Women's College Preview '08

A-Rod leads USC again

Amy Rodriguez and USC women's soccer seemed to be an odd match.

The U.S. national team star could have chosen to attend any school in the country but says she picked USC because it was a "school where national championships are made." Football, maybe. But women's soccer had a long history of underachievement on the campus of Troy.

Rodriguez loves to be the joker, but that immediately put her at odds with Ali Khosroshahin's no-nonsense coaching style when he arrived from Cal State Fullerton to take over the USC program in 2007.

A-Rod was always known for explosive speed coming up through the national youth team system. Defense was something she was going to have to work if she wanted to stay in Khosroshahin's good graces.

Rodriguez and her teammates worked harder than they ever had before, and it paid off. USC, which had never previously made it out of second round of the NCAA, won the NCAA women's title when it beat Florida State, 2-1, in the final. With new U.S. women's coach Pia Sundhage in attendance, Rodriguez scored a pair of goals in the 2-1 win over archrival UCLA in the semifinals, and she earned a call-up to the national team, earning a berth on the Olympic team.

A-Rod was part of a 2005 USC freshman class considered one of the best ever in the history of women's soccer. She is one of four senior starters for the Women of Troy along with Stacey Strong, Janesse Currier and Ashli Sandoval. In addition, Meagan Holmes, the defensive anchor who wassidelined with a knee injury early in the 2007 season, and starting forward Marihelen Tomer, who was sidelined in 2005, return as redshirt juniors.

CAA breaks out

Only six women's conferences had three or more teams ranked among the top 30 schools in the final 2007 RPI rankings.

Five were major Division I conferences — the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-10. The sixth? The Colonial Athletic Association.

For the first time in conference history, three CAA teams advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2007.  The success of CAA champion Hofstra, James Madison and William & Mary didn't go unnoticed by college coaches. Three teams also produced two All-Americans apiece.

W&M was the preseason conference pick for 2008. The Tribe returns nine starters, led by a pair of All-Americans — senior forward Claire Zimmeck, who scored a league-high 17 goals and earned her second straight CAA Player of the Year honor last season, and senior midfielder Dani Collins.

JMU, which set a school record for victories last season with a 17-5-1 mark, will be led by All-American midfielder Kim Germain and Cate Tisinger, the 2007 CAA Rookie of the Year.

Coming off a school-record 18-4 campaign, Hofstra has eight starters back, including Irish national team midfielder Edel Malone.

Injury curse is behind Broncos

To say the least, 2007 was a year the Santa Clara Broncos would like to forget.

They slumped to a 12-6-3 record — their worst record in Jerry Smith's 21 years as head coach — finished third in the West Coast Conference and were knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps no major program has ever suffered such a rash of injuries. Four players were lost for the season before it start — Jordan Angeli and Amanda Poach with ACL knee injuries and Dani Potts and Chelsea Bednarz with foot injuries — and things only got worse.

Hayley Siegel played one game before tearing her ACL and being lost for the season, and several other players were in and out of the lineup with injuries.

By the middle of the season, there were more players on the sidelines than at practice. Players were asked to be creative at practice — imagine what it would be like if a teammate was there. But your imagination can get you only so far.

On the plus side, other players got a lot more minutes than they ever expected.

Depth shouldn't be a problem in 2008 with the return of the five red-shirts, plus forwards Kiki Bosio and Katherine Reynolds, both members of the U.S. under-23 national team, and a freshman class that includes Bianca Henninger, the nation's top recruit in goal.

Santa Clara fans are crossing their fingers that the injury bug is behind the Broncos, and they'll be contending again for a Women's College Cup berth.

The Under-20 World Cup factor

Olympians from the USA, Canada and New Zealand returned in time for the start of the 2008 season, setting the stage for one of the richest seasons in the history of women's soccer. But it's who might leave at the end of the season for the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile that makes the 2008 women's race such a head-scratcher.

With the Under-20 World Cup set to start as the NCAA Tournament takes place, several top teams face the prospect of losing of multiple players.

North Carolina had four players (Casey Nogueira, Nikki Washington, Meghan Klingenberg and JC transfer Jess McDonald) on the U-20 qualifying team — Olympian Tobin Heath is also eligible for the U-20 World Cup — while Portland had three (Michelle Enyeart, Elli Reed and Keelin Winters).

North Carolina and UCLA are considered defending champ USC's main competition for the 2008 national championship, but at least a half a dozen other teams can make solid cases for Women's College Cup glory.

UNC also returns 2007 Soccer America MVP Yael Averbuch, one of eight starters from its championship team of two years ago who return in 2008.

UCLA, whose coach Jillian Ellis was an assistant coach for the USA at the 2008 Olympics, will be led by a pair of Olympians, American Lauren Cheney and Canadian Kara Lang. The third attacking threat for the Bruins is Christina DiMartino. Motivation for UCLA is the disappointment of another College Cup collapse. The 2-1 loss to USC marked the fifth straight year the Bruins played in the College Cup without returning home with the title.

Notre Dame and Florida State, the other two finalists at last year's College Cup in College Station, could return. Notre Dame's trio of Kerri Hanks (64 goals, 58 assists), Brittany Bock (the Irish's top all-around offensive player) and Michele Weissenhofer (the country's best flip thrower) is every bit the equal of UCLA's Cheney-Lang-DiMartino threat. Florida State returns eight of 11 starters from last year's squad that fell to USC in the final. Finnish international Sanna Talonen won 2007 Soccer America Freshman of the Year honors after a sensational tournament run.

Penn State
coach Erica Walsh also worked at the Olympics assisting U.S. national team coach Pia Sundhage. She returned to Happy Valley to lead the Lions in their bid for an 11th straight Big Ten regular-season title. They feature a pair of U-20 players, goalie Alyssa Naeher and freshman midfielder Christine Nairn.

In the Big East, West Virginia beat out Notre Dame for the 2007 regular-season and conference titles and will again challenge the Irish with the return of Canadian stars Amanda Cicchini and Deana Everrett.

Florida ran away with the 2007 SEC tournament title, but heavy graduation losses could open things up. Tennessee begins the season as the team to beat in the SEC thanks to the return of eight starters, including Kylee Rossi, the 2007 SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and goalkeeper Jaimel Johnson, only the Vols' third All-American.

In the Big-12, Texas returns Kasey Moore, arguably the country's top defender, and has the edge on rival Texas A&M, Colorado and Oklahoma State. A&M (goalie Kristin Arnold) and Colorado (Nikki Marshall, a defender for the U-20s and forward for the Bulls) both have players who could be overseas when the postseason begins.

In the Pac-10, UCLA will again get competition from Stanford and California. The Cardinal returns Kelley O'Hara, another U-20 star, and New Zealand Olympian Ali Riley. Alex Morgan is Cal's contribution to the U-20 effort.

(This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)

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