Women's Soccer Preview Day 3: Defenders and Goalkeepers

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Aug. 19, 2009

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UCSB women's soccer team shouldn't have too much trouble scoring this year with most of its firepower from 2008 returning intact. The Gauchos ability to limit opposing offenses, however, may be the key to a season which begins at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium on Thursday night against Westmont.

A trio of players are competing for the starting right back position. Junior Julia Speace, who was thrust into a starting role as a freshman in 2007 and then earned a full-time starting spot in 2008, is at or near the top of the list. Sophomore Alyssa Oldham, who made 13 starting appearances as a freshman, and Santa Clara transfer Kat Matthew will also be in the mix.

"All three are very even at the right back position," said UCSB head coach Paul Stumpf. "All three could play on the left, but heir more natural side is on the right. Julia and Alyssa got a lot of starts last year, so they have the experience, and Kat is a Regional Pool player. All are a little different, but very capable. We are very deep on the right side."

The Gauchos are not as deep on the left side, but there is one intriguing candidate: Alyssa Benjamin.

"Alyssa Benjamin is a true left-footed player and that puts her in the pole position if she can stay healthy," Stumpf said. "She hasn't proven to be durable, but she has proven to be very tough. Again, the only question is her health."

Benjamin played in 17 games, making seven starts. In a display of her toughness, she badly sprained her ankle in the Big West championship match against Long Beach State, but returned five days later for the NCAA Tournament contest against Stanford.

"She (Benjamin) gave it a go against Stanford, but re-injured the ankle about 20 minutes in," Stumpf recalled. "That one took her out of commission for a couple of months, so she has proven to be exceptionally tough. On the field, she can release a lot of pressure because she's a great ball-striker and a very good ball-winner. If push comes to shove, we are going to move her to the middle because she has a huge personality and is good at directing people, but I think she is more suited for us as a left back. If Alyssa does happen to go down, any of the other three could easily slide over from the right side."

Sophomore Alexa Stringer started and played in 11 matches in 2008 before an injury caused her to miss the rest of the season. She returns and is expected to be one of the center backs.

"Alexa didn't have a great spring," Stumpf said, "but she snapped out of it and came back playing very, very well. We feel good about her."

The other center back is a convert. Nicole Romanowski, a midfielder by trade, is making the transition to the back line. She will assume the spot that was expected to go to sophomore Danika Johnson, but Johnson injured a knee and will sit out the 2009 season. Stumpf is confident that Romanowski can make the shift.

"When we lost Danika, it was suggested to us that we look at Romo at center back," Stumpf recalled. "She's been great in there. She is directing traffic, she is more fit than she's ever been, and she has the competitive spirit that you need in that role.

"Nicole is tall," Stumpf continued, "relatively athletic, she's a ggood ball-winner, she's very calm on the ball and she, like Benjamin, can release a lot of pressure and play balls over the top from the back line."

Another option on the back line is freshman Erin Ortega, but Stumpf would prefer to use her primarily as a midfielder.

"Erin is interesting," he said. "She is one of our best right backs, but if we take here out of the midfield we would lose depth there. Also, because she is a freshman, we really want to simplify things and let her settle into a role. She is so intelligent and such a good athlete that she could play several different spots before her career is over."

Injuries could also factor into the goalkeeper position. Quite simply, if junior Tammy Lenham can stay healthy, she is the likely starter. Lenham missed much of 2008 and all of 2007 with shoulder injuries.

"Tammy will most likely start - if she can stay healthy," Stumpf said. "We are hoping that somehow she can make it through the season. At 5-foot-11 she has good size, she has good length, is very skilled with her hands, good in the air, and pretty good with her feet. Also, after playing three years of college soccer, she is comfortable enough to trap and pass."

Lenham played in eight matches in 2008 and had a goals against average of 1.35.

Stumpf's other options in goal are sophomore Ali Cutler and freshman Taylor Gonzalez. Cutler was forced into a starting spot in 2008 and did well. She logged a team-high 1373 minutes and had a solid 0.85 goals against average, making 67 saves.

"Ali was a godsend last year and that experience will benefit us a great deal," he said. "Taylor has been a pleasant surprise. She isn't tall or an imposing figure, but she is quick, has very good footwork and is very confident."

Women's soccer fans, new this year, donations to The Gaucho Fund - regardless of the sport it supports - will be part of the "One Donation is Gold" system. This allows donors to purchase priority/premium seating and parking at UCSB games across several sports in addition to other benefits.

If you donate to women's soccer, you will have the opportunity to purchase tickets in the Gold Zone (priority/premium seats) at Harder Stadium for men's soccer, which includes priority parking and cushioned chair-backed seating. No longer will separate donations need to be made to secure priority seating to different UCSB sports. One donation, one fund: The Gaucho Fund.

Season tickets for the 2009 men's soccer season are on sale for only five bucks a game. Fans who purchase 2009 season tickets will be guaranteed the opportunity to buy tickets for the 2010 Men's NCAA College Cup hosted by UCSB at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium Dec. 10-12, 2010. To accompany the successful "Soccer Town, USA" slogan as part of the College Cup bid, a discounted family valued offer is also available where a family of five can catch games for only $2.50 per game! Family Plan package also includes three free youth t-shirts and memberships to the new UCSB kids club: GKids. Fans can easily buy tickets online or by calling 805-893-UCSB. To purchase your tickets click here.