2014 USC Women's Soccer Season Preview|
Aug. 20, 2014
"The one thing that we try to do is we try to make sure that they understand that they can't do it divided."
This powerful statement from first year head coach Keidane McAlpine, the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year, stands out. McAlpine, along with his assistants Jen Klein and Jason Lockhart are trying to instill the idea of family and unity into the talented USC women's soccer side in 2014, and so far it seems to be taking hold.
"Everything we talk about, on and off the field, is about how each decision made individually affects the collective group," said McAlpine, who is entering his first season at Troy since coming from Washington State in December 2013. "We really try to lock that concept into everything that we do. We dance, we sing, we laugh, but all of our decisions, what we are trying to get the group to do on and off the field has to come back to the team. I think that is one of the biggest things that they had, but they didn't know how to take it to another level. Now in doing so the fitness level and attitude in training is different and we as a coaching staff try to bring an up-tempo, happy feeling to training. There most definitely is still a standard, but it is still is enjoyable."
This new-found, team-above-all attitude for the Women of Troy was instilled during spring training sessions and has definitely carried over into the team's preseason workouts, which started on August 6.
McAlpine said, "They took the message from the spring very personal. They understand what we are trying to accomplish, they understand the challenge in front of them and they rose to it. The majority of them came in and passed the beep test (multi-stage fitness running test) the first time through, which is unbelievable. They smashed it. It is very refreshing as a coach to come in and start work on the X's and 0's and the tactical pieces and not having to worry about losing players because they are not fit enough to make it through training. This might be one of the most athletic teams I have ever had, so that is an exciting part for us."
In 2013, the Women of Troy finished with an overall record of 8-10-2 and were 3-7-1 to finish 11th in the Pac-12. The team was on the verge last year, playing 11 one-goal games, but finishing with a frustrating 3-8 record in those contests. This year's team returns 19 seasoned student-athletes from last year's squad, including seven starters.
The mood surrounding the program is different this year, and it is palpable throughout the Pac-12. In a preseason poll of the coaches around the conference, McAlpine's squad was picked to finish fourth, behind reigning national champion UCLA, and perennial standouts Stanford and California.
On the preseason poll selection, McAlpine said, "We are really flattered by the fourth place preseason ranking, but the reality for us is that we haven't stepped on the field, we haven't proven that that is a reality for us and until we do so, we are still the eleventh place team in the league. There are a lot of quality teams in this league and as the former coach of Washington State, I believe that team deserves to be ahead of us. Utah and Colorado, they had such great seasons last year and they deserve to be ahead of us. Until we go out and prove that we deserve to be the fourth place team and belong in the upper half of this league, we are still the eleventh place team with a lot of work to do and that is how we are going to go about our business."
And go to work this team has. McAlpine worked in the spring to instill his style of play, while focusing on areas on need from last season, such as shoring up the defense.
"We definitely want to have a style that fans that come can be excited by" McAlpine explained. "Something where we attack teams, we play with a passion and a desire that is worthy of them coming to watch us over and over again. We want to entertain them by showing that we are going to come and compete. It really is an attacking style, although our focus this year has to be taking care of the defensive side. We gave up 27 goals last year and it is something that they are well aware of."
In 2014 the Trojans defense will be shored up by standout goalkeeper Caroline Stanley, who will be one of the team's senior leaders.
On Stanley, McAlpine said, "Caroline coming back has been solid. She is the number one today. We have added a couple of goalkeepers to help in training and raise the level, but she still is the standout goalkeeper. We are going to simplify some things for her and I think she is going to have an outstanding season for us. She will definitely lead this team, hopefully as a slightly more focused Caroline."
Despite losing a few players on the back line from last season, the Women of Troy return quite a few from last spring, most notably All-Pac-12 and Freshman All-Pac-12 selection Mandy Freeman. According to McAlpine, Freeman has been solid, clean and composed in the preseason. She will be joined on the defensive line by redshirt sophomore Dominique Randle, whose USC career so far has been marred by injury, but finally healthy she is ready to compete in a big way for the Women of Troy.
Up front, McAlpine projects the team's goals to come by committee, as there are a slew of capable goal scorers in the stables.
"Katie Johnson has been the player with probably the most accolades as far as playing up top, but Megan Borman can add goals and Savannah Levin can add goals. Probably the surprise of preseason has been Tamara Mejia. She has done her business this preseason and she will get some good minutes up there, which will be exciting," McAlpine added.
"Quincey is one of those players that can play pretty much anywhere, so we just have to fit her in with what we are doing. We are training her in all three lines," said McAlpine. She will definitely play and she will be a leader. Same thing with another senior, Jessica Musmanno. She will play and be a leader for us; it just depends on what line. They are so versatile, it makes it easy for us as coaches to put the rest of the pieces out there and then figure out how to fit them in, and that is how we are going to use them."
McAlpine has another versatile piece in standout sophomore, Kayla Mills, who was the team leader in points in 2013 with 16 (4 goals, 8 assists) and earned Pac-12 All-Freshman team honors.
"Kayla is such a dynamic player. She is so versatile as well, and we have tried her in the back line and in the middle. She is another one that will contribute in a big way, we will just have to figure out where she comes from."
Joining the 19 returners are 10 newcomers, led by UNC transfer Reilly Parker, who gives the team another dimension with her pace and experience. The nine true freshmen are finding their way, with three freshmen that have really stepped up at the beginning being Nicole Molen, Sydney Sladek and Sydney Johnson.
This year's schedule allows for Coach McAlpine to see the makeup of the team right away, as they will be battle-tested with two-straight weekends on the road to open up the season. The Trojans will compete in the USD Tournament, opening up play on August 22 against southern California power Long Beach State, before facing host and recent-rival USD on August 24. The team then heads out to play in the Notre Dame Tournament, where they will face an up-and-coming Iowa State team and perennial power Notre Dame.
"It's a perfect way to start to be fair. We just went on our retreat and I think that was a chance for us to learn how to travel together. I think for this group, the reality is they need how to compete. And sometimes that uncomfortable feeling of the road is a great place to do it," explained McAlpine."
"Looking at the caliber of opponents, Long Beach has been one of the best teams in So Cal for a number of years and USD against USC always seems to be a rivalry that has played. That weekend and its intensity will prepare us for the next weekend where we go to Notre Dame and play an Iowa State team that is rebuilding itself like us and a Notre Dame team that is strong and always has been, even though they have a new coach. It will tell us a lot about ourselves. The way we start on the road against tough competition will definitely be the building block for what we do over the back end of the season."
Along with the new team-first mantra, McAlpine and his staff understand that this road won't be without its challenges and tribulations, and they are quick to remind the team that soccer is a game of mistakes.
"Mistakes happen, but how are you going to respond to them? We equate that to life too, said McAlpine. "You are going to make mistakes, it happens, but there is a way to set the bar extremely high and push everyday to really get better and achieve at a very high rate."
"I think they are hungry to take USC to the level that they perceive it to be and want it to be, stated McAlpine. "Everything that they have done to this point and what we have brought to them has been to bring this program back to where it should be. And it starts with this team. I think with the senior leadership group, they have been very focused and really enjoying the challenge."