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Cal Bears could be sleeper of conference

Published: August 18, 2010
This continues our series of daily articles previewing each men's and women's college conference. All the conference previews can be found here.

Put plainly, there was no better conference in the country last season. The Pac-10 sent eight women’s programs to the NCAA Tournament and sent more than a few players to the professional level.

It’ll be another highly competitive year on the west coast. Here’s how it plays out:

It’s always a long offseason for the NCAA runner-up. I mean, how many ways can a program improve after falling one match short of delivering a national title? Probably not many, but that won’t stop the Stanford Cardinal from trying.

womens college soccer playerLauren Barnes (UCLA)
Last year’s Conference Player of the Year Kelley O’Hara has graduated but striker Christen Press will lead a group oozing with talent. Defender Rachel Quon and midfielder Mariah Nogueira excelled as freshmen in 2009 and will only be better this season.  Throw in a litany of other studs like Alina Garciamendez, Lindsay Taylor and Camille Levin, and you have a program that has narrowed its options down to two:

Championship or bust.

The goal of UCLA’s offseason was much more defined than maybe any other team in the Pac-10. In short, they needed to figure out a way to beat Stanford. The Bruins run to the NCAA semifinals was cut short by a loss to their conference rival and this season that roadblock won’t get any easier.

In more bad news, UCLA lost its best play-maker Lauren Cheney as well as another one of its top attackers in Kristen Larsen. But they do still have Sydney Leroux, who dominated the conference with 23 goals last season. Senior Lauren Barnes is another integral holdover.

Much will depend on UCLA’s youth, however. How will fabulous 2009 freshmen Zakiya Bywaters and Chelsea Cline develop, and which fresh face will make a major impact. Top recruit Jenna Richmond, maybe? Time will tell.

The underdog Washington State Cougars are expected to take a step back this season after a nice run in last year’s NCAA tournament. The main reason for muted expectations is the departure of the team’s two best offensive players last year – Kiersten Dallstream and Carly Dobratz.

Who will step up to fill their production this season? Well, the Cougars are hoping their defense will help fill the void. Returning goalkeeper Meghan Berlingo is one of the best in the conference, and freshman Mariah Cameron showed great promise on the backline last season. Hopefully those pluses can help absorb the glaring minuses.

The USC Trojans are a team on the climb. Samantha Johnson was one of the more polished freshmen in the Pac-10 in 2009 and she should be better than ever. Her classmate Courtney Garcia was another dangerous attacker

womens college soccer playerAlyssa Davila (USC). Photo by USC Media Relations.
In terms of upperclassmen leadership, senior Alyssa Davila is the team’s leading scorer and senior Megan Ohai is another stabilizer. The Trojans have a good mix and play with great balance across the board, something that will serve them well in 2010.

The Washington Huskies lost a good deal of their offensive talent including, Veronica Perez and Nikki Murray. Senior McKenna Waitley and junior midfielder Kate Deines will be two of the leaders in charge of inspiring some offense.

The defense will feature some quality returners including Hannah Greig and goalkeeper Kari Davidson. How many wins will that add up to? Maybe not enough to reach another NCAA tournament.

In some ways, the hope of the Oregon State Beavers rests on the shoulders of a player who started just one match last year. Chelsea Buckland, as a freshman, managed to lead the program in scoring and enliven an offense that desperately needed a shot in the arm.

Defenders Brittany Galindo and Jayne Eadie will be important as OSU tries to establish more consistency in 2010.
Locker room turmoil, with a coach situation that was tenuous at times, certainly affected the program’s ability to perform at the highest level in 2009. But with things more defined at the top this time around, California is a team that could make a move closer to the head of the conference.

Senior Alex Morgan is a proven and dangerous scorer who is joined by core performers Katrin Omarsdottir and Danielle Brunache, on the defensive side. The Bears are capable of playing with anyone and could be the sleeper of the Pac-10.

Arizona State, Oregon and Arizona round out this deep and competitive conference.  Renae Cuellar and Alexandra Elston are two players who highlight the Arizona schools while Oregon’s Scout Libke is a young talent to keep an eye on.
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