Oct. 10, 2002
By Jack Ferdon
The Santa Clara
The rich got richer in a big way when sophomore forward Megan Kakadelas came to Santa Clara. It was like the Yankees picking up Barry Bonds, the Stones hiring Hendrix to play rhythm guitar or Bill Gates winning Oracle in a poker game.
And while no one can accuse Jerry Smith, coach of the reigning queens of women's soccer, of having a monopoly on the sport - at least not when his team is sitting at No. 7 in the polls - he won't deny that a Park Place fell into his lap when Kakadelas decided to transfer to Santa Clara from University of Southern California after her freshman year.
"I was very excited," said Smith. "Every year there are several players who want to transfer to Santa Clara, but few are as good as Megan."
Few indeed. Kakadelas' soccer resume is already approaching epic length. She was named the player of the year in California following her senior year at La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad. Last season, she was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, scoring three times and logging 20 shots on goal for the Trojans. She also played for the national under-19 team this summer at the world championships and was on the field (along with fellow Bronco sophomores Leslie Osborne and Jessica Ballweg) when the U.S. beat Canada for the title.
Kakadelas has not let up since putting on a Santa Clara uniform, either. In her first 10 games this year, she has already netted four goals for Santa Clara. And she's unfazed by the Broncos' relatively slow start (7-3-1), knowing that what matters is only how the team is playing come tournament time.
"For me right now, my concern isn't winning or losing," said Kakadelas, "but that I'm getting better as a player."
Part of Kakadelas' decision to make the move from USC to Santa Clara came out of her desire to play in Smith's up-tempo, quick-passing offense that caters to skilled forwards like herself.
"I really wanted to play for Jerry because he's really into two-touch soccer, and that's how I like to play," said Kakadelas.
And it didn't hurt that Smith, the philosopher-king of women's soccer, is a tad mellower than her coach at USC, Jim Millinder. "Jerry doesn't yell as much. He's definitely more easygoing."
Smith has been pleased with Kakadelas' play so far - especially since she missed training camp while playing with the under-19 team - and sees her potential as being almost limitless.
"She hasn't had a lot of practice time with the team so I've kind of had to just throw her in there. But I can't wait to work with her," Smith said.
The only downside to Kakadelas' arrival became apparent to the Broncos during their most recent game, a 1-0 loss at her former school on Sunday. The Trojan fans, known as some of the most obnoxious and classless in the NCAA - they once chanted, "Our maids went to Fresno State," during a football game against the Bulldogs - laid a verbal kibosh down on Kakadelas, taunting and heckling her throughout the game. Plus, they stormed onto the field in the 85th minute when USC scored the decisive goal.
To her credit, Kakadelas refused to admit that the fans' rowdiness affected her play, saying only that it was "pretty weird" and "kind of annoying." But Smith is convinced that the atmosphere worked to USC's favor.
"When Megan left, that game immediately became the most important of (USC's) non-conference schedule," said Smith.
"It's ironic, because what worked against us the most was that we had one of their best players from a year ago. The emotion of the fans really fired up their team."
The loss to USC was made slightly more palatable by the fact that Santa Clara had come from one goal down to beat No. 3 UCLA two nights before, giving the Broncos their biggest victory of the season and keeping them in the top 10 in the polls.
Even so, losing to her old team has to be a pain for Kakadelas, doesn't it? Apparently not.
"Of course I wanted to beat them," she said, "but I'm happy where I'm at."
It's good to be one of the queens.