was named the Sea View League’s Most Valuable Goalie in 2008.
“Roxy is legit,” Ward said. “She could be one of the best freshman goalkeepers we’ve ever had here, and that’s high praise considering Anna Piccarelli led us to the Sweet 16 in her very first year. She’s calm under pressure, can cover a great deal of the net, and like Lacey, she’s a winner. She’s been on the winning side throughout her entire club career and that’s an important quality to have in a goalkeeper.”
Ward also likes what he’s seen out of Barker as a field player and feels that it’s going to be hard to keep her on the bench.
“Roxy’s a good header of the ball and times things well in the air, so that would make her an asset along the back or front lines — she’s also a great target for finishing shots,” he said.
Lindsey Brouillette was the last Wave to play both the field and in between the pipes. She finished her four-year (1998-01) career with nine points on four goals and one assist, plus 170 saves, ten shutouts and an overall record of 18-12-4.
Pepperdine’s defensive line in 2008 was the team’s most notable strength as it helped pitched eight shutouts and allowed an average of one goal and 9.4 shots per game. Additionally, there were only five games in which opponents scored more than one goal on the Waves and just once where Pepperdine’s margin of defeat was greater than one.
The defense lost its senior leader in Kelsey Baker, but returns three starters in Cammie Burke (Del Mar, Calif./Torrey Pines HS), Haleigh Guertin (Corona, Calif./Santiago HS) and Myriah Stockman (Sandy, Utah/Brighton HS), who combined for 59 games along the line. Burke played the final 19 contests of the season after missing opening day with a minor injury and in midseason was credited with scoring the game-winning goal at Cal State Bakersfield.
There’s a lot of competition for that fourth position, but at the same time there are no guarantees that the returners will remain in their established roles.
Ward reeled off a grocery list of those he thinks can start right away along the line, a core group that includes the three returners in addition to Price, redshirt Kelsea Smith (Camarillo, Calif./Oaks Christian), freshman Katherine Crosland (Holladay, Utah/Waterford School) and sophomore Kelsey McGovern (Coto de Caza, Calif./Santa Margarita HS).
McGovern made three starts, including two in consecutive shutout victories over Saint Mary’s and San Francisco to end the season.
Price appeared in only six games last season due to an injury that forced her to miss all of September and all but three games in October. Smith, who was one of Ward’s most prized recruits from a year ago, appears to be at 100 percent as she returns from her medical redshirt season.
The group is a little beat up so the coaching staff is making sure to keep close attention to their progress at practices and isn’t afraid to shut them down for short spells during training exercises.
“These are tough women and we’re going to be fine once the games roll around,” Ward said. “We’re nursing everyone back to be ready for Marquette, but we know we have enough depth at this position to make changes.”
Because of the strength at this position, Ward already is thinking about who from this area can help in the midfield or up top. He notes that Burke can help out on the wings and that Stockman and Price are among the choice candidates to move up to the front line along with Smith, who is a former Golden Boot winner.
“Kelsea is an awesome athletic specimen,” Ward said. “She’s won two national championships with her club teams, and if she’s healthy she’ll be on the field.”
Ward isn’t certain how much time Crosland will see as a starter, but she’ll be tough to keep out of the lineup if she performs as well as she did in a scrimmage at Fullerton.
A pleasant surprise in training camp has been true freshman walk-on Katie Rivers (Vancouver, Wash./Mountain View HS), whom Ward wasn’t able to see play until she came to try out. Her abilities make him believe she could be one of the program’s best walk-ons.
Reilly is the last woman standing from last season’s midfield unit, which also featured Samantha Hire and Ashley Copp. In their place will likely be a combination of Boston College transfer Michelle Spacciapolli (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic), junior Rebecca Klamser (Ventura, Calif./Buena HS) and sophomore All-WCC preseason team selection Laura Cole (Whittier, Calif./La Habra HS).
Reilly will be stationed on the defensive side of the position, while the other three are expected to play more of an attacking role.
Cole finished second to Amanda Rupp last year on the team’s season scoring list with 14 points, notching six goals and providing two assists. Two of her goals came during a shutout victory at Gonzaga.
Klamser redshirted in 2008 and Spacciapolli recorded four shots on goal in nine games with the Eagles.
“Laura had an awesome freshman campaign, which we would love for her to build on,” Ward said. Both she and Spach are good strikers — very versatile — who can give us a run up front.
“Spach is inherently our fourth forward as her work rate is out of this world. She will cause people fits if she gets up front with the ball. Her mobility is downright freakish.”
Although Ward speaks highly of all his midfielders, he particularly singles out Reilly and believes she is playing the best soccer of her career.
“I see Kelly as the backbone of this position and she is on fire right now,” he said. “She is in great shape and is stronger as a result and has more endurance. All of these traits in turn give her more confidence. Kelly also is enjoying her role as a senior leader; she is highly intelligent — a woman among girls.”
Karissa Garcia (Roseville, Calif./Oakmont HS) and Elise Crispen (San Diego, Calif./Parker HS) deepen the position.
Garcia, a sophomore, appeared in seven games off the bench in 2008 primarily as a striker, but will now be considered a midfielder — a position that will better suit her style of play.
“She just buzzes around the ball as she’s not big and forceful enough to overcome some of the bigger defenders,” Ward said. “But she’s a bright player, who at midfield, can find the space to get open. She just keeps getting better and better.”
Crispen is still experiencing some injury woes that have carried over from last season, but Ward expects to see her helping out in the defensive midfield once she’s healthy.
Three freshmen midfielders have added their names to the mix: Anisa Guajardo (Clovis, Calif./Buchanan HS), Ana Pontes (Houston, Texas/Clear Lake HS) and Jennifer Karson (Frazier Park, Calif./Frazier Mountain HS).
Pontes, who was part of four South Texas State Championship teams, has been tabbed by Ward as Reilly’s understudy.
“Ana is the future of this position,” he said. “She is a reader, a passer, her vision is awesome and has a complete understanding of the game. Although she is very bright, I think she’ll need a little time to adjust to the physical realm.”
Karson and Guajardo both remind Ward of former Wave standouts Hire, Jenna Shay and Mckenzie Hill. As gifted attacking midfielders who can strike well on the goal, Ward is hoping they can sneak into the latter stages of a match and pick up an insurance goal or two.
Guajardo could see some time as a winger along the front line as well.
The three starting forwards appear to be seniors Farler and Medina and freshman Callie Payetta (Huntington Beach, Calif./Huntington Beach HS)
Medina scored six points as a junior, which included four assists, and the left-footed Farler poured in five points on two goals and an assist.
Not only did Medina receive the added benefit of competing with the Mexican nationals, but she also kept up with her training regimen, which included lifting weights, running and finding time to play in pick-up games with her friends around school.
Farler also had a productive offseason, which was marked by her involvement in several community service efforts. During the spring of 2009, Farler was involved with Project LEAD East Coast and later traveled to Mexico where she volunteered her time at an orphanage.
“Bo is playing the best soccer of her career and that’s a culmination of a lot of things,” Ward said. “She seems to be more grown up and comfortable with who she is and is playing like it. Alexis is quite fit, but she’s always been strong with a good base and a drive to do well.”
Ward recruited Payetta out of Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School where she scored 28 points on 12 goals and four assists during her senior year.
“Callie has earned the right to see some time up front as well,” Ward said. “Her work rate is a lot like Spach’s — a rare and special gift — and her character that is very similar to Rupp’s when you factor in her speed, work ethic and nose for the goal.”
Depth at the forward position is expected to be provided by freshmen Michelle Manning (Calabasas, Calif./Agoura HS) and Kasey Kanada (Tigard, Ore./Tigard HS) along with sophomore Melissa Trammell (Yakima, Wash./West Valley HS) and rookies Ashley Correa (Lynnwood, Wash./Meadowdale HS) and Terah Parker (Houston, Texas/Cypress Creek HS).
“Michelle and Kasey are both having a great preseason, and if an opponent gives either of them time with the ball they are going to get broken down. Kasey loves to run, while Michelle gives us a physical presence that can help us maintain possession,” Ward said.
Ward said he sees a lot of potential in the left-footed Parker and Correa and notes that Trammell has come back to school much improved from her workouts in the summer.