Aug. 16, 2011
The Arizona women's soccer team begins its 2011 season this Friday, Aug. 19, at San Diego State. The Wildcats will remain on the road for a match on Sunday, Aug. 21, at Pepperdine, before returning to Tucson for the home opener next Friday, Aug. 26, against South Carolina. Below is a general preview of this year's team as it prepares for the 2011 season.
2011 Season Outlook
The future of Arizona soccer is certainly looking bright, both literally and figuratively.
For starters, brand new lights were installed at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium this summer. The addition is the latest in a series of major renovations to the complex in recent years, offering one of the premier training facilities in the region for the Wildcats to practice and host matches.
Under the lights, the Wildcats are loaded with experience on the field. A total of 11 players, including senior goalkeeper Ashley Jett, return after starting at least 13 games a season ago. The list does not include top striker Renae Cueller, who suffered a knee injury and did not play after the sixth game of the season. Also not counted is defender Alex Smith, who missed significant time and started only eight games after making 19 such starts as a freshman in 2009.
Indeed, experience and depth should be strong points for the team entering preseason training. The Wildcats return players with 234 combined starts - not just games played - to their roster this season. The key will be staying healthy.
Arizona missed its top goal scorer, Cuellar, for the final 14 matches of the season, including the entire conference slate. Cuellar had netted six goals and three assists through six matches played, before she was sidelined with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.
A pair of freshmen, Ana Montoya and Jazmin Ponce, emerged as the main scoring threats, combining for five goals and an assist. Now sophomores, the two have 38 starts between them and figure to team with a healthy Cuellar and a handful of other attackers to create a more balanced offensive attack.
Defensively, the Wildcats will also welcome back Smith, a 19-game starter as a true freshman in 2009 who missed much of 2010 with an illness. Her return to the regular lineup will provide a physical presence and experience to a unit that relied heavily on underclassmen a season ago.
In goal, senior Ashley Jett returns after a solid season in which she started 18 games. Now sophomores, Lorena Aragon and Jamie Wilkinsonhave made strong improvements with a full year of experience in the program.
All added up, a big key for the Wildcats in 2011 will be the fact that there is talent, depth and experience across the board. A strong nucleus of the team returns from last season and that was evident throughout the spring schedule. With that, the chemistry is in place and will only be bolstered by the addition of several very talented freshmen who will challenge for playing time immediately.
"This year we have much more experience than last year," Head Coach Lisa Oyensaid. "We played a lot of freshmen who had just a few weeks of training before the season began last year. Now those players have that experience and we will bring back other players with a lot of experience who missed time with injuries and illness. We will be much more prepared from an experience standpoint this year, which will help us focus more on the training and preparing for matches.
"We have a group that has enough diversity and talent where we're not limited to playing one style," Oyen added. "We are not limited to one specific system. We can adapt to our game situations, how we're going to play best, what our opponents are presenting to us and how we can best manage a game."
The schedule won't be easy and features the addition of Colorado and Utah in the revamped Pac-12 Conference. But, the Wildcats are primed for a successful season with a balanced and diverse set of players that can compete with the best teams in the leagues.
"I think we have the deepest and most talented conference in the country," Oyen said. "There are other conferences that are very good, but I think top to bottom, you can't ask for a better conference to play in."
As always, staying healthy and consistently improving as the year progresses will be two of the primary keys as to how far Arizona goes in 2011.
"I think in all aspects - the technical, tactical, physical and mental aspects of this game -has improved with our team," Oyen said. "That and they're just very driven and very motivated to be a good team. I'm very excited to coach this team."
The return of Renae Cuellarshould provide an instant spark to the Wildcats' attack. She brings significant collegiate experience blended with international experience with Mexico's women's national team in recent seasons. Her six goals in six games a year ago bring her career tally to 17, a mark she certainly hopes to build on this season.
"Having Renee back is going to be a huge asset because she was one of the leading attacking players in the country when she got hurt last year," Oyen said. "Having her back will make us more dangerous, especially as she works with some of our other attackers who have a lot of experience now."
Jazmin Ponce and Ana Montoyaare a pair of versatile attacking players that can play up top or in the midfield. Each logged significant minutes - over 3200 combined minutes - as true freshmen and built confidence while playing against some of the best teams in the country.
"Both of them are very talented and have worked very hard to become better all-around players," Oyen said. "I think they will be much more consistent this year, which will make us a more dangerous team."
Kristin Strother also returns after playing nearly 600 minutes to go with two starts a year ago. She and Susan Melendez each had strong spring seasons, and Samantha Cummings is also expected to add depth after appearing in four games a year ago. Another addition to the program is Sarah NeSmith, who transferred to Arizona in 2010 and had a solid spring.
Freshman Julie Glanz, from Santa Monica, Calif., should factor in to the attack as a player with strong club experience after playing for Slammers FC. Canton, Ohio, native Brie DeFelice and Tucson, Ariz., native Emily Laiare two other talented freshmen that will compete for spots in the lineup.
"I'm very excited about this group of players," Oyen. "All of them have some very unique skills which allow us to have variety and depth in our attack."
Candice Osei-Agyemang, a transfer from Pennsylvania, must sit out 2011, but will push the starters in practice as she gains experience for her 2012 debut as a Wildcat.
Continuing with the theme of deep positions, the Wildcats hope to have plenty of depth in the midfield. That certainly could be the case with the return of Jessica Culver, who missed the 2010 season with an injury after scoring a goal and making eight starts the year prior. She will be counted on as one of the team's senior leaders and a stabilizing force in the midfield.
"Jess is a very talented player who has excellent technical skills," Oyen said. "Her experience is going to be very important for us."
Ariel Boulicault and Kristin Griffin are two players that have been in the program for several years and know what it takes day in and day out to be successful. Boulicault tallied three assists in 13 starts in 2010, while Griffin will challenge for her first significant action in a couple seasons. LeeAndra Smithjoins the group as a freshman and brings creativity with her skill set.
Of course, depending on formation, players like Ana Montoya, Kristin Strother, Samantha Cummings and Susan Melendez can slide from the forward position to the midfield. So, too, could newcomers Julie Glanz and Brie DeFelice.
"We have a big group of players who can play in whatever sort of system that we are looking for," Oyen said. "Some of the players missed time last year or the year before for various reasons, but most of them have been able to have strong spring and summer workouts. It's a group with a lot of experience and we should have a lot of diversity to match up with teams."
If there's one area on the field the Wildcats can expect to see immediate improvement with more experience and depth, it's defensively. A season ago, Smith missed major time after being a mainstay in the lineup her freshman season. Her physical presence was certainly missed, and the team had to insert a pair of freshmen - Shannon Heinzler, a converted midfielder, and Gabrielle Lindeman- into the starting lineup in the back all season long.
After successful freshman debuts, Heinzler and Lindeman have a year of experience under their belts and will team with Smith and fellow junior Kirstyn Magyarto form a strong back line. Magyar has been more than reliable in the back her first two seasons, collecting 35 starts in 38 games played.
"Having Alex back healthy and playing at 100 percent is really going to help our backs just in our overall performance," Oyen said. "She and Kirstyn have a lot of experience playing together. And when you add the experience that Shannon and Gabby have from a year ago, we will be much stronger. "
Depth will be provided by a pair of freshmen, which includes Mykaylin Rosenquist, who excelled as a center back with SC Del Sol in Gilbert, Ariz. Another freshman, Desiree Bramlette, offers versatility and could compete at center back or see time in the midfield.
Arizona enters the season in much better shape than year ago when none of the goal keepers on the roster had significant experience. Now senior Ashley Jett returns with a full year of starting experience, and sophomores Lorena Aragon and Jamie Wilkinsonenter their second years in the program.
"Ashley had a very successful season last year," Oyen said. "We're looking for her to build off that and become even better this season. Her leadership will be important for us."
Aragon, who started the first two games of 2010, and Wilkinson enter their sophomore campaigns with more confidence than a year ago. Both will challenge for playing time and will be ready to step into goal when called upon.
"They both played significant minutes in the spring and have had done a great job training in the offseason," Oyen said. "They'll come in as much better, much more prepared for non-conference and conference play than they were last year."