Oct. 9, 2003
By Grant Hughes
The Santa Clara
Santa Clara women's soccer is breathing a little easier this week, thanks to victories over Stanford and TCU last weekend.
Entering the first match on Oct. 3, Santa Clara was flirting with the .500 mark, their record sitting at a precarious 4-3-3.
Helped by major contributions from the team's freshman class, the 15th-ranked Broncos appear to have overcome some of the early season's difficulties.
"Our freshmen are extremely important to us," said Head Coach Jerry Smith. "They made some mistakes early in the season, which contributed to our slow start, but now they're really helping us play the way we'd like to."
This year's freshman class, which was named the best in the nation by Soccer America magazine and Soccer Buzz Magazine, is led by forward Marian Dalmy, midfielder Lauren Zealear and goalkeeper Julie Ryder. These three have already made significant contributions to Santa Clara's women's soccer program.
Smith commented on the inevitability of some of the young Broncos' early-season miscues.
Said Smith, "A freshman athlete has an enormous adjustment to make, with respect to the physicality and mental pace of the game at this level. With other teams they've played for, they've been able to get by without their 'A' games, but now they're running into situations they've never dealt with. The defenders here are much more physical than they're used to, and the game is played at a much quicker, tighter pace.
"The mental strain of the game at this level causes a player to become slower than they usually are," Smith continued. "When the more experienced players are operating at a higher speed than the freshmen are used to, you see mistakes."
Said junior Leslie Osborne, "The younger players are starting to realize that even when a team's not good, they're going to be really physical. It can take time to get used to that."
Freshman forward Marian Dalmy agreed, saying, "I'm definitely more sore after games than I ever used to be. Some of the girls we played last weekend were just huge, and really physical. It's definitely a more intense level of soccer."
Clearly, adjustments are being made, as the freshmen have begun to grow more comfortable. With that comfort, play has improved.
"It's really been the whole team coming together and helping us out as much as anything," said freshman midfielder Lauren Zealear. "The older players have all been in our position before, so they can tell us what to expect. With the freshmen and everyone playing better, I think we can take this team a long way into the postseason."
Dalmy cited the closeness of all the freshmen on the team as a major reason for recent success.
Said Dalmy, "We've all gotten pretty close, which is helpful because we can relate to one another. We're going through the same adjustments."
Added Ryder, "Even things like schoolwork can get overwhelming, and make it hard to focus. Knowing that all of us are struggling with the same things besides soccer is comforting too. Still though, it's really valuable to have some of the older players around, like Leslie Osborne. I can be pretty hard on myself, but she's good about pointing out what I did right in certain situations. It's a lot like having older sisters around."
Said Osborne, "I can remember some of the older players helping me when I was a freshman, like Danielle Slaton ('01), and I try to do the same things for the freshmen now. There's so much potential with this class. Once they get a year under their belts, this team will really be good."
The contributions of the freshman players was most evident last Friday against 18th-ranked Stanford.
The Broncos came away with a 2-0 victory, powered by goals from Zealear and Dalmy. Dalmy's goal was her fifth of the season. Ryder recorded her third goal overall, and her second consecutive shutout in goal to cap an impressive showing.
Smith was quick to point out that the more important game for the freshmen may have come on Sunday, an extremely tight 1-0 victory over the unranked Horned Frogs of TCU.
Said Smith, "That game showed them that the season is really a grind. There's no letting up, and they're finding out that every game has to be played hard. Coming off a win over a very good team, having played very well, they learned that there are no off-days."
Said Dalmy, "With workouts every day, and traveling, and all the games and practices, it's tough to resist taking it easy. But we know we can't relax, because the whole team has to come to play for us to do well."
The Bronco freshmen will have a large effect on the promising future of the Santa Clara women's soccer program.
Smith said, "The best thing is that there is absolutely no limit to the potential of players like Marian [Dalmy] and Lauren [Zealear]. They're already among the best athletes on the team, and as they continue to gain experience, we're looking at something special two or three years down the road. As for right now, you can see the ability and the talent of this class. You have one game where Tina [Estrada] scores two goals, and another game where Marian and Lauren score, and Julie Ryder plays well in goal. The skill is definitely there."
Smith knows, as do most Santa Clara fans, that it is only a matter of time until this talented freshman class will be the new leaders of the team. It may take two or three years of waiting, but if the impact the freshmen are already having is any indication, the future looks extremely bright.