When the 2011 UC Santa Barbara women's soccer team opens the season against Idaho in Las Vegas on Friday, they will make an all-out effort to be offensive.
No, UCSB won't be looking to offend anyone's senses, but rather to improve on an offensive output that saw them score just 23 goals in 19 matches in 2010.
To improve on their goal-scoring, the Gauchos will look to their past and to their future. They return four important veterans who sat out the 2010 season with a variety of injuries, three of them offensive contributors, and add a pair of newcomers who should have an immediate impact.
Seniors Nicole Romanowski and Brooke Salyer, junior Katy Roby and sophomore Lauren Kennedy all return after missing the 2010 season. The latter three will be expected to have an impact on the offense, as will two newcomers of note, freshman Indiana Mead (Boulder City, Nev./Boulder City HS) and junior Dyanne Anderson (San Clemente, Calif./Rancho Santiago College).
"The four returnees all feel like rookies," said 13th-year head coach Paul Stumpf. "All three have had multiple injuries, so it's good to have them back."
Of the three, Stumpf said that Roby, an attacking center midfielder, has been outstanding early on.
"Katy has really been lighting it up," he said. "The game was taken away from her for the first time in her life last year. Now, she seems to appreciate every second on the field. Sitting out and watching gave her a totally different perspective and now she just has such a better understanding of things."
Another veteran expected to carry a big part of the load is junior Erin Ortega, whether up top or in the midfield. Last year, Ortega had three goals and three assists for nine points. Stumpf hopes that she and Mead, a member of the under-18 National Team Pool who can also play attacking midfield or forward, can make a connection on the field.
"Erin is a key returnee," he said. "She can play in the midfield or up top, either way she will be on the field. Indy (Mead) is very talented and fit. Because of her fitness, she is very active and makes herself tough to mark. If those two can find each other more, it would be a very good thing for us."
Senior forward Alissa Sanchez is yet another returnee who should have a hand in UCSB's success. She saw significant action as a junior in 2010, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on a third. This year, she is expected to play as a wide attacker or wide midfielder.
"Alissa Sanchez has had her best preseason since she's been here," Stumpf said. "She has great fitness and outstanding speed in tracking people down. I expect her to have a very good season."
Anderson, an accomplished goal scorer at the junior college level, could be one of the team's most pleasant surprises.
"Dyanne is quicker, faster and more tenacious than what we expected," Stumpf said. "She has a knack for putting the ball where she wants. Overall, she is better than expected."
Romanowski, the fourth of the injured returnees, started on the backline as a junior in 2009, but in 2010, she injured her foot in the second game of the season and missed the rest of the campaign. In 2011, she could split time as a holding center midfielder or defender. In the midfield, Romanowski will be joined by her fellow co-Captain, Cory Yoshida.
"They are very good at holding balls, swinging it and moving things forward," Stumpf said. "The other important thing about Cory and Nicole is that we know we can count on them for leadership from their midfield positions."
"Erica is so intelligent and skilled," Stumpf said. "We originally planned to play her out wide this year, but she has also been playing so well at attacking center mid that we are thinking about playing with two at times. Eventually, she will be an attacking center mid.
"Kelly is really good," he continued. "She will be involved spelling our midfielders, but she should get some starts too."
The obvious strength of the Gauchos is definitely their defensive unit.
If Romanowski starts as a defender, UCSB could be starting four seniors. She could be joined by Alyssa Benjamin, Kathleen Matthew and Alexa Stringer. Another option will be fourth-year junior Danika Johnson.
"Last year, if you take out the two games where we gave up four and three goals, we allowed just 14 goals in 17 games," Stumpf recalled. "Three-fourths of that group is back, so I think we should be good again. Benjamin and Romo are our most competitive and toughest players and our defenders reflect that."
"Miranda is very talented and Taylor had a good spring," Stumpf said. "I expect that they will earn playing time as well."
The last line of UCSB's defense might, ultimately, prove to be the best.
Sophomore goalkeeper Makenna Henry started all but two matches as a freshman. She recorded all of the team's wins, had 58 saves and posted a 0.93 goals against average. After off-season shoulder surgery, she should be even better.
"She is so confident right now," Stumpf said. "Getting so much playing time as a freshman was really good for Makenna. She is also more fit and her leaping ability is better. I think she could have a really good season."
Clearly, UCSB's defense has an opportunity to be stellar once again, but the success of the Gauchos will undoubtedly hinge on their ability to score goals. If a few of the pieces that Stumpf and staff have assembled can fit together and start clicking, the rest should take care of itself.
Season tickets for UCSB women's soccer, as well as men's soccer, are available now. In fact, for every men's soccer season ticket purchased, a women's soccer season ticket is included! There are numerous great ticket plans available, so call 805-893-UCSB or click here for more information.
Santa Barbara will face a challenging schedule in 2011. In addition to UC Irvine, which won the Big West regular season championship and ultimately advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, and Long Beach State, which won the Big West Tournament and also played in the NCAA Tourney, there is a tough non-conference slate. The non-conference home games include match-ups with traditional powers Minnesota, Santa Clara, Fresno State, Pepperdine and New Mexico. The road games include Michigan State, UNLV and San Diego State.