By: Kaitlin Fuelling '13
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Santa Clara University has long been known for its success on the soccer field and is the only school in NCAA history to have both its men's and women's programs ranked No. 1 simultaneously. From WCC titles to Final Four appearances to NCAA Championships, the Broncos have left their impact on the country and possibly the world. Santa Clara's premier program was even highlighted by Hollywood in the 2002 movie Bend It Like Beckham, as the premier school for Keira Knightley's character to attend.
Recently, ESPN and ESPNW released a list of the top-11 most influential soccer players from the last decade. The announcement was made to celebrate the United States Soccer Federation's centennial. Two of Santa Clara's former student-athletes, Ricky Davis and Brandi Chastain, were recognized for their achievements and performance that helped U.S. soccer emerge from obscurity.
Davis, a midfielder from Denver, was able to play with some of the best soccer players of all time and was known for his impeccable ball skills. While his skills peaked at the time the NASL was declining, he was able to play in international qualifiers for the 1982, '86, and '90 World Cups.
By the numbers, the Santa Clara men's team has won a national championship, attended five College Cup Final Fours, 19 NCAA tournaments and earned 11 West Coast Conference titles. They have had four teams ranked No. 1 nationally and 13 teams ranked No. 5 nationally. Over 50 Broncos have gone onto play professionally with seven players playing on the U.S. senior national team.
"We started back in 1967 with some pretty humble roots," said Bronco men's soccer coach Cameron Rast. "There were a number of great players that came through in the 1970's, but probably none more influential than Ricky Davis."
Davis' time as a Bronco was short as he soon went on to play professionally and for the national team, but he remained an icon for future players. Rast also talked about some of the other influential Bronco soccer players who have found success after Santa Clara. Paul Bravo is now the director of coaching and technical director for the Colorado Rapids and Jeff Baicher played for the national team and is now back in Santa Clara, running the youth soccer program.
Just last year, Erik Hurtado was the No. 5 draft pick in Major League Soccer, and the Bronco coaches believe Larry Jackson will eventually find success in the pro ranks. The key is to continue to evolve as the college game has. "Ever since the pro game started, it has taken some of our youth players straight into professional play," noted Rast. Looking to the future, Rast plans to find the unique and special players that will help the Broncos win big games and ultimately return to the Final Four.
Chastain was No. 5 on the list alongside her fellow 1999 World Cup teammates such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, and Michelle Akers. Everyone is familiar with Chastain's match-winning penalty kick and following celebration at the 1999 World Cup and according to ESPNW, she is known as "one of the most devastating attacking outside backs the women's game has seen." Like many other Santa Clara soccer players, Chastain played a vital role on and off the field, encouraging teammates and advocating soccer to anyone who would listen. She continues to give back, commentating at various soccer events such as last summer's Olympics and is a volunteer assistant on the women's team at Santa Clara.
The women's team has made 25 NCAA tournaments, 10 Final Fours, earned nine WCC titles and in 2001, brought home a national championship. Santa Clara's soccer players have not only been athletically talented, but talented in the classroom as well, earning countless academic honors and awards.
Jerry Smith has certainly seen the program evolve over the past 26 years that he has been head coach. The team went from having no varsity field and practically no budget, to an army of coaches and volunteers to help them achieve the numerous final four appearances and national championship. This year, they will start off the 2013 season ranked one of the top teams in the nation against defending national champion North Carolina. He attributes some of the team's success to the player's goals and attitudes.
"There are several things that motivate the students," said Smith. "They want to play well for each other, and they want to play well for the school. They chose Santa Clara because they wanted to live up to the standards of a program like ours and that drives them. Players are taught the program's five core values as early as the recruiting process. They include values such as personal responsibility and commitment to excellence and our players are reminded of these on a daily basis – they are in the locker room, my office, their training binders, and we talk about it every week."
Smith also noted that his players are able to take these core values and apply them to their lives after college. "There is a strong correlation between the skills that go into being a successful soccer player and soccer team, that also enable you to be successful in your life and career. If they are able to cultivate and continue these good habits, they have increased their chance of success and happiness after college, whether it's a career or professional play."
Meleana Shim, a graduate of the class of 2013, currently plays professionally in Portland. Additionally, Julie Johnston debuted with the full National Team this year after leading the U-20 U.S. team to a World Cup victory as the captain of the squad. Sofia Huerta played for the United U-20 Mexican national team in the World Cup as well. These players know that Santa Clara is a great place to play and for some just a stop along the way. It will however, always have place in their hearts.