Aug. 25, 2003
Playing in the conference that had not one but both of the teams playing in last season's NCAA championship game, it's easy to get overlooked.
But while the Santa Clara's and Portland's of the world got all of the attention at the conclusion of 2002, they'll have their work cut out to win the West Coast Conference in 2003.
That's because one of the fastest-rising programs in the nation is right on their tails.
The Loyola Marymount women's soccer team enjoyed another successful season in 2002, finishing in a three-way tie for fourth in the WCC and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Lions, with their 3-3-1 record in conference play, were one of five WCC teams invited to the 2002 College Cup.
And there's even more reason for optimism heading into this season.
Appearing primed to improve on their success, the Lions return all but three starters in 2003. And eighth-year Head Coach Gregg Murphy says that experience is the main reason why expectations are even higher this season.
"We'll be a very veteran-oriented team," Murphy said. "The one thing we said about last year was that the important thing wasn't how well we did in the College Cup, but it was just getting in. Now we've got that monkey off our backs."
And as is the case with any successful program, the Lions bring a solid mix of veterans and underclassmen to the field. With only four seniors last season, Murphy was forced to play a lot of freshmen, with 10 getting playing time and as many as seven being on the field at the same time in 2002.
"We lost some very good players last year but talent-wise I think we're stronger (than in 2002)," Murphy said. "Our freshmen of last year who are now sophomores are a lot more experienced and are very good players. The freshmen we brought in are also very good players.
"The question mark will be how quickly this new group can gel together."
There may be no bigger example of a 2002 underclassman poised to make the step up to leader in 2003 than Kelly Yukihiro. Last season, she split time in goal, starting in 10 of the Lions' 20 games. But despite only being a sophomore, Yukihiro saved 82 percent of the shots she faced and compiled a 4-4-2 record with five shutouts and a goals against average of 0.83.
The junior enters the 2003 season cemented as the Lions' primary goal stopper. She is backed up by sophomore Corey McAuliffe and freshman Jeanine Deeb.
While Yukihiro is the backbone to the defense, she is by no means the only star on it.
Senior defender/midfielder Laura Trask was the Lions' only first-team All-WCC selection in 2002, starting every game for the Lions and logging the second-most minutes on the team. She also scored two goals on only 10 shots in '02 and finished the season with five points.
Another All-WCC defender returning to LMU is Jennifer Horn. As a freshman last season, Horn played in all 20 games, starting in 17 of them, and like Trask played in more than 1,900 minutes.
A third member of the 1,900-minute club was Kylie Beren, a junior in 2003. The defender logged a team-high 1,968 minutes in 2002, starting every game. Senior Jennifer Cefalia also started all 20 games last season, giving the 2003 Lions one of the most experienced defenses in the nation.
But that's not all of the Lions' defensive experience. Senior Jamie Shoma started nine games last season, and will be a valuable asset this season. Sophomore Jessica Hanson, who started in 17 games in 2002 as a midfielder, spent the entire spring gaining experience as a defender. And while this group's most important job will be on the field, it won't be their only one.
With a sophomore defenders in Jaclyn Stansbury and Sara Aldama and three freshmen defenders in Alicia Lloyd, and Amy Sauer the Lions will need their veteran defenders to serve as teachers for the team's strongest unit.
"Our organization defensively is definitely the cornerstone of our team," Murphy said.
But that isn't a knock on the LMU offense.
In fact, the Lions return four of their top five scorers from last season. The difference this year, however, will be the team's approach when it has the ball.
"We'll go into this season with the mindset that we want to be more attack-oriented and more efficient offensively," Murphy said. "Our goal is to possess and take care of the ball for longer periods of time, therefore creating more scoring opportunities."
And when those opportunities come, Kellie Schroeder will be there to finish them off.
Like Horn, she earned All-WCC honorable mention as a freshman in 2002, leading the Lions in goals (6) and points (12). Three of her goals were game winners. She spent this summer playing in her home state of New Mexico to prepare for her sophomore season.
Schroeder wasn't the only sharp-shooting freshman in 2002. Fellow rookie Kelly Lewandowski was second on the team in goals (4) and points (10), and scored two game winners. The third Lion freshman to garner All-WCC honorable mention in 2002 was forward Lori Sims. She finished the year with six points, including the game winner against Washington State, in only seven starts and little more than 900 minutes of action.
While the defense gives Murphy optimism for this season with its experience, the offense does the same with its youth and explosiveness.
"Their freshman year was kind of a feeling out, a learning process," Murphy said of his sophomore trio. "I think we'll see some awesome things from them. All three have the potential to have 'break-out' seasons this fall."
The veteran forward is senior Stephanie Tobin, who played in 19 games last season. Alex Mueller and Kristen Frawley also saw time at forward as freshmen. The Lions have also added freshmen Jessica Oestreich this season.
While the three-headed freshman monster got much of the attention last season, much of the Lion offense in 2002 would not have happened without passer extraordinaire Shari Nishikawa.
As a junior in '02, Nishikawa finished fourth on the team with seven points, leading the Lions with five assists (which also led the WCC). And she made her lone goal count, scoring the game winner against Loyola-Chicago. She is tied for eighth in the LMU record book with eight assists in her career, and was named second team All-WCC last season. And she is a key contributor on defense, as well.
The Lions' most inexperienced area is midfield. Senior Haleigh Roach, who played in all 20 games last season and started in five, is the only upperclassman surrounded by a group of underclassmen. Sheena Jarvis, Caroline Dugoni and Katherine Arias return in the midfield as sophomores while freshmen Tana Smotherman and Whitney Temple are newcomers to the Lions' crop of midfielders this season.
The mixture of a few veterans with a lot of young talent has been a successful one for the Lions. Last season, fielding a very young team, the Lions showed mettle, going 3-0-3 in overtime.
And Murphy expects more good things from this year's freshmen.
"They will make as much of an impact as last year's (freshmen), barring injury," he said. "I think their impact will come in a different way, though. They're more worker-like and defense oriented, apart from Smothermon and Oestreich who will contribute to the attack.
"I think they will definitely contribute to the success of this year's team."
And one other thing similar to last year will be the Lions' difficult schedule. Along with playing in perhaps the premier conference in all of women's soccer, LMU will face five Pac-10 teams, including perennial national powers UCLA, Washington, Stanford and USC. Add to that the likes of Kansas and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Lions will have a tough road to travel.
"Every game will be a battle but I believe we are capable of beating anyone on this schedule," Murphy said. "To do so though we have to make sure we stay fit and healthy and play at the level I know we're capable of every day."