Aug. 10, 2001
When you consider what UCLA accomplished in 2000, there's no doubt that the Bruins enjoyed their finest season in the eight-year history of the program. However, what's even more impressive than UCLA's dramatic run in the last year's NCAA Tournament and No. 2 final national ranking, is that the Bruins might be even better this season. Reigning NSCAA National Coach of the Year Jillian Ellis returns eight starters from a year ago and adds one of the most talented recruiting classes in the nation. Throw in U.S. National Team member Nandi Pryce, who missed much of last season with a leg injury, to the mix, and there's no reason UCLA shouldn't be able to build upon the success it enjoyed in 2000.
With a pair of senior All-Americans in Mary-Frances Monroe and Stephanie Rigamat heading up an extremely talented front line, UCLA features a group of attackers as prolific as any in the country. Rigamat, who will see much of her time up front on the left side, burst onto the collegiate scene in 2000 after leading the Bruins in scoring with 37 points on 13 goals and 11 assist, both team highs. She scored the game-winning goal to defeat Portland, 1-0 in the NCAA Semifinals and was one of just 11 players named to Soccer America's Collegiate MVP Team last year. Playing alongside Rigamat up front in more of a central attacking role will be Monroe. A three-time All-American at Connecticut, Monroe was twice named a finalist for both the M.A.C Award and Hermann Trophy, both given to the country's top player. Both Rigamat and Monroe have seen action with the Full U.S. Women's National Team.
Looking to make an impact on the right side will be sophomore Lindsay Greco. As only a freshman in 2000, she finished the year fourth on the team in scoring with 20 points (8g, 4a). Greco scored one of the biggest goals in UCLA history when she netted the Bruins' lone goal in the NCAA Final against North Carolina.
Senior Staci Duncan, UCLA's leading scorer two years ago and a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, will also be a force to be reckoned with up top. She ranked fifth on the team in scoring in 2000 with 19 points on eight goals and three assists.
Adding depth to this experienced group of attackers will be sophomores Katherine Bjazevich and Vicky Bloom. Both played in a number of matches last season and will transform that experience into quality minutes for the Bruins in 2001.
Three players who have yet to play in a college match, but will likely see significant playing time are Michelle Mangiardi, Crystal James and Kelly Durbin. A redshirt freshman, Mangiardi missed the 2000 season while recovering from ACL surgery. James and Durbin are two new and exciting local talents, who are members of UCLA's outstanding 2001 recruiting class.
"I would stack this front line against most in the country," says Ellis. "I think we have a lot of personality that translates into a good mixture of creativity, speed and depth. This collection of forwards offers us a tremendous amount of flexibility, in terms of giving us a number of options of what we want to do up front."
With seven players who have seen significant action at the collegiate level, the midfield is probably UCLA's deepest and most experienced area. Two players who will likely make up the Bruins' attacking midfield slots will be sophomore Sarah-Gayle Swanson and senior Breana Boling. Swanson was named a freshman All-American in 2000 after an outstanding season in which she tied senior All-American Tracey Milburn for second place on the team in scoring with 32 points (14g, 4a). She will likely be used in more of an attacking midfield role in 2001 as opposed to being used primarily as a forward last season. Boling is a three-year starter in the midfield and widely considered one of the premier players in the country at that position. She has twice been named an All-Pac-10 second-team selection and has started every game but one since arriving at UCLA in 1998.
Anchoring the defensive part of the midfield, junior Tracey Winzen and sophomore Whitney Jones will give the Bruins added support in the middle. Winzen could likely earn a starting nod in 2001 after a solid spring and playing in 22 matches last season. Jones, who was a starting forward on the UCLA women's basketball team this past spring, also played in 22 matches in 2000, starting 19.
Junior transfer Nancy Mikacenic and redshirt freshman Jessica Stamp both have U.S. Youth National Team experience and will see significant time in the midfield. Mikacenic played two years at Notre Dame, helping the Fighting Irish reach two College Cups and one NCAA Final in her tenure in South Bend. Stamp sat out the 2000 season while recovering from a torn ACL and still has four years of eligibility remaining. Sophomore Emily Ernsdorf, senior Lauren Emblem and freshman Kendal Billingsley will all add depth to the midfield position.
"Collectively, the midfield is a nice balance of technical players with a hard edge," says Ellis. "Expect to see some exciting things out of our midfield this year."
If the Bruins' back line is half as steady and consistent as it was last year, a deep postseason run for UCLA will be almost a certainty. In addition to setting the school record for shutouts with 15, the 2000 Bruins ranked fourth in the nation in team goals against average, allowing just 10 goals in 24 matches. Never did the Bruin defense allow more than one goal in a single match all year.
Though UCLA lost Karissa Hampton to graduation, the Bruins return two senior starters in Krista Boling and Bethany Bogart. Both are members of the U.S. National Team's Under-21 Pool, while Boling was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2000. The Bruins will receive an added boost in the back with the return of sophomore Nandi Pryce. Pryce, who has played extensively in the U.S. National Team Program and has even seen action with the Full U.S. Team, suffered a season-ending leg injury just six matches into last season. She will join Bogart to head up UCLA's central defense. On the left side, Kathryn Lee will also be pushing for a starting job in the back. A former member of the Under-16 U.S. National Team, Lee started the Bruins' last 10 matches in 2000, including all five in the NCAA Tournament. Left-footed freshman Amy Fazio will be looking to make an impact in her first season of college soccer. Fazio earned Parade All-America honors last season as a senior at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, Calif.
Two players also contending for spots in the back are senior Brittany Whalen and sophomore Kristine Brittingham. Whalen played in 13 matches last season after transferring from Santa Clara, while Brittingham, who only played in two contests in 2000, enjoyed a solid spring and should see significant playing time this year as one of the best athletes on the squad.
"With Bogart, Boling and Whalen on the field, we have tremendous experience in the back," says Ellis. "We are also obviously awaiting the return from injury of Nandi Pryce, who will make our back line even better. We have seven players that could all see time on defense, and I can anticipate seeing any of them winning a starting position for us."
Bruin goalkeeper CiCi Peterson enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2000, solidifying her spot as one of the best goalkeepers in the program's history. She ranked fifth in the nation with a goals against average of 0.44, recording a UCLA single-season best 15 shutouts in the process. Peterson ranked first in the Pac-10 in total shutouts and goals against average, earning Pac-10 honorable mention acclaim. As a senior in 2001, she will be the frontrunner for a starting position but will be challenged by sophomore Jaclyn Harwood and freshman Sarah Lombardo. Harwood saw action in five matches in 2000, playing nearly 162 minutes of shutout soccer in relief of Peterson. Lombardo, one of the top goalkeeper recruits in the nation last season, has been involved with the U.S. National Team Program and brings a wealth of experience beyond her years.
"We were very fortunate last season in the fact that we were able to develop CiCi as a starter and also give Jaclyn valuable minutes in the net," says Ellis. "Now we have two goalkeepers with Division-I experience, and that is something you can't put a value on. Bringing Sarah Lombardo in is going to push both CiCi and Jaclyn to strive for new heights because Sarah has tremendous potential. It's going to be a battle back there, and I'm going to evaluate them much like the field players in terms of it being a day-by-day decision on our starters."
In a re-match of last year's NCAA Semifinal, UCLA faces Portland in the first match of the 2001 season, giving the Bruins little time to ease into 2001. In fact, 11 of UCLA's matches this season are against teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament. However, opponents aside, the real challenge for UCLA this year might just be finding playing time for a number of talented players. But as coach Ellis points out, it's a good problem to have.
"I always say that you know you have a good team when your starters and reserves can scrimmage and it's a very even match," says Ellis. "Depth I think paid off for us last year and I hope it will do the same this season. It's going to take a collection of these 28 players to achieve our ultimate goal, and that is to win a national championship."