2013 WWU Women's Soccer Preview
Aug 20, 2013
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Pre-season recognition may not win games, but the Western Washington University women's soccer team is getting a lot of it.
The Vikings were ranked No.12 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America NCAA Division II Pre-season Poll, and are also picked to repeat as Great Northwest Athletic Conference champions.
Why the high hopes?
Perhaps because 16 letter winners, including nine starters, return from a 19-4-0 squad, the win total being a school record, which won the GNAC regular-season title with a 12-2-0 ledger. The Vikings claimed the conference tournament championship and eventually reached the Far West Region final of the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
Headlining the returnees are two All-Americans - senior defender Brina Sych (Vancouver/Union), who earned second-team honors from the NSCAA, and senior forward Kristin Maris (Issaquah), who received Daktronics honorable mention.
"We have an immense amount of experience," said WWU coach Travis Connell (11th year, 121-59-19), who was the 2012 NSCAA Far West Region Coach of the Year. "Our players have won matches on talent, they've won on tactics, they've won on toughness. They have that experience of being able to adjust and knowing winning comes in a lot of sizes and shapes."
The Vikings scored 47 goals a year ago, and those scoring of 41 of them return. Leading the offense are two forwards who return in WWU's 4-3-3 system - Maris and sophomore Catherine Miles (Anacortes).
Maris, who plays the central target role, had nine goals and six assists for 24 points. She was a first-team all-region selection and the MVP of the GNAC tournament. Five of her goals were game-winners, including an extra-time goal against Sonoma State in the regional semifinals.
"Teams had to change defensive tactics to deal with her," Connell said of Maris. "She has a great ability to link and hold up play. She's really grown into that role and she's added goals to it. We have a great combination with her strength and our speed on the wings."
Miles had seven goals and team-bests of seven assists and 25 points as a freshman in one of those wing spots. Also back is sophomore Jessica Bertucci (Bellingham/Sehome), who had three goals and an assist before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game.
Senior Anna Geldenhuys (Bellevue/Sammamish), who has three career goals and saw action in every game last season, provides experienced depth at all three forward spots, and freshmen Elise Aylward (Renton/Lindbergh) and Caitlyn Jobanek (Springfield, OR/Thurston) could factor in at the wide spots.
"We're a very athletic team, especially out wide," Connell said. "Catherine and Jessica can create huge mismatches with their speed and one-on-one ability." There's astounding depth in the midfield. Senior Ashton Griffin (Duvall/Cedarcrest) started all 23 games last year, playing a variety of positions and notching one goal and four assists.
Sophomore attacking midfielders Delanee Nilles (Poulsbo/North Kitsap) and Stephanie Hamilton (Orting/Bellarmine Prep) both contributed immediately as freshmen. Nilles scored five goals and Hamilton had three goals and three assists, including a game-winning goal in extra time against Cal Poly Pomona in the opening round of the regional tourney.
Junior Kim Cooper (Bellingham) returns after starting all but one game over the last two seasons and earning first-team NSCAA all-region honors last year. Junior Kamilla Deeb (Ogden, UT/Bonneville) provides experienced depth there.
"This group has played a ton of minutes, and they are savvy, technical players," Connell said. "Ashton is one of our leaders, and we have two sophomores and a junior who have all been starters."
The backline returns all four starters. Sych, in fact, started the least, opening just 13 games of the 20 she played while nursing various injuries. Despite that, she had five goals and five assists for 15 points from her right back spot, being third on the team in the latter two categories.
"Brina is fun to watch, even as a coach, I'm amazed sometimes," said Connell.
Junior center back Brianna Jones (Bonney Lake) was a second-team all-region pick last season, and senior center back Kayla Russ (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep) and junior left back Katherine Miccile (Kent/Kentlake) both started all 23 games. Sophomore Chelsea Jackson (Surrey, B.C./Fraser Heights Secondary) and senior Diana Pollock (Bellevue/Eastlake) give the Vikings versatile, experienced backups.
"The athleticism and talent of our back four enables us to take risks other teams can't," Connell said. "We can play up the field and keep teams on their heels."
In goal, sixth-year senior Alyssa Beauchamp (Vancouver/Mountain View) takes over for departed All-American Jamie Arthurs, who set school career records for shutouts (39) and goals against average (0.58).
"Alyssa had a fantastic spring," Connell said. "She's waited her turn, and she's going to make the most of it."
The Vikings will look to make school history this season, as the program has reached the NCAA II tourney three times, but will be seeking its first back-to-back trips.
"We definitely have high expectations," Connell said. "The challenge is to use those as a motivation. We have control over how we prepare and how we perform; what you have to guard against is those expectations making you tight instead of motivating you."
WWU will get an immediate test on Sept. 7, as it opens the season by visiting UC San Diego, the team that knocked the Vikings out of the national tournament last November.
Deep WWU women's soccer squad projects well for 2013
Western Washington University women's soccer coach Travis Connell is a self-proclaimed worrier.He must be, to stress about this year's Vikings.
On paper, WWU is talented enough to compete on the national stage. After all, the Vikings return 16 letter winners and nine starters from a 19-4 club that won the 2012 Great Northwest Athletic Conference title and lost 2-1 in overtime during the national tournament's Round of 16.
Connell's been coaching long enough, though, to know a wealth of talent doesn't always equate to a lot of success."I'd much rather be the underdog than the favorite," Connell admitted. "We have to find out who we are as a team, because the tendency is when you have success the year before and you return so many key players is that you think you've already won something, so we have to guard against that, that feeling of complacency. We have to find hunger and motivation."
Western enters the new campaign ranked No.12 nationally and was selected to repeat as GNAC champs, earning five of eight first-place votes. Western's lofty expectations are well warranted. The club returns players who accounted for 41 of its 47 goals scored a season ago as well as a starting back line that remains intact, not to mention a midfield Connell boasts "is the best in the conference.
"It's not team skill that has Connell worried. It's an entire year of film opposing coaches can use to scheme for Western's talent.
"We surprised a lot of people last year, and it's much different when you're the favorite and everyone schemes against you," Connell said. "That's another disadvantage of having everyone back. Everyone has film on us. Everyone is going to have a scheme for us. We're going to have to reinvent ourselves just enough. Not too much because it works, but we have to twist things, tweak things and have new wrinkles and some of the new players will help us do that.
"Putting the clamps on first-team All-Region senior forward Kristin Maris will surely be one of the opposition's top priorities. Maris matched a team high with nine goals last season.
In fact, Connell is trying to stay ahead of the curve with his talented striker.
"I just had a conversation with Kristin where I told her there are going to be double teams and games where she barely touches the ball, because teams can totally plan for it," he said.
Maris attracting so much attention leaves scoring chances for other Vikings, and that's where Western's offensive balance comes into play.
Miles scored nine times last year, matching Maris, and Bertucci was on her way to a strong season before she tore her ACL during Western's fifth match of the year. Connell is excited to have her back and healthy.
"We definitely have weapons," Connell said. "When it comes down to it, it's the players you have, and we have some good players in the attack. What that does is, even if things aren't going right, it still gives you the confidence that you can pull something out late."
The top third of Western's 4-3-3 formation is backed by an extremely deep and gifted group of midfielders. All-Region junior midfielder and former Bellingham High standout Kim Cooper started all 23 games last year and is joined by senior Ashton Griffen and sophomores Stephanie Hamilton and Delanee Nilles. Griffen started every match a year ago, and Hamilton and Nilles compiled a combined 33 starts. Junior Kamilla Deeb also adds depth to the middle third.
"She definitely has the ability to change the game," Connell said of Sych, who helped Western allow just nine goals a year ago while recording five goals and five assists. "A lot of people don't, but we certainly have one in Brina Sych. She is just really fun to watch play the game. Seldom does a practice or game go by that she doesn't open my eyes or make me say, 'Wow.'"
Beauchamp, at one point in her career, was listed as the fourth keeper on Western's depth chart. However, Connell is thrilled to have her in goal.
"Alyssa is a great story," he said. "She is going to be an important player, and we are so fortunate to have her. She is putting her life on hold to come into a really challenging situation replacing one of the best players we've ever had in our program. She's always had talent, and I'm really happy she is getting the chance to use that talent."
Western's season begins on the road against UC San Diego at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7.
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