Stanford is notoriously one of the most academically stringent universities in the world. The Cardinal have to turn players away early who will not make the cut with grades, and then turn more away later for those who do not meet the strict guidelines prior to signing day.
Even with those hurdles in place, Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe has built a dynasty in Palo Alto that is the envy of the Pac-12. The four-time defending Pac-12 champion lost five starters from the 2012 College Cup squad, but still came in at No. 2 in the TopDrawerSoccer.com preseason Top 25.
All those accolades did not impress the fellow coaches in the Pac-12 though, as Stanford was pegged to finish behind UCLA in the preseason conference poll, which was released last week.
Who will capture the crown in 2013? Will the Cardinal dynasty live on or will the Bruins finally roar?
Teams (2012 overall/conference record):
The Bruins signed the best recruiting class in its program’s rich history in 2011 with 11 National Letters of Intent inked on Feb. 4. B.J. Snow and his staff’s hard work over the years landed standouts Samantha Mewis, Sarah Killion, Rosie White, Katelyn Rowland, Abby Dahlkemper, and others.
Three seasons later, it appears that it is finally the matriculation of that group into the leadership role with the Bruins.
Dahlkemper is arguably one of the best center backs in the country. The same could be said of Rowland at goalkeeper. Mewis, Killion, and White lead a dynamic attack that will be one of the most enjoyable to watch in college soccer.
It is not all good news for UCLA though. The Bruins still need to replace Pac-12 Player of the Year and 2013 NWSL first overall pick Zakiya Bywaters. They also need to adjust to a new coach with Snow moving onto the U.S. U17 Women’s National Team program and Amanda Cromwell stepping in to replace him.
And there is still that pesky Cardinal problem.
The Cardinal lost a handful of key pieces from last year’s squad, but the beauty of top-ranked recruiting classes is players are always waiting in the wings for a shot.
That is the case this season for Ratcliffe’s group, as he looks for replacements in some positions, but will still rely on returners in Emily Oliver, Laura Liedle, Chioma Ubogagu, and Courtney Verloo.
Stanford also picked up the transfer of former Minnesota star Taylor Uhl, who is expected to step in immediately and make a good Stanford attack even better.
With an opening contest against Boston College on Friday, there is little time for Stanford to adjust to these new faces in the lineup. The Eagles will be a good test on both fronts.
The Golden Bears return Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ifeoma Onumonu, who has been getting a run with the U20 WNT lately. The Bears are hoping to strike gold twice as well with a 10-player freshmen class for this fall. Former U17 WNT forward Arielle Ship is the biggest name from the group. Ship missed out on the World Cup squad, but she showed some impressive qualities during the build up to the event.
The leader of the group in Berkeley is goalkeeper Emily Kruger, who has started 56 games over the past three seasons. If she is at the top of her game, the Bears defense will be tough to top.
Simply put, the Huskies have to be better in conference play in 2013. With only three wins in 2012, the Seattle-based program came up short of expectations last fall.
There is reason to be optimistic though. Midfielder Isabel Farrell is developing into one of the best in the nation as only a sophomore. Letting her pull the strings for the Huskies this season will be key to the success of the program. As long as Farrell can stay healthy and diversify her game, the Huskies will be in good shape to improve on that record from last fall.
Arizona State (10-9-2/6-4-1)
The Sun Devils are pushing toward a new era in the desert. Sophomore scoring sensation Cali Farquharson is one to watch in the Pac-12 after scoring 10 goals as a freshman last fall.
Joining Farquharson in the attack is senior Devin Marshall, who scored nine goals and had two assists last season. Jasmine Roth and Chandler Morris head the defensive effort for Arizona State.
The key loss for Kevin Boyd’s squad is Taylor McCarter, who was Miss Dependable with 80 starts over her career. It will be difficult to find that type of consistency in the future.
Oregon State (11-6-3/3-5-3)
Canadian international Chelsea Buckland is back after missing 2012 due to injury. She led the team in goals scored during the three seasons that she played for the Beavers with 29 goals over that period.
One of the more interesting names to appear on Pac-12 rosters this week is Oregon State freshman Helen Haavik, who nabbed the No. 10 jersey for the Black and Orange. Haavik, a Norwegian youth international, could be the creative spark that the Beavers need to get to the next level.
Washington State (12-6-2/6-4-1)
The Cougars are trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the third season in a row this fall. Pac-12 coaches are not quite as optimistic about the Pullman program, which they picked to finish sixth in the conference.
Second-year head coach Keidane McAlpine will have his work cut out for him. The Cougars schedule is relatively weak out-of-conference, so much will depend on the success of the squad in the Pac-12 this fall.
Freshmen Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills are the players to watch this fall for the Ladies of Troy. Freeman fit in perfectly with the U20 WNT at center back, and should be just as smooth in the collegiate game. Mills is athletic enough to fill any role for Ali Khosroshahin’s squad.
The Utes are seven years removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance and will need a huge uptick in luck to get back to that level in 2012. Utah’s debut campaign in the Pac-12 saw Rich Manning’s squad finish ninth among a plethora of dominant squads.
A smattering of eight home games in a row from September 8 to October 6 could be the key to Utah’s success this fall, if the Utes can protect their turf.
Danny Sanchez enters his second season as the Colorado head coach this fall. Sanchez is shaping the program up for future success, and 2013 is another step in the process for that goal.
The Buffs rolled through the spring season with only one goal conceded in eight games while compiling a 7-0-1 record. Spring is different than fall, but it is a positive sign of things to come for the Colorado faithful.
The Ducks are also going through a transition period with new head coach Katz Mertz taking over the program this fall. She is only the third head coach in the history of the program in Eugene.
The preseason did not get off to a great start with Oregon taking the game to UC Davis, but the Aggies came out on top with a 1-0 win. Friday’s opener against Portland State should be a good test to see what level the Ducks are at this season. Sunday’s clash against Portland could be a reality check.
The Wildcats coaching staff is young, energetic, and competitive. Their place at the bottom of the conference will only last for so long as Tony Amato will have this program recording winning seasons sooner rather than later.
Western Athletic Conference
Brief Conference Bio:
2012 WAC Tournament Champion: Utah State
2012 WAC regular season champions: Utah State and Denver
Offensive Player of the Year: Kristen Hamilton, Denver
Defensive Player of the Year: Natalie Norris, Utah State
Freshman of the Year: Lynsey Curry, Texas State
Coach of the Year: Jeff Hooker, Denver
Teams (overall/conference record):
CSU Bakersfield (6-11-2*)
Grand Canyon (9-7-2/8-4-2**)
New Mexico State (2-14-3/0-7-1)
Utah Valley (9-11-1/5-0-0****)
Nearly everything is different with the WAC this season with the top four finishers from last season all leaving to other conferences. The preseason coaches’ poll pegged Seattle as the new favorite in the relook conference.
Julia Besagno and Stephanie Verdoia are the players to watch this season for the Northwest program. Verdoia scored 10 goals last season as a sophomore while helping Seattle to a fifth place finish in the conference.
Idaho and Utah Valley split the honors for the second place position in the preseason poll. Idaho lost a number of players in the offseason but still enjoys the services of Katie Baran, Nitalia Zuniga, and Chelsie Breen for this fall.
Utah Valley is hoping goalkeeper Lauren Sack and midfielder Lexi Robison can lead the squad to glory this fall after a transferring into the conference from the Great West Conference where they went 5-0-0 last season.
Grand Canyon is making the transition into Division I this fall. The debut game did not go as well as planned as Stanford delivered an 8-0 whipping in the preseason exhibition between the two programs.
**Pacific West Conference record
***Summit League record
****Great West Conference record