Team (overall/conference record)
Amanda Cromwell strolled into Westwood in April 2013 with a talented bunch of players at her disposal and a lot of pressure on her performance. The UCLA women’s soccer team was the only sport on campus yet to win a national title. The expectations at UCLA are a bit different than elsewhere in the country. Cromwell delivered the title to the Pac-12 powerhouse. It was the fitting conclusion to a season that featured a 21-game unbeaten streak to end the year and a national-best 0.296 goals against average. The Bruins enter the fall with the massive target on their backs. UCLA only lost five seniors from last year’s championship squad, only one of those was a consistent starter, Jenna Richmond. The uber-talented 2011 recruiting class that B.J. Snow shepherded in is finally in its last campaign. The nine-player senior class will want to leave an even greater legacy that the one title with a repeat performance. The Bruins very clearly enter the season as the favorites in the Pac-12.
Washington State (14-3-4/7-3-1)
It was a dream season for the Cougars in 2013. The plucky bunch from Pullman clawed and scratched its way to a second place finish in one of the best conferences in college soccer. Micaela Castain made history as the first Washington State player to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year. But like all dreams, it came to an end. The Ladies of Troy snatched away head coach Keidane McAlpine following his second season in the Palouse. The Cougars turned to former UNCG head coach Steve Nugent to fill the big shoes on the sideline. Nugent inherits a program with talent (more than it is has seen in some time) and some lofty goals. Senior Nicole Setterlund and freshman Sofia Anker-Kofoed both garnered some preseason recognition. If WSU hopes to duplicate 2013, it’s going to need to copy the blueprint with a strong defense. It’d also help if the Cougars avoided a penalty kicks in the NCAA tournament in 2014.
A third place finish in the Pac-12, a trip to the NCAA tournament, and holding UCLA to a draw made up a pretty solid 2013 for the Utes. Head coach Rich Manning is all smiles this preseason as he returns nine starters from last year’s team. The problem for Utah is that six wins probably won’t be good enough for third place in the Pac-12 in 2014. Almost every other program looks like it has improved significantly in the offseason. Utah has as well with six new recruits and three transfers. The Elmer sisters should help immediately and fill a void in the attack. Utah will also be counting on another strong season from Lindsey Luke in goal.
After so many years of dominance in the Pac-12, it is strange to see Stanford slip from the top of the mountain. The Cardinal, fittingly, reloaded the roster and will likely contend with UCLA for the league crown in 2014. Head coach Paul Ratcliffe only lost two starters from last year’s squad in Natalie Griffen and Courtney Verloo. Stepping in to replace those two is a seven-player recruiting class that is full of talent and future college stars. Freshman Andi Sullivan will be a touch late to preseason as she is playing with sophomore goalkeeper Jane Campbell and defender Stephanie Amack in the U20 World Cup. The hardest decision for Ratcliffe and the coaching staff this fall may be playing time as there will be quite a few very talented players on the Stanford bench in October.
After finishing third in the conference in 2012, California slipped down to fifth in the Pac-12 last fall. The Golden Bears still made the NCAA tournament, but it was not the season they had envisioned. California head coach Neil McGuire might need nametags for the first week with 12 freshmen listed on the roster. The youthful exuberance should help an attack that did not score more than one goal over the course of the final nine games of the season.
Colorado ( 14-7-2/4-5-2)
Colorado head coach Danny Sanchez heads into his third year in charge in Boulder. After a surprising run to the Sweet 16 last season, Colorado will be on the radar for everyone this fall. “I think we’ve got some good momentum going right now, and we want to continue to build off that,” Sanchez said at media day last week. “I think the bar has been raised and the players and the program realize that.” Senior captain Darcy Jerman made similar comments. “This is probably the most intense camp that I’ve ever been a part of,” Jerman said. “It’s every day, really hard, really positive, a lot of energy.”
Arizona State (9-8-2/4-5-2)
Arizona State will be a pain to play against as long as Cali Farquaharson is there. The junior forward scored 10 goals last season, and should add to that mark this fall. Farquharson and the Sun Devils were picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Much of the preseason buzz from Seattle has been about motivation. The Huskies were far from pleased with last year’s performance. The preseason polls have only added fuel to the fire. Washington needs to replace six seniors from last year’s squad, but leading scorer Kate Bennett is back.
Arizona enjoyed its first winning season since 2005 last year. Head coach Tony Amato is hoping to build on that success and make a run at a winning record in the conference for only the third time in program history. Leading scorer Jazmin Ponce has moved on, so Wildcats will be looking at Alexandra Doller to pick up the slack.
Oregon State (6-12-2/4-6-1)
Oregon State only returns four starters from last year’s squad, which means there will quite a few new faces in orange this season. The Beavers lost their starting goalkeeper and the leading scorer from last season. The 13-player freshman class is going to need to step up immediately.
The Trojans stole McAlpine from Washington State and then secured the transfer of Reilly Parker from North Carolina. Parker is a tremendous talent who should help immediately, but the squad might need some time before it’s ready to really contend with its cross-town rivals.
Ducks head coach Kat Mertz has preached about a changing environment in Eugene. Last season did not put the results in the right place, but the coaching staff believes in the process to building a solid foundation for the program. This fall should be a good barometer with nine starters back and a recruiting class with the fingerprints of the new coaching staff on it.