August 27, 2007

2007 UCSB Women's Soccer Preview: Experienced Defense Set to Lead Gauchos into New Season

Aug. 27, 2007

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - On one hand, the 2007 UC Santa Barbara women's soccer team is an extremely experienced group. On the other hand, it has some experience, but could do with a bit more seasoning. On the third hand, if there was such a thing, it has almost no experience at all.

More specifically, the Gauchos' defensive group, including backs and goalkeepers, is one of the most experienced around. Not only does it include four players who started most of last season, it returns a couple of players who started full-time in seasons prior to 2006. The midfield, on the other hand, has some experience, but will need some players to expand their roles in 2007. Then, there is that make-believe third hand which represents a forward line that returns just one part-time player from 2006.

The Gauchos return the majority of a stellar and experienced defensive unit that limited opponents to just 18 goals in 20 matches in 2006.

The last line of defense for the Gauchos is also one of the most dependable. Senior goalkeeper Katie Wright, a Second Team All-Big West selection in 2006, had 64 saves and a goals against average of 0.86 last season, the third lowest in school history. She has a commanding presence in goal and got better and better as her junior year progressed. While she finished the year with a 6-6-4 record, Wright was 6-1-1 in her final eight starts, going unbeaten in seven consecutive at one point. While she did suffer a knee injury during the summer, she is expected to be the starter again.

"She is by far our most experienced goalkeeper and she is probably head-and-shoulders above the other two available to us," commented ninth-year head coach Paul Stumpf. "If she stays healthy, Katie can give us one of the best keepers in the league, but while she is our best, we've had worse situations in the past, where the gap between our number one and number two keepers was huge. That's not the case anymore. Kelly Soler and Cassi Franklin are good, solid goalkeepers. Still, it would be my preference that Katie Wright play full-time this year."

Tammy Lenham, the primary backup to Wright in 2006, will redshirt the 2007 campaign because of a shoulder injury. Soler, a sophomore, and Franklin (Bella vista HS/Fair Oaks, Calif.), a freshman, will serve as backups. Before redshirting in 2006, Soler played in seven matches as a freshman in 2005, starting one.

Playing in front of the goalkeepers will be one of the most experienced groups in the Big West. Junior Rachael Ritchey, a First Team All-Big West choice in 2006, and Kandice Mclaughlin, an honorable mention all-leaguer who also scored three goals in 2006, will again anchor the defensive unit.

"Probably the most standout of our defenders last year were Rachael Ritchey and Kandice Mclaughlin," Stumpf said. "They will again be very important for us."

Stumpf also expects significant contributions from senior Katrina Wright and junior Jessie Steinberg. Wright started 12 matches in 2006, while Steinberg made six starts.

"We have two very solid returnees in Katrina Wright, a left-footed player who can play left back, and Jessie Steinberg, who is a great ball-striker, on the right hand side," he said. "Their pace is a little limited, but they are very, very good, hard-working and hard-nosed players."

Junior Katie Smith, who started 18 games on the right side in 2006, and senior Katie Dwyer, who started every match in 2005 but was limited in 2006 because of injuries, could also step back into the picture. Both were limited by health problems during preseason training and it may take them until later in the year to round into playing shape. Freshmen Elise Crispen (Francis Parker School/San Diego, Calif.), Stacy Myrick (Esperanza HS/Yorba Linda, Calif.), Samantha Bock (Troy HS/Fullerton, Calif.) and Julia Speace (Santa Margarita HS/San Clemente, Calif.) will also bolster the defense. Crispen and Speace in particular are expected to be in the mix.

In the midfield, the Gauchos will need to replace Darci Gwartz and Kristyn Bright, both four-year starters and all-conference performers. Expected to lead the charge will be junior Sami Svrcek (1 goal, 5 assists) and sophomore Sarah Stoltz (2 assists).

"Sami Svrcek came back in great shape, at the top of the fitness charts," assessed Stumpf. "She has really adjusted to the rigors of division one soccer and she is working at both ends. Because of her size, she will have to play to her strengths, quickness, change of direction and playmaking. Sarah Stoltz didn't play a ton last year, but she had a very, very good spring. She is a very composed player and in the heat of battle she is one who will settle the ball and play-make very well. She also came back in great condition. Sarah also has a great competitive spirit. She hates to lose, in practice or in games."

Junior Linda Allen (1 assist) is expected to get the nod at the other midfield slot. She made 11 starts in 2006 and could become full-time starter in 2007.

"She (Allen) is one of those players that you'll never notice unless you watch for a while and then you realize that she is solid, steady and she works," Stumpf said.

While the trio of Svrcek, Stoltz and Allen are expected to spend the most time in the midfield, Stumpf believes that freshman Kate Mogannam (Monte Vista HS/Danville, Calif.) and senior Romy Barber will find opportunities to contribute.

"Kate Mogannam comes from a very good club program and she is very competitive," he said. "Romy is in the best shape of her career. She has always been a very good and smart soccer player, but she could really only go for about 10 or 15 minutes at a time. That may change this year because she came back in really good shape."

Late in the summer, the forward line was thrown into upheaval when it was decided that two-time All-Big West selection Genelle Ives, a junior, would redshirt the 2007 season with a knee injury. She had seven goals and four assists in 2006 and six goals in 2005. Her 13 goals over the last two seasons were the highest total on the team. The one returnee expected to play a major role on the front line will be junior Michelle Russell. Last year, Russell played in 18 matches, scoring a goal and an assist. As a freshman in 2005, she was off to a solid start before a severely sprained ankle sidelined her for the final 14 matches.

"Michelle came back this year exceptionally fit," Stumpf observed. "She understood that there was a big opportunity out there for her to finally get the minutes that she was looking for. I think she took her summer very seriously."

Freshman Jaqui Simon, a transfer who redshirted at UCLA in 2006, and true freshman, Brooke Salyer (Santa Margarita HS/Trabuco Canyon, Calif.), have been penciled in as the other two starters. Simon, according to Stumpf, is a "midfielder by trade", but because of the Gauchos' precarious situation on the forward line, she will make the shift.

"Jaqui Simon is someone who we recruited heavily out of high school and we were really pleased to get her," Stumpf said. "She is small, but she works. She has that central midfielders working mentality. She is going to be difficult to defend because she is constantly in motion. She is always finding gaps and getting open."

Salyer, who is also listed as a midfielder, was one of UCSB's top recruits.

"Brooke is a very good ball-striker," Stumpf began. "She is a lot like Sami Svrcek in that she is going to have to play to her strength, which is quickness."

While last year's Gauchos were, in the coach's words, "lightning in a bottle", this year's group will have to take a significantly different approach.

"We aren't going to be able to play the ball in behind as much," he said. "We still have to back the defense up, but after we back the defense up, we play underneath. This will be a different group, but that is not to say that they won't be effective. I think they can be."

Other options up front include freshmen Kailyn Kugler (San Clemente HS/San Clemente, Calif.), who is listed as a defender and midfielder as well as a forward, and Erica Seidman (Tesoro HS/Coto de Caza, Calif.).

"Kailyn will probably play in the back and up front," Stumpf said. "Her ball-striking is exceptional and she has a great soccer intelligence. Erica comes to us from a very good club program and also has a great soccer I.Q. She is a very smart player. She does have a flair to her, which is good as long as it is within what we are trying to do. She too will get some minutes."

With all of the change in the midfield and forward lines, it is good that UCSB scheduled down in 2007.

Yeah, right.

The Gauchos will play seven matches against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2006, and 10 against teams that have gone to the tourney at least once in the last two seasons.

"The schedule is exciting," commented Stumpf. "We consistently play a great schedule and I think it helps us in conference."

In 2006, UCSB also played a difficult non-conference schedule, winning twice. In league, however, the Gauchos went 6-1-1 and tied for the regular season crown. This year, their non-conference schedule includes Santa Clara, which was a number one seed in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and other qualifiers USC, Loyola Marymount, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, UNLV and Denver.

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