The USC women’s soccer team ended the 2012 season on a thrilling note, with students storming McAlister Field after a buzzer-beating goal from then-junior midfielder Jordan Marada sunk No. 2 UCLA in overtime. The upset victory over the Bruins was a sweet consolation for a team that missed out on the NCAA tournament largely because of their inability to win close games.
Leading up to their breakthrough against UCLA, the Women of Troy had lost three consecutive games by a score of 1-0, including a heartbreaking double overtime loss to No. 1 Stanford in the team’s showcase match of the season at the Coliseum. The team won just two of its nine overtime games and lost by a single goal nine times en route to a 6-10-3 (3-6-2 in the Pac-12) record.
Though dismayed by the results, USC head coach Ali Khosroshahin, who made NCAA history by winning a national title in his first season at USC in 2007, saw the silver lining in such a bittersweet year.
“I think our players have learned valuable lessons from such a tough season with so many close matches,” Khosroshahin said. “The players have matured, both individually and as a team, and they are more determined than any team we’ve had here in a while.”
Sophomore defender Erin Owen, who started 18 games last season, also feels that her teammates learned important lessons from the 2012 season.
“Last year’s losses have taught us to start the games the way we end them. Being focused from the start will hopefully allow us to get an early lead and not rush at the end of the game to score goals,” Owen said. “Those losses have been our motivation to work hard and focus on the small details.”
A wealth of experience certainly inspires confidence for the 2013 Women of Troy, who return several starters and key players. This comes as a welcome sign for Khosroshahin, whose 2012 roster featured mostly underclassmen.
Co-leading senior scorer Marada returns, as do several other midfielders: seniors Elizabeth Eddy, Autumn Altamirano and Haley Boysen, as well as junior Alex Quincey. Along the backline, junior goalkeeper Caroline Stanley anchors a defense that will remain largely intact from a season ago. Defenders redshirt junior Mia Bruno and sophomore Marlee Carrillo return, each having logged significant minutes last season.
Though the team lost last year’s co-leading scorer Samantha Johnson, the Women of Troy will still have plenty of scoring options. Sophomores Katie Johnson, Megan Borman, Whitney Pitalo and Jamie Fink combined for 45 starts and eight goals from the forward position in their first seasons with the team.
With an abundance of experience giving the team a boost on the field, the continuity on the roster has also paid dividends in building camaraderie among the players, with bonds being strengthened through the trials and tribulations of last season.
“Since last season, our class really focused on trying to help the upperclassmen with their leadership roles,” Owen said. “Our commitment to do what was in the best interest of the program proved to our teammates that we will always have their backs, and this built a lot of trust between us that led to a very successful spring season.”
The team opens up the season on the road against a San Diego State squad that is ranked No. 11 in the preseason polls, and things do not get easier from there — for better or worse, the Women of Troy will be receiving a fair amount of exposure against highly ranked teams in 2013.
Nine of the team’s 20 scheduled games will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, including road tests against No. 20 California, No. 2 Stanford and No. 5 UCLA. The Pac-12, as usual, figures to be one of the toughest conferences in the nation. UCLA has spent much of past two seasons ranked No. 1 in the country, while Stanford is two seasons removed from a national title and coming off yet another Final Four appearance. The Trojans will have to be at their best throughout the conference schedule to compete with these perennial powerhouses.
Khosroshahin recognizes the difficulty of his team’s schedule but is confident his team can play with the best in the nation.
“We’re USC. It really doesn’t matter who we play,” Khosroshahin said. “We are prepared to meet any challenges we face this year.”
Khosroshahin’s players echo those sentiments. Johnson believes the team’s rigorous offseason training will help them compete with the best.
“During the preseason, we have set high standards in our fitness testing so that we can compete against the highest-level teams,” Johnson said. “We have been preparing for this season since our last game against UCLA, and we are ready to showcase our hard work.”
The Women of Troy’s game experience, along with their relative youth, should have students and fans excited for the future of the program. Though it will not be easy, the team has the right ingredients to once again ascend the college soccer ladder after enjoying the view from the top six years ago.
And, after a sub-.500 season last year, the team is not mincing words when it comes to expectations for 2013.
“Our goal this season as a team is to win a national championship as well as a Pac-12 championship,” Johnson said. “But in order to do so, we have to be disciplined in every game and execute our game plan.”
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