SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The 2012 UC Santa Barbara women's soccer team has 30 players listed on its roster, 22 of which are either freshmen or sophomores and only a trio of seniors.
Needless to say, the youthful Gauchos will be tested immediately as they travel to Kansas and Missouri this weekend to open the season.
"This is obviously a very young team," said UCSB head coach Paul Stumpf. "We have 13 freshmen and they're kind of a mixed-bag. Some have proven to be really good and will join our returnees and play right away."
To make strides and progress after a 2011 team that went 7-11-2 overall and 2-6 in the Big West, UCSB will have to improve offensively. Last year the team scored just 19 goals in its 20 matches, scored more than one goal just four times and was shutout on six occasions.
Senior Dyanne Anderson, who paced the Gauchos with four goals in 2011 has been moved to the backline and will play outside right. She will still be involved offensively, in fact she scored one of the team's six goals in an exhibition win over Westmont College, but Stumpf said that she is easily the team's best at that position.
"Dyanne is now playing outside right back and she is by far our best at that position," he said.
With Anderson now playing in the back, the Gauchos will have a different look offensively. Freshman Sara Feder (Denver, Colo./Boulder City HS), the Colorado State High School Player of the Year, will start the season as the target up front in a 4-2-3-1 alignment.
"Sara is actually an attacking center mid," Stumpf said. "She's been so impressive to this point that she will get the first look up front."
The attacking midfielders will include a sophomore and two freshmen. Indiana Mead, who scored three goals in 2011, will return to her more familiar spot as the attacking center midfielder after spending the 2011 season out wide and, at times, up front.
"Attacking center mid is Indy's natural position," Stumpf said. "Playing there should make her, and us, better."
Mead will be joined by freshmen Angelisa Cortez (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison HS) and Mayra Almazan (La Puente, Calif./South Hills HS) on the attacking midfield line. Cortez will play will play on the right side with Almazan on the left.
"Angelisa has been great at times, very impressive," Stumpf observed. "Mayra has been a little more up-and-down, but she has had some great moments and we'll give her a long look."
The offensive midfielders will be joined in the lineup by holding center midfielders Erin Ortega and Kelly McGrath. Ortega, a senior, was a Second Team All-Big West selection in 2011 and a Preseason All-Big West choice this year after scoring three goals and two assists. Both she and McGrath played in all 20 matches last season.
"This is one position where we do have some good experience," Stumpf said. "I expect Erin, who is our team captain, to have a good senior season, and Kelly is playing very well as we get going."
Anderson will anchor right side on the backline and she is expected to be joined by junior Taylor Gehring and sophomore Miranda Cornejo who will start at the center back spots. The left back will be one of three players: juniors Lindsay or Paige Gankema, or freshman McKenzie Walsh.
"That's a good battle," Stumpf said. "Lindsay and Paige have experience, but McKenzie came to camp in phenomenal shape. They all have a chance to play key roles."
The final piece of the defensive puzzle is one of the best. Junior goalkeeper Makenna Henry returns for her third season as a starter. A Preseason All-Big West honoree, Henry played 1,799:43 of a possible 1,844:43 in 2011. She allowed 26 goals and had 68 saves for a goals against average of 1.30 and a save percentage of .723.
"We really need Makenna to stay healthy," Stumpf said. "That is a major key for us. When she's healthy, she is a very important part of our defensive effort."
Stumpf also believes that the Gauchos should see their depth improve as the season progresses. Because of injuries, and to a certain extent lack of physical conditioning, some players have been limited in the preseason.
"We need to get some players healthy and others need to be more fit," he said. "As that happens we will get better. I am certainly optimistic that this team will improve as the season develops."
Following their trip to the American heartland, the Gauchos will return home for three straight matches. They will open their home schedule on Aug. 24 with a 7:00 p.m. match at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium against Illinois. On Aug. 31 they will host Indiana, also at 7:00 p.m.
Ticket information for UCSB women's soccer is available by clicking here or by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272).