Looking to build on a season-high four-game winning streak, the USC women’s soccer team heads north this weekend to take on Pacific and No. 9 Santa Clara.
The Women of Troy started off the season 1-3, but have rebounded in the last two weeks behind improved defensive play.
The absence of senior All-American defender Meagan Holmes and the season-ending knee injury sustained by her replacement junior Ashli Sandoval have forced the other young members of the backline to step up.
USC has posted three shutouts in its last four games, including two on the road against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“The ladies are growing up,” coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “We still have areas where we need to improve but we’re definitely a lot better than we were in week 1.”
The Women of Troy will be without starting sophomore leftback Chelsea Buehning for the match against Pacific, as she must sit out one match following the red card she received in USC’s last game.
Starting in her place will most likely be freshman Kelly Morgan, who will line up alongside junior Karter Haug, sophomore Claire Schloemer and fellow freshman Stephanie Morgan.
Pacific enters the 7 p.m. Friday match on a three game unbeaten run. The Tigers (5-2-2) lost to Pac-10 foe Cal 3-0 earlier this season in an exhibition.
Pacific is led by Maricela Padilla and Angelica Figueroa, two young and talented midfielders. Padilla, a freshman, leads the team with six goals and also has two assists. Figueroa, a sophomore, has posted four goals and a team-leading six assists.
USC will take on Santa Clara (7-2) on Sunday at 1 p.m., in what could be one of USC’s most challenging games this season.
The Broncos have already knocked off two top-10 foes this season, beating at the time No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 7 Purdue.
Santa Clara features a balanced scoring attack, with nine players having scored goals for the Broncos this season.
USC defeated Santa Clara 2-1 a year ago at McAlister Field and leads the all-time series with the Broncos 4-1.
The Women of Troy will rely heavily on the play of their senior goalkeeper Kristin Olsen this weekend, both for her shot-stopping and her organization skills.
Olsen has helped lead the young backline and received the Pac-10 Player of the Week award for her two shutouts in the victories over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last weekend.
She said the biggest improvement the team has made since the beginning of the season has been greater composure and intelligence on the field.
“We know all the answers to what we’re supposed to do and how to play good soccer,” Olsen said. “It’s just actually applying it in a game.”