1998 Women's Soccer Season Preview
August 19, 1998
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - After two years of waiting for an invitation that never came, the USC women's soccer team will just have to take it upon itself to crash the party in 1998.
"The goal is to make the NCAA Tournament and winning the Pacific-10 Conference title is the easiest way to do that," USC Coach Jim Millinder said. "We need to be the team that's standing in the end, so that we can avoid what happened the last two seasons."
USC could very well be the best program in the country that hasn't made an NCAA Tournament, though it hasn't been for a lack of trying. In 1997, the Women of Troy (who were ranked in the top 25 for much of the season) went 16-3-1 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-10 Conference for second place. In 1996, they went 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-10. Neither mark turned out to be good enough to earn an at-large bid into the tournament.
But this could be the year for the Women of Troy, who boast a talented lineup and increased depth like never before.
"I'm hesitant to even think too much about how good this team can be because I'm nervous about all that can happen," said Millinder, who enters his third season at Troy with a record of 31-8-1. "All of the pieces to the puzzle are here. We just have to stay healthy and take care of business.
"Some teams are going to overachieve, some teams are going to underachieve. I don't want us to underachieve and end up missing the tournament by one game again. We have to play all 90 minutes of every game and finish our chances. I think we can be better technically than most of our opponents, but we'll always need to work harder than them as well."
USC lost five seniors off of the 1997 squad, including starting goalkeeper Laura Badagliacco and starting midfielder Christi Ayala. But the Women of Troy do return nine starters, and that doesn't include Isabelle Harvey, the 1996 Pac-10 scoring champ who redshirted 1997 with a knee injury. Plus, Millinder welcomes eight freshmen to the squad, of which a few could move immediately into starting roles.
"USC's talent level has never been this deep," said Millinder, who is assisted by Kit Vela and Jorge Vela, both in their third season at USC. "Last year we might have had 13 players to choose from; this year we could have 18 players in the rotation."
Here's a look, position-by-position, at USC's roster:
One of USC's few points for concern is depth at forward. Kaylee Whitfield, a junior who saw time as both a starter and reserve in 1997 and scored eight goals, had surgery in March to repair a torn ligament in her right knee. She's in the same situation that Harvey was a year ago -- depending on her rehabilitation, she could return at some point or she may sit out this season.
Whitfield's injury makes it likely that last year's starters, senior Courtney Barham and sophomore Megan Orach, will start up front for the second straight season. Barham is the Pac-10's top returning goal scorer (she had 14 in 1997) and earned All-West Region third team and All-Pac-10 first team honors. In a successful freshman campaign, Orach scored eight goals.
Harvey, who started at forward in 1996, could move up front if necessary, but she's slated to start at midfielder. Other possibilities at forward include freshmen Corinne Briers, Christy Callier and Brittany Savelkoul.
"There's a little bit of worry due to the depth, but we still have a lot of options at forward," Millinder said. "Courtney's speed gives her a great ability to stretch defenses and I expect that she'll score a lot of goals again this season. Megan is a strong player who is only getting better. I'm also looking forward to seeing what our freshmen can do."
The midfield is unquestionably the strength of USC's attack. Of the five positions, four starters are likely set in stone: Harvey, a redshirt sophomore, and senior Erica De Vitis at wide positions, and senior Carol Hatcher and junior Kim Clark as attacking midfielders. A change could take place if Harvey moves to forward, but other than that, only the defensive midfielder position is still in the air. Clark was the star of the 1997 team and had a breakout season, earning All-American third team, All-West Region first team and All-Pac-10 first team honors while leading the West with 17 assists (tied for 11th in the nation) and putting up a team-high 43 points. Hatcher, who is moving from wide midfield to the center, had six goals and eight assists a year ago.
After sitting out last season with a knee injury, Harvey is now back in the form that saw her score 20 goals and 51 points as a 1996 freshman. She is also currently a member of the Canadian National Team. De Vitis, who transferred from Nebraska prior to last season, started 14 games and scored seven goals in 1997.
Defensive midfielder could be filled by a number of players, most notably sophomore Katie Ticehurst (who earned 1997 Freshman All-American honorable mention honors while starting all 20 games at defender) and freshmen Kim Abbamonto and Erin Reed, who are two of USC's top recruits and will see a great deal of playing time.
The depth is also solid at midfielder. Andrea Warner, a sophomore, started at sweeper in 1997 but moves to attacking midfielder and will rotate with Clark and Hatcher this season. Sophomore Ami Aylor was a reserve last season, and freshmen Briers, Savelkoul, Alexis Clarke and Liane Nakano could also earn time.
"The team dynamics center around our midfield," Millinder said. "With Harvey, De Vitis, Clark and Hatcher, there are four great midfielders. Kim and Isabelle can win games on their own. Moving Carol to the middle with Kim will help both of them because they complement each other so well."
Led by senior Meghan Reppe, this is another one of USC's strengths. Reppe earned All-West Region second team and All-Pac-10 second team notice in 1997 and is one of the quickest players anywhere. She was recently called up to the U.S. National B Team.
Reppe and Ticehurst started at marking back last season, and Ticehurst will likely start here again if she doesn't move to defensive midfielder. With Warner moving to midfielder, the sweeper job is up for grabs. Christina Kushnir, a junior who started there as a freshman in 1996, will compete with Reed and Abbamonto for the starting spot. Susie Mora, a sophomore who spent the summer playing with the Mexican National Team, had a solid freshman season and started eight games. She could also earn a starting position.
Other veteran defenders who will compete for playing time include seniors Sharla Chiang and Karen Norgaard, as well as freshmen Briers, Callier and Nakano.
"I feel very confident about our defense with the players we can put back there," Millinder said. "Meghan is one of the best defenders in the country and will prove that this year. And with players like Ticehurst, Mora, Kushnir, Abbamonto and Reed, our defense is better than ever before."
Karin Puccinelli, a senior, enters the fall as the No. 1 goalkeeper after starting eight games in 1997 and posting a 1.331 goals-against average. But she'll be pushed by Shaelyn Fernandes, a talented freshman. "Between Karin and Shaelyn, I have no worries about our goalkeeping," Millinder said. "I think both will see a lot of playing time this season."