Aug. 15, 2000
With a talented nucleus of returning players mixed with arguably the nation's finest recruiting class, the UCLA women's soccer team has all the ingredients for a successful 2000 campaign. Ranked 14th in the preseason NSCAA national rankings, UCLA is looking to make its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in just its eighth season of existence. The Bruins return nine starters on a team that advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 1999 and are led by head coach Jillian Ellis, who enters her second season at the helm. Ellis, recently selected as head coach of the Under-21 U.S. National Team, guided the Bruins to a 15-5-1 record last season in her inaugural campaign.
Joining Ellis and third-year assistant coach Lisa Shattuck this season will be newcomer Katherine Mertz, who will oversee the goalkeepers following the departure of David Vanole to the U.S. Women's National Team. Mertz was an assistant at the University of Virginia in 1999.
Headlined by All-Pac-10 selections senior Tracey Milburn and junior Staci Duncan, UCLA features a very deep and experienced front line. Milburn, who played with the Under-21 U.S. National Team this past summer, was UCLA's second-leading scorer in 1999 with 24 points (9g, 6a). She earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season for the second year in a row. Joining Milburn up front will be second-team All-Pac-10 selection Duncan, who also ranked second on the team in 1999 with 24 points (10g, 4a). Possessed with a knack for scoring in crucial situations, Duncan, though only a junior, already ranks second on UCLA's all-time career game-winning goals list with nine.
Also vying for starting slots on the front line will be junior Stephanie Rigamat and newcomers Sarah-Gayle Swanson and Lindsay Greco. Rigamat, who redshirted last season, was a first-team All-Big West selection at UC Irvine in 1997 and `98. She did well in spring workouts and will contend for a starting position. Two freshmen, Swanson and Greco, will also be major contributors up front. One of the most experienced freshmen on the team, Swanson arrives at UCLA with a national championship at the club level and national team experience with both the Under-16 and Under-18 U.S. squads. Greco, the 1999 CIF Player of the Year, led her high school team to a No. 2 national ranking by USA Today. Adding depth to the forward position will be freshman Kristine Brittingham.
In the midfield, UCLA returns several key players with NCAA Tournament experience, including senior Venus James, juniors Breana Boling, Lauren Emblem and Bethany Bogart, and sophomore Tracey Winzen. James, an Under-21 U.S. National Team member, provides an added scoring threat for the Bruins after scoring seven goals and assisting on five others last season in an attacking midfielder role. Joining James out wide will be Emblem, who scored five goals last season, including two game-winners. Three players vying for starting slots in the central midfield will be Boling, Bogart and Winzen. Both Bogart and Boling saw considerable minutes last season, as each started 20 of UCLA's 21 games. In addition, Bogart's seven assists were a team high. Sidelined for much of last season with a sprained MCL, Winzen played in 10 games as a freshman last year and is now back at full-strength to contend for a starting job. Three freshmen figure to join the midfield contingent, as Katherine Bjazevich, Victoria Bloom, and Whitney Jones will all look to gain valuable minutes in their first year of collegiate play. In addition, freshman Emily Ernsdorf and junior Courtney Wright, a transfer from George Washington, will add depth to the midfield position. Two freshmen, Michelle Mangiardi and Jessica Stamp will likely redshirt the 2000 season while recovering from ACL injuries.
By far UCLA's biggest challenge in the area of defense will be finding a suitable replacement for All-Pac-10 selection Skylar Little. Fortunately for the Bruins, junior Krista Boling and senior Karissa Hampton each have extensive experience in the back, as both started every game but one last season. Boling, UCLA's defensive MVP last season, helped lead the Bruin defense to nine shutouts in 1999. A tough and physical defender, Hampton will bring senior leadership to a rather young Bruin backfield.
One freshman expected to step in and play immediately will be Nandi Pryce. Regarded by many as one of the top-two recruits in the nation last season, Pryce enters UCLA with extensive international experience after playing with the Under-21 U.S. National Team and serving time in the residency camp with the Full U.S. Women's National Team. She was recently named an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Team.
Sophomore Sarah Morgan, junior Brittany Whalen and freshman Kathryn Lee round out UCLA's defensive corps. As a returner, Morgan saw action in 18 games last season, registering three assists. Whalen is entering her first season in Westwood after transferring from Santa Clara, while Lee, an experienced freshman with extremely quick feet, played on the Under-16 U.S. team coached by Ellis. Goalkeeping
With the departure of Lindsay Culp to graduation, junior CiCi Peterson, who actually earned a starting job last season, returns to head up UCLA's goalkeeping duties. Peterson started 13 games last season and owned a goals against average of 1.65 while recording 3.5 shutouts in the process. Pushing Peterson for a starting nod will be freshman Jaclyn Harwood, who registered a goals against average of 0.48 in high school. Sophomore Katie Greenwood rounds out the goalkeeping unit, giving the Bruins a number of options in the net.
2000 Recruiting Class Ranked No. 1
Regarded by many as the top class in the nation and ranked No. 1 by at least one soccer publication, UCLA's 2000 recruiting class is arguably one of the finest ever to arrive in Westwood. UCLA signed seven top-notch recruits last February, three of whom played for Ellis as members of the Under-16 U.S. National Team. In March, the Bruins' received an added boost with the signing of Pryce, considered by many as the nation's premier recruit. Along with Pryce, Ellis landed Parade All-American Swanson, a member of the Under-18 U.S. National Team. Two other players with national team experience are Lee and Stamp, two former members of the Under-16 U.S. squad. Rounding out this exceptional class are All-CIF selections Bloom, Greco, Harwood and Mangiardi.
"This class has quite a lot of soccer experience despite the fact that the players have yet to step on the field in a college uniform," says Ellis. "I also think it's a more seasoned class then we've had in the past, with players that will make their presence felt immediately." The Schedule
With five opponents ranked in the NSCAA preseason top-25, including two more ranked in the top-30, UCLA's 2000 schedule will be challenging to say the least. The Bruins open with seven-straight road games and won't play their first home game until more than a month into the season. Sure to be one of UCLA's toughest games of the season will be its season opener against No. 6 Clemson in South Carolina. The Tigers return nine starters from a team that advanced to the NCAA Final Eight last season. Following Clemson, the Bruins take on Georgia State before heading to Gainesville, Fla. for meetings with the 1998 NCAA Champion Florida Gators and Georgia. Florida debuts at No. 10 in the preseason rankings.
"The two early games against Clemson and Florida are going to be great opportunities to gauge where we are on a national level," says Ellis. "I'm very pleased that we have some tough games early on because we have so many new players to look at and evaluate before heading into a difficult conference season."
The Bruins conclude their East Coast road trip in Gainesville, and head home to Los Angeles for the 2000 Fila Challenge, hosted by USC. There, UCLA takes on Vanderbilt, as well as 1999 NCAA Tournament qualifier Baylor, which received votes in the NSCAA preseason top-25. Following the Fila Challenge, the Bruins get a two-week break before heading to No. 24 San Diego, concluding their seven-game road trip. The meeting will be a rematch of last season's NCAA Second Round contest, which UCLA won 2-1.
Finally on Sept. 29, more than a month after the start of the season, UCLA hosts Fresno State in its season opener. That contest marks the start of three more non-conference games, including Loyola Marymount and Marquette, before the start of Pac-10 play on Oct. 8 when UCLA hosts crosstown rival USC. Along with its game with the Women of Troy, who are ranked tied for 17th in the preseason rankings, UCLA's conference season is highlighted by a home game against 1999 Pac-10 Champion Stanford, which is ranked No. 7 in the preseason rankings.
"Stanford is ranked high in the preseason polls and will probably be expected to do well this year," says Ellis. "But I believe that on any given day anybody is capable of beating anybody, and I think that is the real beauty of the Pac-10. There is so much parity that there will be a number of teams in contention for the conference title this year."
Though the Bruins were picked as one of the top teams in the nation to start the season, Ellis believes UCLA has a lot to prove before it can stake its claim as one of the elite teams in the nation. "I don't put a whole lot of stock in preseason rankings," says Ellis. "I always tell the players at the beginning of the season that it's not where you start, it's where you finish." With that in mind, the Bruins have their sights set on finishing in San Jose, site of the 2000 NCAA College Cup.