Aug. 20, 1997
1997 Women's Soccer Outlook
If all goes to plan, USC women's soccer head coach Jim Millinder will have his team gathered on November 10 to watch the 1997 NCAA Tournament selection show, then hear the announcer call USC's name as one of the tournament's 32 participants.
USC was in the same situation last year -- only without the happy ending. Millinder and the Women of Troy were left out of the 1996 tournament, despite winning 75 percent of their games, and he hopes that huge disappointment becomes a prime motivating force for 1997.
"We didn't accomplish what we wanted to last year," said Millinder, who is starting his second season with USC. "We had a great season, but accomplishment to me is getting to the tournament and making a run at the top teams in the country. From now on at USC, every year will be a disappointing year if we don't make the tournament."
The frustrating ending aside, 1996 created a new standard for the USC women's soccer program. The Women of Troy posted a best-ever 15-5 record and defeated crosstown rival UCLA for the first time, while Isabelle Harvey won the Pacific-10 Conference scoring title and Millinder was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
Immediately after the end of the season, Millinder turned his attention to making the 1997 tournament. After all, there's little reason to think that this season won't be better than the last. Nine starters and 16 letterwinners return, and added to that group is a transfer who started at highly ranked Nebraska and an excellent recruiting class made up of seven freshmen. It's also a team that will continue to grow together into the future, as there are only five seniors.
"This is definitely the deepest USC has been in the history of the program," said Millinder, who is assisted by Kit Vela, Jorge Vela and Amy Peterson. "Our team dynamics will make us very competitive this year. We should improve defensively because we've added more speed. All of our returners will be better because they'll have a year of experience within our system of play. That's going to go a long way. We're going to be better all around."
They will have to be, because it will be even more difficult to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament this year. There are only 16 at-large berths, down from 24 a year ago.
"We have to win the Pac-10 (and earn the automatic berth)," said Millinder, who directed the team to a tie for fourth place in the Pac-10 at 4-3 last season. "We can't settle for anything less. We can't let someone else decide our fate again. But it's going to be tough. There are six teams that could win the conference title and beat anyone on any given day, and the other four teams are much improved.
"Look at last season. We lost three Pac-10 games by one goal and we could have won all of them. We had our chances. This year we must earn those points."
Most of last year's points came off the foot of Harvey, a sophomore from Quebec, Canada. She set USC single-season records with goals (20), assists (11), points (51), game-winning goals (nine) and multiple-goal games (six) and earned All-Pac-10 first team and All-America honorable mention honors. She played a part in more than half of USC's 54 goals.
Amazingly, Harvey did all this while playing with a torn ligament in her left knee. She had surgery to repair the knee in mid-April of 1997 and expects to be back at some point this season. Her return should give USC a big boost.
"Isabelle is an integral part of this team and, if she can come back, it will give the team a huge emotional lift," Millinder said. "She's a big-time player who has technical skills that rank her among the country's best players."
Peterson, a four-year starter for Troy and the other forward last season, has completed her eligibility but will stay with the team as an undergraduate assistant coach. Her spot should be taken over by sophomore Kaylee Whitfield, a key reserve last season who earned the moniker "Instant Offense" by getting three goals and four assists while always providing a spark off the bench.
"Kaylee was the one player that we had last year who could come in and change the complexion of the match," Millinder said. "She's gotten stronger and better technically in the last year and has probably made the biggest strides of anybody on the team. I believe she has the ability to step in and score 10 or more goals."
While Harvey misses the early part of the season, a freshman will be asked to contribute in her place. Megan Orach is a two-time Orange County Register All-Orange County first teamer and a three-time All-Sunset League first teamer from Marina High in Huntington Beach, Calif.
"Megan is the type of player we didn't have last year -- a big, strong target up front," Millinder said. "It takes two defenders to get the ball away from her. She has a great outside shot, either right or left-footed."
USC's depth at forward is also hurt by the loss of sophomore Pam Ruark, who will likely redshirt this season after injuring her foot this summer. She played in three games and had one assist a year ago.
Midfield is unquestionably the team's strongest position. All five starters return, but some of them won't necessarily start again thanks to an infusion of talent.
After not playing soccer for more than a year, Kim Clark had an up-and-down freshman season before finishing strong. She ended with six goals and three assists overall. She then carried that over to this summer when she played for the West Region team at the prestigious U.S. Sports Festival in August. Now a sophomore, Clark could develop into one of the West's top players as an attacking midfielder.
"If Kim stays healthy, everybody in the country will be talking about her," Millinder said. "She will be the catalyst of our attack this year and is really coming into her own. I'm glad we've got her because I wouldn't want to play against her. If she continues to work hard, she has the potential to play at the National Team or Olympic level."
Junior Carol Hatcher earned All-Pac-10 second team honors last season, her first at USC after transferring from Loyola Marymount, with six goals and seven assists. One of the team's four captains, she is on the verge of becoming a premier player.
"Carol should have an outstanding season," Millinder said. "She has great vision, great presence on the field and can score from long range. I believe that she can be as good as she wants."
Juniors Courtney Barham and Erica De Vitis will wage an interesting battle to start at right midfielder. Returning starter Barham was an All-Pac-10 second team pick last season after getting seven goals and three assists. De Vitis is a transfer from Nebraska who started for the Cornhuskers last season as they won the Big 12 championship and made it to the NCAA quarterfinals. Regardless of who starts, it's apparent the Women of Troy will be solid on the right side.
"Earning All-Pac-10 second team honors is evidence of Courtney's talent," Millinder said. "If she trains hard and plays at both ends of the field, there are few players who are more talented. She has speed that is difficult to defend. Erica is a great addition to the team and will battle for a starting job at midfield. She will be one of the top technical players on the team."
Seniors Christi Ayala and Brittany McCorduck are the two remaining starters at midfield from last season. Both are team leaders (and captains this season) who can be counted on for steady and consistent play. Ayala, who will be starting for her third year, scored one goal and had two assists in 1996. McCorduck, who has never missed a start in her first three years at USC, had two goals and one assist.
"Christi is a great leader and gives us a lot of stability at midfield," Millinder said. "Being a senior, this is her last year and I know that she wants to do well. With Brittany, you always know what you're going to get, and that's a 100 percent effort. She has worked hard on her technique all spring and should be real solid for us in the middle. She's a good leader and sets a good example."
Two freshmen will try and break into the midfield rotation as well. Andrea Warner is an All-Orange County and All-South Coast League first team player from Dana Hills High in Dana Point, Calif., who could start right away. Ami Aylor, the sister-in-law of ex-USC All-American football player and current NFL star Tony Boselli, led Santa Margarita High in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., in assists the last three seasons.
"Andrea can play either attacking or defensive midfielder," Millinder said. "She's very composed with the ball, trains hard and knows how to score goals. Ami has talent and athleticism and it will be interesting to see how she develops."
Defender may be USC's deepest position with 10 of them on the roster, including two returning starters. But it's also an area that Millinder would like to improve upon from last year, particularly against faster teams that gave USC trouble. Some of the new additions should help solve that problem.
Junior Meghan Reppe was the team's top defender last season and was usually asked to guard the opponent's best attacker. A team captain, she should be in line for postseason honors with another strong campaign.
"Meghan has the opportunity to be one of the top marking backs in the country before she leaves USC," Millinder said. "She has all the athleticism and no one will outrun her or intimidate her. I think this will be the year where her ability gets recognized."
As a freshman last season, Christina Kushnir started all 20 games at sweeper, was solid and could start there again. She had three goals and one assist in 1996.
"Christina stepped in and did a wonderful job at sweeper as a freshman under a lot of pressure," Millinder said. "She's our best player in the air, offensively or defensively. She'll be pushed this year for playing time, but I know wherever she plays she'll do a good job."
Four reserves who saw varying amounts of playing time at defender last season are senior Adrienne Navarra and juniors Sharla Chiang, Donna Gayton and Karen Norgaard. Each will battle to play an important role in the rotation.
"Adrienne has good technique and is a hard worker," Millinder said. "She trains hard and should compete for playing time at defender or midfield. Sharla is a great person who works extremely hard. She's very good in the air, almost dominating. Donna is very athletic, fast and strong. She had an outstanding spring and should compete for substantial playing time this year. It was disappointing for Karen last year because she was injured most of the year. She will fight for a starting job."
Two freshmen -- Susie Mora and Katie Ticehurst -- could start right away at defender, or at the very least see a great deal of playing time. Both are experienced and have great talent. Mora is an All-CIF Division II first team player from Santa Margarita High. Ticehurst, whose brother Brad is an outfielder on the USC baseball team, is a two-time All-CIF, All-Orange County and All-South Coast League first teamer from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.
"I think Susie could develop into a top marking back," Millinder said. "Her speed and experience add another presence to our defense. Katie should find a spot to play right away because it will be very difficult to keep her talent off the field. She has the potential to be an outstanding Division I player. She is a tenacious tackler who should see playing time at defender or midfield."
Two other freshmen should provide depth at defender. Shelley Pharris, from Villa Park (Calif.) High, has had an injury-plagued career but was All-Century League as a junior. Kristin Trutanich was the Defensive MVP of the Bay League at Peninsula High in Rolling Hills, Calif.
"Shelley is just getting healthy now, so hopefully she'll be ready to go and will battle for playing time," Millinder said. "She's a feisty defender who plays hard. Kristin is very athletic but lacks experience. Her progress will depend on how hard she works."
USC is in good shape at goalkeeper once again with three veterans back. Senior Laura Badagliacco and junior Karin Puccinelli were co-starters last season, while senior Sheri Simala did not see any action in 1996. Puccinelli started 12 games, going 10-2, and had a USC-record goals-against average of 1.033. Badagliacco started eight games, going 5-3, and had a GAA of 1.148.
"It will be a battle between Laura and Karin for the starting job, and I'm looking forward to it," Millinder said. "Laura's a senior and wants to earn the starting spot. She is very focused. Karin had a great season last year. She just needed a chance to develop. She gives great confidence to our defense. Sheri works very hard and continues to make improvements."
With so many veterans back and so many new and talented players added into the mix, it's seems that it's just a matter of time until the Women of Troy accomplish their goal -- earning a first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.