Pac-10 player of year Miller, other seniors leaving team to youth
The Arizona soccer team accomplished so many program firsts last season that many wondered whether the encore would look nearly as good.
It ended up looking real good, with the team making its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA College Cup and many Wildcats thinking they did some damage to those "fluke" rumors.
"We are really establishing our team and our program," said senior midfielder Jennifer Klein. "When you actually do it, it speaks higher than any words. It's a statement to girls on the team and girls coming in the future. It's the real deal.
"Hopefully, we just keep building," said Klein, who said she might join the coaching staff next season.
Arizona (11-8-3) finished 2005 with its second straight winning record, the only two in school history.
The Wildcats endured a bumpy Pacific 10 Conference season, ending with a 4-4-1 record, good enough for a three-way tie for fifth place.
In all, it was a schedule loaded with talent, as Arizona played eight teams ranked at different times in the NSCAA/Adidas Top 25 poll and twice faced eventual national champion Portland.
Arizona lost 4-0 to the Pilots in the Sweet 16, but has nothing to feel bad about. The Pilots destroyed UCLA by the same score in Sunday's national title game, going undefeated this season with a 23-0-2 record.
"See, it wasn't just us," joked senior midfielder Nikki David after watching the Bruins lose to the Pilots.
The Wildcats will face the Pilots again next season, this time in Tucson.
After two consecutive record-breaking seasons, the Wildcats and third-year head coach Dan Tobias will lose their core of seniors who led the way in establishing the program. Most notably, someone will have to fill the void left by senior midfielder-forward Mallory Miller, who scored 19 of the team's 31 goals this season en route to being named Pac-10 Player of the Year.
Tobias said people should watch for the team's two freshmen forwards, London King and Gianna DeSaverio, to pick up the slack next season on offense.
King and DeSaverio finished tied for second on the team in goals scored with three and also chipped in three and two assists, respectively.
"What's great for them is they got quite a bit of experience this year," said Tobias of the two freshmen, who each played in 22 games this season, mostly off the bench. "They showed against some of the (nation's) top teams that they're only going to get better."
Another player who will likely play a huge role on offense next season is junior midfielder Erin Bevacqua, who will be the team's only senior next year.
She will be one of the only familiar faces in the midfield, as the Wildcats lose Miller, Klein, David - all captains - and Kamaya Damwijk, a graduate student who exhausted her last year of eligibility in 2005.
"A huge role they are going to miss is (as) our core midfield," David said. "We have four midfielders who are leaving. That's difficult for any team, but all of those players had a huge impact."
No matter who steps up offensively for the Wildcats next season, one thing is for certain: This team is now under the leadership of sophomore goalkeeper McCall Smith.
After a standout freshman season in which she set the team's single-season record for shutouts and allowed the fewest goals in school history, Smith came back this season and took charge of the defense in front of her.
"If I were betting - and I'm not allowed to bet by rule - that would be my bet," said Tobias about Smith becoming a captain next season. "Do I think she's ready for it? Yes."
The defense, unlike the offense, stays completely intact.
Sophomore Claire Bodiya anchors a back four comprising sophomore Kaity Heath and freshmen Brianna Caceres and Savanah Levake.
Already part of a tough line, Heath, Bodiya and Smith will be upperclassmen next year, with two years of postseason experience to boot.
"The backbone of our team will be that unit," Tobias said.