It’s quite the bang to open the conference schedule with.
Pac-10 play begins for the No. 20-ranked Women of Troy (7-2-2) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Coliseum against No. 1 Stanford (9-0-2), and continues Sunday at 1 p.m. at McAlister Field against No. 21 Cal (6-1-4).
“It is the most important part of the season,” senior forward Megan Ohai said. “Teams refuse to lose in conference play.”
But because of that, Ohai said she believes the team is even more prepared for the looming challenge.
“I think that we’re ready,” Ohai said. “Stanford is a big game. We’re at the Coliseum, they’re No. 1, it’s our first Pac-10 game and we’re coming off a tough loss. So it’s a lot, but I think that because of all that we’ll be especially motivated.”
Motivation and focus, especially early in games, have been recurring issues for the team this year. USC has conceded the first goal in five of its 11 games, including one in the second minute to Eastern Washington.
“We’ve been starting all of our games real slowly, digging ourselves a hole,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “We had been able to climb out of them, but you can’t force yourself to keep on doing that. And, finally, we weren’t able to climb out [against San Diego].”
Last weekend the Women of Troy failed to avenge a season opening 1-0 loss to San Diego, falling again to the Toreros by the same score. The Toreros found the back of the net in the 34th minute last weekend. It was the third first-half goal allowed by USC in the last three games, although the Women of Troy had been able to come back and win the previous two.
“We need to start harder, read the game more and be ready to go from the beginning,” Ohai said.
Freshman midfielder Autumn Altamirano agreed.
“Starting off strong has been the focus this whole week,” freshman midfielder Autumn Altamirano said. “I think we’ll be pumped. Pac-10 opener, at the Coliseum, No. 1 Stanford — it’s exciting.”
Exciting, however, might not be the word Khosroshahin would use to describe Pac-10 play.
“It is the toughest conference in the country in every sport, including women’s soccer,” Khosroshahin said. “If the ladies thought that San Diego was fired up to play them, wait for Stanford and Cal.”
Ohai said her team was ready for the challenges ahead.
“Preseason is over,” Ohai said. “That doesn’t matter anymore. Playing in conference is the most important part of the season.”
The Women of Troy are a combined 15-8-4 in conference during Khosroshahin’s three years at the helm, including 6-2-1 in 2007, when they won the national championship.
But no USC team has ever won the Pac-10 outright.
To do that, Khosroshahin said his young team — which includes nine freshman and just three seniors — needs to be more consistent.
“When a team lacks maturity, consistency is the first thing to go,” Khosroshahin said. “And we’re really getting thrown into the fire. So what a great opportunity to put a young group against two nationally ranked opponents and find out what we’re all about.”
Despite the team’s youth, its objective is clear.
“Our goal is to win the Pac-10,” Khosroshahin said. “It always is.”