August 17, 2010

2010 UCSB Season Preview Part One: Defenders and Goalkeepers

Aug. 17, 2010

The 2010 version of UC Santa Barbara women's soccer arguably returns the most quality experience of any Gaucho team in recent memory.

When UCSB takes the field for its season-opener against Cal State Northridge at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night, it will do so with nine seniors and nine juniors who have been members of a Gaucho team that has won the last two Big West Tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, five sophomores were on last year's team giving UCSB a total of 23 players with postseason experience.

"We have nine seniors and nine juniors who have been part of two Big West Tournament championship teams and two NCAA teams," said Gaucho head coach Paul Stumpf. "That leadership and experience has made my job a lot easier. They know the expectations and what it takes and they're the ones who pass that on to the younger players."

The return of so many experienced players paid dividends for UCSB from the moment the team started training in early August.

"When we were in double-days it was more of a review than anything else," Stumpf recalled. "We have so many players back that they already knew our system, our attack patterns and our set pieces. The older players have the leadership and that was an enjoyable experience for a coach."

While the Gauchos bring in several talented newcomers to go with all of the experience, they won't need to lean on the newcomers as they have at times in the past.

"In the past, we would bring in 10 freshmen and expect four to start," Stumpf said. "That's not the case this year. The young players will factor in, but it's the older players who will lead us. They have the desire to win the conference, the conference tournament, advance to the NCAA Tournament and even further. It makes a coach's job easier when the motivation comes from within and that's why I am optimistic."

Today, we will begin a three-part series previewing UCSB's 2010 women's soccer season.

The Goalkeepers and defenders.

In 2009, Nicole Romanowski made the shift from midfield to central defender, but this year she is going back to her more familiar holding center midfield spot. Still, the Gauchos seem well-stocked on the back line.

Two of the four positions seem set. Senior Julia Speace, a three-year starter, has secured the left back position and junior Alyssa Benjamin has claimed one of the central defender spots. Benjamin played in 11 matches in 2009, starting nine.

"Benji (Benjamin) has won one of the spots because of her presence," Stumpf said. "She is just so much more vocal than the other possible choices."

The second central defender position will likely be either junior Alexa Stringer or sophomore Danika Johnson. Stringer has the experience advantage having started all 22 games as a sophomore. Johnson redshirted in 2009 after playing sparingly as a freshman.

The right back position is a battle of two juniors: Kathleen Matthew and Alyssa Oldham. Matthew, who transferred to UCSB from Santa Clara prior to last season, played in all 22 contests and started 12 in 2009. Oldham made six starts in her 19 appearances.

"Either way, I think we'll be in good shape on the right side, and pretty much all along the backline," Stumpf said. "Just like everywhere else, we are deep and experienced."

Stumpf also believes that two of his freshmen - Taylor Gehring (Petaluma, Calif./Petaluma HS) and Paige Gankema (Irvine, Calif./Northwood HS) - could impact the Gauchos' defensive situation in 2010.

"Taylor Gehring and Paige Gankema have been our two best freshman defenders," Stumpf observed. "I would be comfortable with them playing anywhere along the backline."

The Gauchos last line of defense will also be the least experienced position on the field. Only sophomore Taylor Gonzalez seen any playing time in a college match - she played 59 minutes in a late-season match in 2009.

Possibly the leading candidate to step into the starting role is freshman Makenna Henry (Fountain Valley/Fountain Valley HS). At just over 5-9, Henry has outstanding size. She also is probably the most accomplished of the goalkeepers listed on UCSB's roster. At one time, she was a member of the U-15 United States Girls National Team and she had an outstanding club career.

"At one point, Makenna Henry wore a jersey for the U.S. National Team," Stumpf said. "Even though she doesn't have college experience, she has good experience and she is a very mature young lady. If she does win the starting job, five games in she will no longer be a rookie and 10 games in she will have a lot of experience as we enter conference play."

Challenging Henry will be Gonzalez and senior Kat Serdio, (Santa Barbara, Calif./Santa Barbara HS) a veteran of the UCSB women's club program.

"Taylor played every minute of every game during our spring season," Stumpf recalled. "Early in games, she was not comfortable, but eventually she became comfortable in her environment and did a fairly good job.

"Kat (Serdio) was great in the spring," Stumpf continued. "She is not big in statue, but she competes for everything and she brings a very positive and energetic attitude."

On Wednesday, we will look at UCSB's midfield prospects for 2010.

Season tickets for the 2010 Gaucho men's and women's soccer season are on sale now and this year's packages include tickets for the 2010 College Cup, being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one College Cup All Session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.

For more information about soccer season tickets, click here.

The One Donation is Gold system allows donors to purchase priority/premium seating and parking at UCSB games across several sports in addition to other benefits. For more information on One Donation is Gold click here .

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