Santa Clara Is A Soccer Powerhouse

Santa Clara Is A Soccer Powerhouse

July 18, 2005

By Lisa Eskey
SCU Athletic Media Relations

Santa Clara University's men's and women's soccer programs are well-established among the nation's elite.

The women have made appearances in the national polls for 16 consecutive years, and have advanced to the College Cup on 10 occasions. The men's team has been equally impressive, posting 15 straight years of national rankings while advancing to the College Cup five times. In addition, Santa Clara is the only school in NCAA history to twice have both its men's and women's soccer programs ranked No. 1 simultaneously, as the Broncos reached the top in 1990 and again in '99. So what makes the heart of the Silicon Valley a hotbed for the world's most popular sport? Men's head coach Cameron Rast and women's leader Jerry Smith recently described the building years, the seasons of successes and factors that address just how great the Bronco program can become.

The numbers are staggering: 31 NCAA appearances, 15 College Cups, 2 national championships, 46 All-Americans, 21 National Team members, and 60 student-athletes moving on to the professional ranks. By any standards, SCU Soccer has developed into a powerhouse, full of driving forces that create energy and success.

"I'm not sure powerhouse is the right word, but if you looked at the programs that are most successful in the country, I think you'd have to include us amongst them," Rast said of his men's program, which has advanced to the final four in three of the last seven seasons. "What we've always tried to do is prepare ourselves for a run at the national championship. I think it is a challenge for us to not accept just earning a berth; we want to prepare ourselves to be playing our best at the end of the season."

According to athletic department records, the men's program began NCAA participation in 1967 and the women followed in 1980. With only 11 winning seasons in the first 20 years of the men's program, the face of Santa Clara soccer changed with the addition of Steve Sampson as the men's coach in 1986 and the hiring of Smith as the women's leader the following season. Sampson joined the program after winning a national championship as a UCLA assistant and went on to lead the U.S. National Team to the 1998 World Cup. Rast said that Sampson brought credibility to the young Bronco program, and both Sampson and Smith had a solid approach to the emergence of collegiate soccer. He added their passion for the game added new dimensions to the mission campus.

Since Sampson's hiring, the coaching staffs have shared an interwoven network of preexisting relationships, which have developed into solid support between the programs. Sampson and Smith attended the same high school and both coached at Foothill College prior to Sampson recommending Smith for the Bronco job. Smith had coached Rast while also serving as a men's assistant in his first few years on the mission campus. In between Sampson and Rast was Mitch Murray, Smith's former youth coach and best man at his wedding. The two staffs also shared goalkeeper coach Eric Yamamoto for nine seasons.

Several Broncos routinely appear on the U.S. National Team, including Devvyn Hawkins, Brandi Chastain and Aly Wagner shown here.

"From my beginning, the men's and women's programs have always been tied together and there's a lot of respect and admiration between us," Smith said. "I hear from my colleagues quite often that that's not always the case. We've never had jealousies or battling for practice times or resources; we've always been happy for each other's successes, and actually feed off each other. It's a healthy competition in that we always think we need to keep up with one another and not get outdone. A lot of credit goes to Steve for the influence he's had on both programs." "Steve knew the first thing he had to do was change the mentality, and ever since then, it's been a steady climb into becoming a top program overall," Rast added. "The university has an ability to attract great people--from coaches to student-athletes--and we're fortunate enough to benefit from that in the respect that here were two coaches who wouldn't settle for anything less than being among the nation's elite. They were the first to think big; there was no reason a school of our size couldn't be one of the best.

"We've continued with that, as we never set our sights on just getting better; our goal annually is to be the best," Rast said. "Santa Clara has been able to recruit players who are goal-oriented, committed and passionate about the game, as well as bring great character to both the university and the program. We've always challenged our players to be better, and it's a credit to having that mentality that we've been able to translate those energies to the field."

Smith remembers to the exact date the first defining moment for the women: September 13, 1989. Santa Clara University had yet to advance to the NCAA Championship in any women's sport and the Broncos were facing the University of California in Berkeley, a team that had advanced to the College Cup the previous season. "I'll never forget that date, as it thrust our program into the national spotlight," Smith recalled. "We beat Cal 3-2 and that win broke a psychological barrier for our team, in that `yes, we can play a top-10 team and beat them.' We started to believe that in that moment." Santa Clara continued to create milestones through the season, and earned a top-four seed in the playoffs.

An All-American defender on the 1988 squad, Rast selected that season as one of the program's defining moments. The team posted a 12-2-5 record in Sampson's third season, with victories over traditional men's powers UCLA and Indiana. "Indiana was the defending national champions and ranked No. 1 in the country, and when we defeated them in overtime, I think our team finally realized we could be among the nation's best. Ever since, the big games are the ones we play for, rather than just settle competing in. We always look forward to testing our game against the best teams in the country." The following season, the Broncos went undefeated and earned a share of the national championship behind the attacking pair of Jeff Baicher and Paul Bravo.

A number of great players have come through since then, and the success Bronco players find in the professional ranks and with the National Team will continue in the future. In fact, 15 of 18 classes that have come through the men's program can boast participation in the College Cup, a great recruiting tool for Rast, as he can provide perspective to prospective student-athletes that "you have a solid chance to play for a national championship if you choose to come here."

SCU is one of only six schools in NCAA history to have both programs reach their respective College Cups in the same season, and the only school to accomplish the feat three times (1989, '98, '99). The women boast 21 straight winning seasons, and in three of the last six years, SCU has produced the best player in the women's game. The success breeds upon itself, as the next generation of Broncos have MLS stars as mentors, as well as endless replays of the 1999 Women's World Cup final when alumna Brandi Chastain scored the decisive penalty kick to give the United States a World Championship.

"Outside of being a soccer player, past Bronco athletes are just good people and have always been open to helping us recruit future players," Smith added. As an example, he cited Leslie Osborne, who told Smith at 10 years old, she saw Santa Clara play and wanted to be a part of the program. "When you have recruits on campus, they see the videos, awards and pictures, and that gets them excited about that being their future as well. Our success has a powerful influence."

"I'll keep going back to the fact that it's the people that make the difference in this place," said Rast, echoing Smith's sentiment. "There's been a great group of players that have come through and developed friendships. They are really attached to the program, feel strongly about it and love to come back and visit. There's a real sense of family; you can reach out to another and always be a part of something special."

"Both Jerry and I feel very fortunate that the university supports us as well as they do," Rast concluded. "They gave us an opportunity to be successful and we take that very seriously. There's a lot of quality people on campus, from professors to classmates to fellow coaches... you can walk around campus and feel like this is a great place to spend four years and make life-long friends. SCU is competitive and challenging, as the curriculum will push you, but there's also a healthy sense of learning. It's more experiential, where you interact with classmates and professors provokes thought. In addition to the great location, you are given a chance for success, and it just fosters a real positive time in your life. That's what keeps me coming back. I love this place. I'm sure you can find it elsewhere, where people have passion for the places they work, but it's rare you get to do what you love and work with talented people. I'm very fortunate to have been here for a long time."

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