2. FOCUS: Gabarra's Navy is perfect


Carin Gabarra, winner of the Golden Ball as the best player at the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991, is one of the great players in the history of women's soccer. Less well known is her success as a college coach.

It isn't easy to attract top players to the Naval Academy, what with its rigorous academic and training program and post-graduate military commitment, but Gabarra has built the Mids into a perennial contender for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Gabarra was still playing for the USA when she started Navy's women's varsity program in 1993. In its third season, Navy finished with a 10-7-2 record, the first of 11 straight winning seasons under Gabarra, the former Carin Jennings who married U.S. international Jim Gabarra in 1992.

The Mids are off to their best start in the program's 14-year history, opening the 2006 season with eight straight wins.

Last year, injuries cost Gabarra two of her top three strikers to knee injuries and her top defender to a broken foot. Not only are the Mids healthy again but they came into the new season with an improved attitude.

"This is probably the most talented team we've had in a long time, soccer-wise," said Gabarra on the eve of the season. "But we also have a strong mentality that hasn't been present in the last couple of years. Physically we are fit, and as quick and agile as ever. We've always had the talent to play the game, but the will to win has wavered a bit in the last couple of years based on some different factors."

Senior Meggie Curran broke family ranks to go to Annapolis -- her father is an Army graduate -- and is one of the best players Gabarra has ever had. Curran, whose 10 points in eight games give her 89 in her career, remains Navy's go-to player in the attack, but the Mids have been getting huge contributions off the bench from freshman Cassie Barbaresi, who tied the school record with three assists in Navy's 5-1 win over Butler and leads the Mids in scoring with five goals and three assists.

"Cassie is a creative and entertaining player to watch," says Gabarra.  "She continues to provide a huge spark for us when she's on the field."

NAVY 2006
CLASS BREAKDOWN:
4 sophomores, 3 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 freshmen (starters vs. Columbia 9/17).
GEOGRAPHIC MAKEUP: Colorado (2), Florida (2), California (1), Connecticut (1), Louisiana (1), Maryland (1), Ohio (1), Pennsylvania (1), Virginia (1).
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