Sept. 9, 2001
WINSTON-Salem, N.C., - It's early and his team is not fully healthy, but Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith is satisfied with his Broncos' progress so far.
"It's early in the season, and we are just learning about each other right now," said Smith after his team defeated Florida State 4-1 Sunday to move to 4-0-0 on the young season. "Plus, we have 10 freshmen this season, and with that many new players it takes a while."
Santa Clara opened the season by outscoring Cal-Poly and San Jose State 11-0 before heading east for a pair of matches at the Wake Forest Nike Tournament Sept. 7-9. The Broncos survived what Smith called a very poor first half to defeat Wake 1-0 on Friday, then rebounded with a dominating performance against Florida State Sunday.
"I think we played much better today than we did Friday," Smith said. "Against Wake Forest, we weren't sharp, we weren't alert. The first half was as poor a half as we've played. We were fortunate they didn't score."
But Sunday against the Seminoles, the Broncos did little wrong, outshooting FSU 25-4 and getting three goals from Aly Wagner. With her hat trick, Wagner now has five goals and three assists in four matches.
"When she's feeling it, she is outstanding," said Smith. "Today she was feeling it. She looked strong both Friday and today.
"The thing with Aly is she has to be healthy," Smith added. "Last season, she was never fully healthy. She never had a great season by her standards. By everbody else's standards, she has a great season, but not by her own standards."
Health played a spoiler's role in Santa Clara's 2000 season. In the 16-7-1 season, Wagner, forward Veronica Zepeda and defenders Anna Kraus and Danielle Slaton were sidelined with nagging injuries. Smith said, the team is still adjusting to having Slaton, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team who returned from Australia with a knee injury, back.
"It's been a while since Danielle has been on the field for us," he said. "It's just that she's not fit yet. She only got cleared to begin running in August, and that was since November. Her knee is fine, that's not the problem. It's her fitness."
Smith is using Slaton sparingly, trying to ease her back into match fitness. Even without her on the field, the Broncos are a better team just having her around.
"We love her leadership," Smith said. "That's something we missed last year when she was at the Olympics. Her presence is very important, and I think when she gets fit, she'll contend for player of the year honors."
After their successful East coast trip, in which they notched wins against two ACC clubs, the schedule doesn't get any easier for the Broncos. Santa Clara hosts Notre Dame on the 14th and Cal-Berkeley on the 16th. Both the Fighting Irish and the Golden Bears were 3-0 heading into Sunday's matches.
"This was a good test," said Smith about the Wake Forest tourney. "But next weekend is going to be tough."