June 12, 2001
They've learned to crawl. Now it's time they learn how to walk.
For second-year head coach Cathy Klein, the 2001 season is merely the next step in her quest to build Arizona women's soccer into a nationally recognized program.
At first glance, last season's 3-15-2 overall and 0-8-1 Pac-10 records seem pretty dismal, but that first glance is deceptive.
Through a variety of events, including numerous injuries, Klein ended up with a group of only 15 players who were able to see action in more than half the season's games. Five freshmen and sophomores received the starting nod more than once.
The whole season, the Wildcats were just this close to a different outcome in many of their games. They played a school-record six overtime contests -- all within a nine-game stretch midway through the season. Ten of the season's 20 matches were decided by a margin of one goal or less.
So what will it take to get Arizona out of the "almost" category and into the "win" column?
"We're not looking really to change anything, except that we need to learn the 'winner's mentality' that the other women's teams at the UA have," said Klein. "We felt like the biggest weaknesses we needed to address was our ability to get underneath defenses, our speed away from the ball and our athleticism to win the ball back from the opponent.
"We're looking to take our experiences from last year and to use our speed and athleticism to take us to the next level. We were so close to winning many games, and I think we've addressed our weaknesses with this year's recruiting class."
Seventeen letterwinners return from last season, nine of them starters. Sounds like there's good deal of experience returning, right? Well, yes and no.
Among the returnees are seven seniors and three juniors. That compared to the whopping total of 20 freshmen and sophomores on this season's roster. It's a safe bet to say that the younger players are truly going to be in a "trial-by-fire" situation this year.
"We are looking to take the talent and experience of our present players and mix that with the youth and speed from our recruiting class to create a cohesive unit," said Klein. "We've got a large influx of new players, all built around our need for speed. We are expecting great things from this incoming class.
"I'm very proud of our recruiting class. Every one of these players we're bringing in is a proven winner and therefore is capable of contributing right away."
Four stellar returnees -- Liz Bartlett, Sierra Cristiano, Kristi Loro?a and Tiffany Sabado -- will headline the Wildcat front-runners this year.
With five goals and one assist (11 points), sophomore Liz Bartlett made an immediate impact during her rookie season by finishing as Arizona's top scorer. With both being named honorable mention All-Pac-10 last year, she and teammate Cassidy Guinn were the first Wildcats since 1997 to earn All-Pac-10 honors. Bartlett may also see some time in the back as needed.
Last year, now-sophomore Sierra Cristiano started 19 matches -- more than any other freshman on the team -- and was third on the squad in scoring with three goals and one assist (seven points). This season, Cristiano is expected to be a play-making forward or an attacking center midfielder.
One of seven seniors on this year's squad, Kristi Loro?a was the Wildcats' second-leading scorer last season after tallying four goals (eight points). Also a senior, Tiffany Sabado played in every match last season, finishing fourth on the team with 20 shots and scoring one goal. Sabado could see some minutes in the midfield this year as well.
Among the newcomers are four frontline players, led by junior college transfer Tymarie Novak who should challenge for a starting job right away. During her two years at Cypress (Calif.) College, her team posted an astounding 52-1-1 mark. Last season, Novak racked up 17 goals and 11 assists for a team that was ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Cassie Daniels is a freshman from West Torrance (Calif.) High School, where she was a two-time All-CIF Division III and All-Bay League selection.
From Altadena, Calif., freshman Candice Wilks led LaSalle High School's soccer team to a league title her senior year. Another freshman, Kelly Nelson from Lakewood, Calif., will be redshirting this year after having surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered last spring.
In the Midfield
The midfield seems to be one of the bigger question marks for the Wildcats this year. Although only four players are listed as true midfielders, 10 other players may find themselves playing other positions.
One of this year's most experienced players is senior Twila Kaufman, who has started 54 of her career's 56 games. A starter in all 20 of last season's matches, Kaufman was fifth on the team in scoring with two goals and one assist (five points).
Another senior, Erin Nelson should see most of her time at center midfield or in the back. Considered a defensive mainstay for the team, she was a starter in every match last year and led the team with three assists.
Senior Katie Winship should play a role as an outside midfielder, after seeing action in 18 matches last season. A central midfielder, freshman Jenn Meintel should see action this year after using her redshirt year last season because of surgery on both ankles.
Junior Nikki Szlak is a transfer from Long Beach City College, where she led her team to a 25-2-0 overall record and a California state championship last year. She was LBCC's second-leading scorer, with 19 goals and 13 assists (51 points).
With a future as an outside midfielder or a forward, freshman Vanesha Bailey is from Las Vegas' Cimarron Memorial High School, where she was the 2000-01 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Nevada.
Another true freshman, Courtney Moseley comes from Redondo Beach, Calif., where she led Bishop Montgomery High School to a league championship last year. She too will redshirt this season after tearing her ACL late last spring.
In the Backfield
A group of 11 players are likely to combine in creating the Wildcat defense this season. After the graduation of four-year defensive anchors Ann Giallonardo and Kate Nighswander-Will, the UA backline will have a decidedly different appearance in 2001.
An honorable mention All-Pac-10 choice and Arizona's Most Valuable Player in 2000, senior Cassidy Guinn will be the strongest and most experienced defender for the Cats. Since transferring from Creighton two years ago, Guinn has started all but four of the 37 matches she has played in for the UA.
Junior Naomi Chu will see action in the back or in a ball-winning role in the midfield. A starter in all 20 matches last season, she finished sixth on the team in scoring with one goal and two assists (four points).
Sophomore Meaghan McNatt was a fixture along the frontline last year until an ankle injury cut her season short after only 12 contests. Klein has moved her to the back, where she made a successful transition during spring play and should see action this fall.
After playing in only 13 matches last year, sophomore Lisa Mireles is expected to make even more of a contribution this season as a defender. Sophomore Shannon Harrelson saw time in nine matches last year after making the team as a walk-on. She and fellow sophomores Noelle Stillman and Samantha Bartlett and redshirt freshman Tara Monteleone will see action on defense.
True freshman Lindsey Peeples, a first team All-CIF selection at Arcadia (Calif.) High School, is expected to have an immediate impact because of her abilities in the air. A freshman from Glendale (Ariz.) Cactus High School, Courtney Russell could see time both in the back and up front.
Another player expected to see action in the back is Heather Nelson, the sister of Wildcat veteran Erin Nelson and a product of Tucson's Sabino High School.
In the Nets
Four goalkeepers grace the Wildcat roster this year. That's a good thing too, because someone needs to be waiting in the wings when the current No. 1 keeper, senior Shannon Monti, graduates.
Monti started all 20 matches last year, tallying 1459 minutes, 87 saves and a 2.59 goals-against average. She combined with the now-departed Inger Airheart for the club's only shutout last year. Monti finished the season seventh in the Pac-10 in saves.
Sophomore Tamara Klein did not play during the regular season last year but did see action during spring exhibition games. She and freshman Kelly Pakula are the top contenders for Monti's spot. A native of Chino Hills, Calif., Pakula was a third team All-CIF Divsiion I choice last year at Ruben S. Ayala High School.
Another reserve is freshman Christina Bobb, who joined the Cats last spring after graduating early from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix.
"Our schedule is very challenging and full of NCAA tournament teams," said Klein. "Our non-conference schedule is difficult, and our conference schedule is awesome. That combination forces us to be prepared to compete and to excel at a high level right from the very first kickoff."
To say that the 2001 schedule is "challenging" might be a bit of an understatement. Of the 18 opponents on this year's slate, 10 made appearances in the 2000 NCAA tournament and seven were nationally ranked at the end of the season.
The Pac-10 made its mark on last year's NCAA action, sending seven teams to the tournament, the most ever. UCLA reached its first NCAA College Cup but fell to North Carolina in the championship game. The Bruins were the first Pac-10 representatives in the College Cup in seven years.
Washington won its first Pac-10 title and made it to the third round of the tournament as the conference's automatic bid. California ended the season ranked No. 15, followed by Stanford at No. 20 and USC at No. 21.
The Cats face a rough road right from the start -- they will play seven of their first 12 matches away from the friendly confines of Murphey Stadium.
They open the 2001 season on Friday, Aug. 31, at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers ended last year with a third-round NCAA appearance and a No. 9 national ranking.
The Wildcats' home debut will be on Friday, Sept. 7, against regional foe New Mexico, followed by another home match against Southern Utah on Sept. 9.
The Cats then hit the road again for a two-game trip back East. They will face West Virginia, another NCAA tournament team, on Sept. 14 in Morgantown. From there, the Wildcats will play at Pittsburgh on Sept. 16.
Arizona returns home for two games before heading out for a four-game road swing. A trip to Utah will bring the Wildcats up against Brigham Young on Sept. 28. The Cougars made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament and were ranked No. 10 at the end of last season. A Sept. 30 game will see the UA playing at Utah.
The road swing will continue for the Cats as they open Pac-10 play in Los Angeles, where they will take on UCLA (Oct. 12) and USC (Oct. 14). Their first home conference games will be against Oregon (Oct. 19) and Oregon State (Oct. 21).
Arizona will wrap up the 2001 season with a three-game homestand against California (Nov. 2), Stanford (No. 4) and rival Arizona State (Nov. 9).
"The Pac-10 will probably be led by UCLA, USC, Stanford, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State," said Klein. "They are all excellent teams, and they all should begin the season in the top 20. Every league contest will be challenging, there are no easy games in the Pac-10."