Aug. 15, 2008
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The joys of a scrimmage. Never before, has the sight of his team scrimmaging done so much for the psyche of UC Santa Barbara women's soccer coach Paul Stumpf.
"We're talking about numbers," began the 10th-year mentor. "The fact that we are almost to the end of double-days (two practices per day at the outset of training camp) and can still have a full 11-on-11 scrimmage is very good. Last year, at this point, we had nine players sitting on the sidelines with injuries, and we could get no real, good feel for many of the rest of our players."
A recruiting class of 12 freshmen that was ranked 38th in the nation by Soccer Buzz Magazine, the addition of three sophomore transfers, and the return of two-time All-Big West forward Genelle Ives, and sophomore goalkeeper Tammy Lenham, each of whom sat out the 2007 season with injuries, have bolstered Stumpf's spirit. But it is not numbers alone that has the coaching staff excited.
"The numbers are important, but just as important is the fact that we simply have more talent," said Stumpf. "We have better athletes. than we did last year. Some very good soccer players, some of them very slick on the ball, who read the game well. It also comes down to competition, just being able to have legitimate competition at almost every position. I think there are only one or two players who are pretty comfortable, and luckily, they are the seniors, and they're uncomfortable because this is their last year, they're last chance to have success."
To experience success in 2008, UCSB will have to be more offensive than it was in 2007. Last year, the Gauchos scored just 19 goals in 20 matches and were shutout nine times. Two of the pleasant surprises on the offensive front return in 2008. Sophomore forward Kailyn Kugler, one of the players forced into an expanded role because of injuries, led the team in scoring with six goals and two assists for 14 points. She was named Freshman of the Year in the Big West Conference following the season. Kugler is joined up front by senior Michelle Russell, who had four goals and two assists for 10 points.
Perhaps the most important returnee among the forwards is Ives, who missed the entire 2007 season recovering from knee surgery. She is a one-time Big West Freshman of the Year and a two-time all-league selection. Her healthy return would have a huge impact for the Gauchos.
"What Genelle brings is a lot of pace, a lot of determination and a lot of effort up front that people can follow," Stumpf said. "She backs defenses off which creates space underneath for us so that we can play. When you add a couple of other speedy players that we have up top, we are lightning in a bottle. You just never know when or where we are going to strike. We could be struggling, a team could step-up on us, creating space behind, and off we go. Last year, we had no shot at any sort of counter or 1-v-1. This year, if we can release pressure with the long ball, we will get some things done on offense. Genelle and Michelle will play target, and out wide for us. They are both fit and healthy. They are both working and competing, and they bring so much experience. They're so comfortable on the ball, and they've been around it a long time. Kailyn is now in a battle for a starting spot and playing time. To be able to bring the conference's Freshman of the Year off the bench, or to start her and play her fewer minutes so that she doesn't get worn out by the time we get to our league season is an advantage."
Ives, who scored 13 goals and 10 assists in her first two seasons, will not be alone in bringing speed to the table for the Gauchos. Freshmen Alissa Sanchez (Cathedral Catholic HS/San Diego, Calif.) and Lindsey Loftus (Santa Margarita HS/Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), and sophomore Kylie McDonald (Pepperdine/Westlake Village, Calif.) will give UCSB some potent, and quick, weapons up front. In addition to her soccer exploits as a high school athlete, Sanchez was a decorated prep sprinter and is the fastest player on the team. In her one season at Pepperdine, McDonald was named honorable mention all-league in the tough West Coast Conference.
"With Genelle, along with Sanchez and McDonald, we've got a level of pace up front that will scare some people," assessed Stumpf. "It will force some teams to back off a little bit. If we can get Alissa to get some crosses into the middle, she is going to be very effective. Kylie has been a pleasant surprise. She is a very good ball-striker, has very good pace and is even better than I thought she was. Lindsey also has good pace and is a good ball-striker."
In all, Stumpf believes that the Gauchos have five players who have a good chance to start, and two others who should play important roles.
"We have five legit starters," he began, "with a sixth and seventh ready to go. If we had even two of these players we would have been a lot better off last year."
The goalkeeper sweepstakes is an easy call, if things go as hoped. The if, however, is a big one. Sophomore Tammy Lenham returns after sitting out the 2007 season because of shoulder surgery. If Lenham is healthy, she will be the starter, period. As a freshman in 2006, the Hermosa Beach, Calif., native made four starts, playing in five overall matches. She allowed just four goals and had 22 saves in 465 minutes. Her goals against average of 0.77 led the team that season.
"Tammy is number one if she's healthy," stated Stumpf. "She is a presence in goal and to have as much success as we hope for, we probably need for her to stay healthy."
If Lenham does struggle physically, Stumpf will have the option to pick from a pair of freshmen. Ali Cutler (Archbishop Mitty HS/Saratoga, Calif.) is expected to be the number one back-up to Lenham, with Laura DiBiase (Palos Verdes HS/Redondo Beach, Calif.) is also on hand.
UCSB's defensive group will have something old and something new. Senior Rachael Ritchey, a two-time All-Big West choice, is expected to be joined by Julia Speace, a sophomore who was thrust into a starting role in 2007. The other defensive spots are expected to be seized by freshmen. Alexa Stringer (MonteVista HS/Danville, Calif.), Alyssa Oldham (Mater Dei HS/Yorba Linda, Calif.), Alyssa Benjamin (Casa Grandé HS/Petaluma, Calif.), and Danika Johnson (Cathedral Catholic HS/San Diego, Calif.) are the most likely options.
"There are probably going to be two freshmen starting," Stumpf said in reference to the other two defensive spots. "Alexa Stringer will start in the middle, right alongside Rachael, and Alyssa Oldham will start at left back. Alyssa is very good at connecting short, and we're going to work every day on her ability to play the long-ball. Alyssa Benjamin can play left back, she can play in the middle. She is a tough competitor, a physical presence, and exceptional in the air. Danika will play in the middle with Rachael and Alexa."
Other options defensively will include sophomore Natalie Weeks, a transfer from Colorado, and junior Kacey Doherty. As a freshman, Weeks played in eight matches, starting seven, for the Buffaloes, before an injury sidelined her for the remainder of the season. If healthy, she will be a valuable addition to a defensive group that is big on talent, but lacks experience. Both Weeks and Doherty will see playing time primarily at the left back position.
In the midfield, UCSB will start with senior Sami Svrcek, a First Team All-Big West honoree in 2007, junior Sarah Stoltz, and sophomore Jacqui Simon. Svrcek and Stoltz started all 20 matches for the Gauchos in 2007, while Simon played in all 20, making 11 starts.
"Sami and Sarah will be the holding central midfielders," Stumpf began, "and Jacqui is the best attacking center midfielder. They give us good experience, but I expect our freshmen and transfer to really challenge for a great deal of playing time."
The freshmen alluded to by Stumpf are Cory Yoshida (Northwood HS/Irvine, Calif.), Katy Roby (Poway HS/Poway, Calif.), and Emily Ohlhaver, the transfer is Nicole Romanowski (Pepperdine/Coto de Caza, Calif.)
"Cory Yoshida is a solid, steady ball-winner and competitor," observed Stumpf. "Nicole brings some height and great experience. She was in the National Pool under-14s and then she had a very good freshman year at Pepperdine. Katy is just a great playmaker, and when she gets into shape, she should help us. At least at the start of the season, I think Emily will be the second attacking center mid that goes in. She is very crafty on the ball, is blue collar, through and through, and she never stops working."
Stumpf knows that all the new additions will raise expectations, but he believes that is a good thing.
"This group has set some pretty high goals," he said. "Our seniors have never won 10 games, and that is one of our targets. We play a very difficult schedule, but I believe that is a goal we can meet."
The Gauchos' non-conference schedule includes the preseason favorite to win the National Championship, UCLA, along with traditional power Tennessee. In addition, they will play a trio of Pac 10 opponents (Arizona State, Arizona, and Washington State), two opponents from the always-tough West Coast Conference (San Diego and Pepperdine), two from the Western Athletic Conference (Hawaii and Nevada), and one from the Big Sky (Montana). Making things even more challenging, UCSB will, at one point, play six consecutive road matches, including the final three non-conference matches and the first two league contests.
So, while he has high expectations in 2008, Stumpf also has a long memory.
"We are optimistic, but cautiously optimistic," he said. "The injury bug is just not something that I can forget."