The 2002 Season Outlook
July 23, 2002
Although the Broncos have reached the NCAA College Cup on eight occasions and are fresh off winning the 2001 national championship, head coach Jerry Smith said his team will not focus on the annual tournament until late in the season.
"It's like that every year," the 15-year veteran leader explained. "I think it's always been understood in our program that the goal is the national championship. Having won that, I think it will be a more tangible goal, something we can appreciate and understand more, but it will be a very rare occasion that it will come up in conversation with our team. That's done intentionally because continually talking about it interferes with development. If you're focusing on the championship, you're not focusing on the here and now. That's always been our approach and I think because we're a task-oriented group, we can really work at improving and then once we put ourselves in a position to go to the championship, then we discuss it."
On the other hand, Smith acknowledges that every time Santa Clara steps on the field this season, their opponent will be playing the national champions, bringing even more determination from an opponent in trying to knock the Broncos from the top.
"We will not understand what we will face in that respect until midway through the season," Smith conceded. "But it's going to be great because we're going to get everybody's best game and that's really going to expose all the weaknesses in our game and give us an opportunity to address those before we get to the playoffs."
Spring practices usually allows the squad a chance to establish new team chemistry, but many factors contributed to hindering those efforts, leading Smith to believe the team will have a slow start during the fall season.
"Our spring practice did not go well for a lot of reasons, the first being I think we were guilty of post-championship attitude, which was not being hungry right now," Smith said. "Secondly, we were missing some key players, who are spending time with the U19, U21 or full National Teams. Finally, injuries played a large role and we were also missing assistant coaches. What that spells is a slow start to our fall season."
"We are going to have an amazing attacking team, there are so many weapons. We led the country in scoring last year and if we have everybody there for a game, we will have a more dangerous attacking team than we had even last year."
Head Coach Jerry Smith
Sophomores Jessica Ballweg, Leslie Osborne and transfer Megan Kakadelas will miss the preseason and the Broncos' home opener against Stanford while competing with the U19 National Team. Also in the fall, seniors Aly Wagner and Devvyn Hawkins will miss games and weeks of training while playing with the National Team as it tries to qualify for the 2003 World Cup. The Broncos' season will depend upon these key players and whether they return to the Mission Campus burned out from training every single day this summer, or being at the top of their game to use that as a starting point to launch into a great college season.
"I think we have a lot of obstacles to overcome next fall," Smith summed up. "What we lost from last year's team more than anything else was leadership and defending ability. Kerry Cathcart was a great defensive midfielder and Danielle Slaton and Anna Kraus were great central defenders. That means the big question marks for us are our back four and our ability to defend.
"On the other hand, I do feel good about our ability to score goals. We have an amazing attacking team; there are so many weapons. We led the country in scoring last year and if we have everybody there for a game, we have a more dangerous attacking team than we had even last year."
Smith will lead his 2002 squad with three new assistants, as Mike Smith joins the Broncos from the Oregon Youth Soccer Association as SCU's first assistant. The athletic department created a new full-time second assistant position and brought in Erin Hussey from Northwestern, while former San Jose CyberRay Janine Szpara will join the staff as the goalkeeper coach.
"We lost two really great coaches in Rich Manning, who is now at Utah, and long-time assistant Eric Yamamoto, who now works solely with the men's team," Smith said. "But I couldn't be more excited about our new staff. They're great people, hard workers and good coaches who communicate very well, which is going to help our team."
Here's a by-position look at the 2002 Broncos.
The Broncos' strength this season lies in the attack game. Leading the charge will be junior Veronica Zepeda, and Smith warns this could be her break out year. Battling injuries her first two seasons here, Zepeda has gained a much better understanding on how to keep herself healthy.
"It kind of sounds funny talking about having a breakout year for Veronica, because she's already so good, but when she's limited to 30-40 minutes per game and she can't practice with the team during the week, she's not anywhere near her potential," Smith said. "She could have an amazing season if we can keep her healthy. It will probably take us several games before we decide to play her as a forward or a midfielder, but she will be dangerous in either position."
Osborne is described as one of the team's best all-around players. A returning starter, Smith said he's not sure whether she'll play as a fullback, a midfielder or a forward.
"She may have a season where she moves around from position to position. It could change week to week too, but she can handle it. She's one of our most complete players and will be really good in every game she plays," Smith said.
Junior Kristi Candau will battle for a starting position, as will sophomore transfer Megan Kakadelas, the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year last season while competing for USC. A second transfer, Tracy Hess from De Anza College is also expected to have a regular rotation of playing time in the front line. Sophomore Bree Horvath tore her right ACL in the spring but will be a starter if ready to return to action in early September.
Honda Award Winner and Soccer America Player of the Year Wagner will lead the midfield. A regular on the U.S. National Team as well, Smith said his senior standout is getting better all the time.
"Aly is better now than she was last fall and will be better this fall than she is today," he added. "What will be hard for Aly is balancing between the U.S. National Team and Santa Clara. But when she's here, she's going to be a player our opponents will be hard-pressed to stop. She will score goals, she will get assists and she will be very determined to repeat as national champions in her last year of eligibility. I will never bet against her."
Hawkins will return as the team's starting holding midfielder and is described by Smith as one of the team's best leaders by example. Micaela Esquivel from the Albuquerque (N.M.) Academy will challenge for time in the midfield. Smith likens her playmaking skills to former Bronco Jennifer Lalor, pointing out Esquivel's creative and skillful passing and dribbling abilities. Fellow newcomers Kelly Giddings and Cara Hanelin will help deepen the roster at this position. Forwards Zepeda and Osborne, and defenders Emma Borst and Chardonnay Poole may also see time in the midfield.
The coaching staff's biggest question to start the season will be determining who will be guarding the net for the Broncos. Sophomore Alyssa Sobolik and Erin Sharpe shared time behind the net last season, with Sobolik receiving a majority of the minutes. A knee injury late in the fall sidelined her for the end of the regular season, but allowed her enough mobility to help the team through the playoffs. Freshman Erin Pearson redshirted last season, but is going to compete for playing time and a starting position.
"We played Alyssa out of necessity last season, but she's struggling to recover from her knee injury," Smith said. "So we've gone from having a clear No. 1 goalie to a situation that is up in the air. We expect all three keepers to compete for a starting position; it's really the most wide open situation we're looking at."
Sophomore returning defender Ballweg will return to her right fullback position, while fellow sophomore Lana Bowen will have a great opportunity to return as our starting left fullback. Poole, a junior, and sophomore Holly Azevedo will compete for starting positions in the center of the Bronco defense, but Smith said he may try Poole out as his holding midfielder.
"Chardonnay is a natural leader," he explained. "She was a starter as a freshman and then lost that position last season, so I think she's really anxious to get back to a starting role. She'll come in really fit and ready to go. And if Holly does not start for us in the center of our defense, she'll start somewhere for us, because she's just a really good player and has way too much to offer to be on the bench."
Sophomore Jaclyn Campi will see some playing time in the back, but is still struggling with leg pain dating back to last fall. Redshirt junior Borst is returning from ankle surgery that forced her to redshirt last season and will be hungry for the opportunity to play. Smith said Borst has natural leadership qualities and could see time in the midfield as well.
Last season, Smith said his recruiting class added a lot of toughness that his squads had been missing in past seasons. With the addition of newcomer Carrie Schuler, Smith said he's still increasing the Broncos' toughness.
"Carrie will vie for playing time in our back field," Smith said. "She is of the same mold of those aggressive players we want that don't mind mixing it up physically."
"One of the secrets to our success is continual improvement through the season," Smith concluded. "There are some things in place that might indicate that we'll have a slow start to our season, but I'm confident because of the approach we've taken with our team in terms of improvement over winning in the first half of the season, at some point we're going to get to a point where we're one of the top teams in the country and put ourselves in a position to go to the NCAA Tournament, to win some games and return to the final four. While we've never gone after the championship at the risk of not improving as a team, having had a taste of that this past year, it certainly is something we hope to be able to accomplish this upcoming season."