By Amanda Branam
Photos By Claire C. Laurence/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore goalkeeper McCall Smith hope to lead the Wildcats to a repeat of last year's Pac-10 Championship. "It's hard to improve from such an awesome season," said Smith. "But I havae no doubt we're going to turn some heads." Soccer opens at home Friday against Missouri.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 25, 2005
Depth, experience and reliable returners suggest successful follow-up to first ever Pac-10 Championship season for women's soccer
After a season of broken records, a first-ever Pacific 10 Conference championship and a trip to the postseason, the 2005 Arizona women's soccer team is faced with a problem thought all but ridiculous a year ago.
After such a successful 2004 season, which saw the Wildcats win nine more games than the year before, how does the team make this go-around even better?
"It's hard to improve from such an awesome season," said sophomore goalkeeper McCall Smith. "But I have no doubt we're going to turn some heads."
This year, the Wildcats (15-6 overall, 6-3 Pac-10 in 2004) are more experienced, deeper at every position and playing a schedule filled by some of the top programs in the country.
Beginning his third year at Arizona, head coach Dan Tobias has established his authority and finally settled in with the program. To senior midfielder Jennifer Klein, that made all the difference in practices this spring.
"We are huge steps ahead of where we were last year (at this time)," said Klein, one of four team captains.
Last season, half of the team consisted of freshmen or newcomers to the team, including three of the four defenders and the goalkeeper Smith.
One senior returning is Mallory Miller, who led the team with 19 points last season on five goals and nine assists. She will put in work at both midfielder and forward, Tobias has said.
Also returning is Kamaya Damwijk, last season's senior walk-on who scored six goals as one of the team's welcome surprises. Damwijk, who was third in scoring despite starting only 10 of the team's 21 games, is taking graduate classes while using her last year of eligibility.
Newcomer London King will also see some playing time. The forward King scored the Wildcats' second goal Saturday in a 2-0 exhibition win against NAU.
Tobias said he's excited about his depth on offense, saying he has five different players who are a major scoring threat up front. Any combination of those players will give opposing defenses trouble, he said.
"For example, if Mal is playing with London or (freshman forward) Gianna DeSaverio and you pay too much attention to Mal, London is going to kill you. And the reverse is true," he said.
Arizona is also deeper at goalkeeper. Last year, Smith was it, and she turned in one of the team's most spectacular performances, becoming a finalist for national freshman of the year honors.
In that time, the Wildcats never had to figure out what to do if Smith got injured. This season, they have freshmen Devon Wharf and Chelsea McIntyre to step in for Smith, who set team records for shutouts in a season and goals allowed.
Backing Smith will be some familiar faces on defense. Sophomore Kaity Heath played in 20 games last season, and sophomore Claire Bodiya played every minute.
"Trust and experience has been huge," Smith said about the growth of the defense between this season and last. "We're looking really good. We're moving as a defense in the right direction."
The Wildcats set a team record with 15 wins last season, almost twice the previous record of eight.
This season, double-digit wins are not out of reach, but the road will be a difficult one. Of their 19 opponents this season, seven are ranked nationally in the preseason Top 25, including No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Portland, a women's soccer power that has been to seven Final Fours since 1994 and won a national title in 2002.
The Wildcats will face unranked Pepperdine (Sunday) and Brigham Young (Oct. 1), teams that are perennial powers in their own conferences and have shown to be threats to go deep in the postseason.
The Pac-10 schedule could be brutal, as has been the case in past years. Arizona faces two daunting road games in UCLA on Nov. 4 and No. 20 Washington on Oct. 14.
Highlights from the conference home slate include No. 24 California on Oct. 21, No. 14 Stanford on Oct. 23 and Southern California, a team ranked as high as No. 18 in one preseason poll, in the conference finale Nov. 6.
But the season starts tomorrow at home against Missouri, in a game that Arizona players said they are looking forward to, if only to prove themselves ready to take on risen expectations for the first time in the program's history.
Let the head turning begin.