Aug. 27, 2002
Fresh off its second top-5 finish in as many years in 2001, along with the school's first-ever trip to the NCAA College Cup in 2000, UCLA is quickly establishing itself as one of the elite programs in the country. This season looks to be no different as the defending Pac-10 Champion Bruins feature a solid mixture of experienced veterans and talented newcomers that will likely make an NCAA Title run once again in 2002. Despite losing seven starters from a year ago, the Bruins have reloaded with the country's No. 2 rated recruiting class. In fact, a recent vote of conference coaches picked UCLA as the favorite to repeat as Pac-10 Champions.
Head coach Jillian Ellis enters her fourth season in Westwood with a career record of 73-30-2. She owns an impressive 54-12-2 record at UCLA and in just three years has led the Bruins to a school-record 20 victories (2001), a trip to the NCAA Finals (2000) and three appearances in the NCAA Tournament (1999-2001). In 2000, she was named the NSCAA/adidas National Coach of the Year.
Despite the fact that UCLA's All-American duo of Mary-Frances Monroe and Stephanie Rigamat have moved on to the WUSA, the Bruins will once again feature a formidable front line in 2002. Leading the way up top will be redshirt sophomore captain Lindsay Greco, who led the Bruins in scoring before being sidelined with an ACL injury just four matches into last season. Prior to the injury she was UCLA's most explosive player, recording 13 points on six goals and an assist. At the Blue/Orange Classic in Illinois, she tallied nine points in two matches, registering a hat trick in a win over Louisville to earn Pac-10 Player of the Week honors. Although Greco is the only returning starter from a year ago, she will be joined by a trio of newcomers who possess the potential to make an immediate impact at the collegiate level. Already with a year of Division-I experience, sophomore transfer Kim Devine will be looking to duplicate the same success she enjoyed as a freshman at BYU last season. In 22 matches, she ranked second on the team in scoring with 21 points (9g, 3a) and earned second-team All-Mountain West Conference honors. Freshman Iris Mora could very well be UCLA's most explosive player after playing for the Full Mexican National Team and being ranked by Soccer America as the No. 8 rated recruit in the nation. A pool player with the Under-19 U.S. National Team, freshman Katie Rivera will also be competing for a spot up top. Although she missed her senior year of high school with an ACL injury, she is back at full strength and ready to make an impact at the collegiate level. Rounding out this talented group of forwards are juniors Victoria Bloom and Katherine Bjazevich, and sophomore Crystal James. These three give the Bruins valuable experience up top, as each will be battling for valuable minutes after solid showings in spring play.
"We will feature a very creative and attacking front line," says Ellis. "We did lose three starters from last year's squad, but I feel that with the return of Lindsay along with the addition of our new players, we will be balanced in our attack. Any one of these players is capable of scoring for us."
A balanced mixture of returnees and newcomers will comprise the Bruins' midfield in 2002. UCLA will receive its veteran leadership from its junior trio of Sarah-Gayle Swanson, Whitney Jones and Emily Ernsdorf. All three were instrumental in the Bruins' NCAA College Cup run in 2000 and will be counted on to help bring along an extremely talented, yet young group of freshman midfielders. Swanson, who played primarily up top her freshman year, made an excellent transition to the midfield position in 2001, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors while leading the squad in assists with six. She will likely assume more of an attacking role in 2002 while heading up the right side of the UCLA midfield. Jones, a two-year starter in the defensive end of the midfield, will bring added experience this year after attending several camps with the Under-21 U.S. National Team this past summer. Her knack for winning the ball in the air, as well as her one-touch capabilities on the ground, will once again set the tempo for the entire UCLA midfield. Ernsdorf is another player who, after turning in a very solid spring, will likely see significant minutes in the midfield. Joining the returnees will be an experienced group of four freshman newcomers, headlined by the top recruit in the country, Jill Oakes. A current member of the Under-19 U.S. World Cup Team, Oakes recently swept up two of the most prestigious honors in youth soccer when she was named national player of the year by both Gatorade Circle of Champions and Parade Magazine. A standout a nearby Harvard-Westlake in West Hills, Calif., she was also named the top recruit in the country according to Soccer America. Oakes will miss the first match of the season due to her commitments with the Under-19 squad at the World Cup this August. Two more newcomers with Under-19 National Team experience are Stacy Lindstrom and Allie True. Lindstrom, who graduated a year early from high school to join the Bruins, is another one of UCLA's Parade All-American recruits. True, one of the top players in Northern California, is an NSCAA/adidas High School All-American and someone who has many years of ODP experience at the state, regional and national levels. Jayme Cargnoni, a freshman from San Diego's Mt. Carmel High School, possesses excellent speed and will likely be utilized in more of a wing-midfield type role when the Bruins choose to run a 4-4-2.
"I think our midfield is going to be young, but has a lot of experience," says Ellis. "These players will help set the tone for the team in terms of providing a valuable defensive presence and getting us forward into the attack. It's a very technical, as well as athletic group. We have good versatility and depth in this area as well."
With five players who have seen significant playing time at the collegiate level, the defense will be without question the Bruins' most experienced area in 2002. Headlining the central defense will be junior Nandi Pryce and senior captain Tracey Winzen. Pryce, who recently helped the Under-21 U.S. National Team capture its fourth-consecutive Nordic Cup title this past July, made a solid return to action midway through last season after sitting out 2000 with a leg injury. She is back at full-strength after playing in 14 matches in 2001, helping the Bruins advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals. Winzen, who after three seasons in the midfield will play in the back this year, is the lone senior on the team and one of three team captains. She was moved to defense in spring practice and excelled. Junior Kathryn Lee, who in her two years in Westwood has seen most of her time on the left side, will primarily be on the right side in 2002. She has started the last two years in the back for the Bruins and brings a wealth of experience to the position. Sophomores Kendal Billingsley and Amy Fazio each started matches in 2001 and will be battling for time on the left side this year. Rounding out the defense will be redshirt sophomore Michelle Mangiardi and freshman Julia Jones. Mangiardi is making the move to the back after serving a reserve role up top the past two years. Jones, a newcomer from Dallas, will be competing for time in the middle.
"Our back line has tremendous experience after having played together for over a year now," says Ellis. "They are familiar with each other, and there is a level of understanding that I think will translate to good communication in the back, which is very important. After being one of the top defensive teams in the Pac-10 the last few years, it's obvious that defense is something we take great pride in."
For the first time in three years UCLA will have a new starting goalkeeper, as CiCi Peterson finished out her eligibility in 2001. Leading the way will likely be sophomore Sarah Lombardo, who was the only other keeper besides Peterson to see time last season. In six games last year, Lombardo posted a solid 0.82 goals against average, giving up just two goals in 222 minutes of play. She finished the year with a 2-1 record, picking up both of her wins against Oregon and Oregon State. Prior to arriving at UCLA in 2001, Lombardo was a member of the Under-16 U.S. National Team and was an NSCAA/adidas High School All-American in 1999. She will be the key to keeping an organized back line. Pushing Lombardo for playing time and coming off an excellent spring will be junior Jaclyn Harwood. Harwood did not see any action last year, but played in five matches her freshman season, seeing 162 minutes of scoreless action. Freshman Tara Gotthardt will round out the goalkeeping corp and will add depth to the position.
"It was extremely beneficial to have Sarah and CiCi work together last year," says Ellis. "We were fortunate to get Sarah some valuable minutes in the net, and I think you will see it pay off this season. I also expect Jaclyn to push her and get some time back there as well."
As always, the Bruins will be playing one of the most competitive schedules in the country, with early non-conference matches against Penn State, Virginia, BYU and defending national champion Santa Clara. The Bruins will also get little rest in conference play, with Stanford, Washington, USC and Cal all coming off NCAA Tournament appearances. If all goes as planned, this tough regular season schedule will prepare the Bruins for postseason play and a possible return to the NCAA College Cup.
"This team has a lot of personality and I really like that," says Ellis. We have a leader at almost every position. Because we lost seven starters from a year ago, it might take this team a little bit longer to find its chemistry, but when we do, I think this will be a team that competes for a national championship."