SANTA CLARA, Calif. – After wrapping-up the regular season with a win at Saint Mary's, No. 18 Santa Clara women's soccer will host Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Sat., Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. at Buck Shaw. It is the 23rd time the Broncos have made the NCAA tournament and will be looking to make their 11th Final Four.
"It's going to be a very tough game, just like every game in the NCAA tournament," said Santa Clara head coach Jerry Smith. "Two years ago we played Long Beach State in the tournament and got outplayed but won the game and that gave us a new found respect for how good, hardworking and tough a team they are. Just last year Long Beach State made it to the Elite 8 and lost to Duke, the eventual national runner-up."
As for what the Broncos can expect to face, Smith knows that the 49ers are not a team to be taken lightly.
"They are a very good, hardworking, aggressive and direct team," continued Smith. "They aren't concerned with how well they keep the ball because they want to get the ball forward and terrorize your back line. One of the keys for us is to keep the ball well which will keep their weapons in check. They will get their chances so our backline and goalkeeper will have to perform well. Offensively it will be important for us to get our shots on goal. As the season ended we've been scoring two or more goals a game and it was a big help to us."
NCAA tournament games are always more pressure-packed since it's a lose and go home format. The smallest details can determine who wins and who loses.
"NCAA tournament games are always so tight and free kicks play a major role in the outcome," added Smith. "How we defend their free kicks and how we take advantage of our free kicks will be a big factor. Just last year we were eliminated in a penalty kick shootout which happens a lot in today's game. Hopefully we'll be ready to take advantage of that if it comes around."
For the Broncos to advance to the second round, some of the most important aspects of the game begin the night before.
"The key is to prepare the same way for each game through the season and have routines that you follow," said Smith. "The big mistake a lot of players and teams make is they do something different before an NCAA tournament game. If you have a routine, it helps you stay consistent in your performance on the field. You can't control everything but it is important that you control what you can. Hopefully your mental preparation will stay the same and you won't be nervous or anxious. You want to be engaged and alert but also relaxed and calm."
With the Broncos hosting the game, they will have the familiarity with the field and surroundings and can use that to their advantage.
"Being at home is a big advantage for sure," said Smith. "With the margin of error being so slim in the NCAA tournament, you are looking for any advantage you can find. Sleeping in your own bed, playing on a familiar field and having more people rooting for you than against you can make a big difference."
Santa Clara went 11-3-6 overall in 2012 and 4-1-3 in conference, good for a third place finish. First-Team All-WCC selection Julie Johnston leads the team with eight goals and 20 points thanks to adding four assists. Fellow First-Team All-WCC selection Sofia Huerta is second on the roster with six goals and leads with the team with five assists. Second-Team All-WCC performer Lauren Matheson has found the back of the net four times, a career-high, and has two assists. In goal, All-WCC Freshman team member Andi Tostanoski collected 68 saves and a .764 save percentage while allowing a 1.10 GAA. She recorded seven shutouts and played the first half in another. Other Broncos that received all-conference honors were Meleana Shim who was named to the second team, honorable mentions Dani Weatherholt and Allie Vernon, while Weatherholt was also named to the All-Freshman Team.
The 49ers played two top-25 teams in 2012 and went 1-1-0. They took down No. 24 Baylor 2-1 on August 26 and fell at No. 14 Texas A&M 3-0 on September 7. Long Beach State also took down WCC opponent San Diego 1-0 on September 21 and opened its season with a 2-1 overtime win vs. Arizona. In their last game of the season the 49ers lost in double overtime to Cal State Northridge 1-0.
Long Beach State is led on offense by the duo of Eileen Maes and Nadia Link. Maes leads the team with nine goals and has three assists to place second on the team with 21 points. Link leads the 49ers with 25 points on her second-best eight goals and team-high nine assists. Kelsey Wilson is second on the team with six assists. Thirteen different Long Beach State players have scored at least one goal and 10 have at least one assist. In net Marrina Meyers has a 1.11 GAA and a .776 save percentage to go with 74 saves and six shutouts.