A number of challenges await the 1997 Washington State women's soccer squad, but none as bold as the challenge set by the team itself. The Cougars have their sights set on securing a spot among the 32-team NCAA Tournament field.
"Our players understand that a trip to the NCAA Tournament can become a reality this season," said head coach Lisa Gozley, who in 1994 took the Cougars to their only postseason appearance. "They've exercised tons of patience in the past two years and believe that now their time has come."
Twelve letterwinners return from last year's 8-7-2 Cougar squad that knocked off two top 20 opponents, tied Final Four participant Santa Clara on the road and narrowly missed an NCAA bid.
The roster is loaded with experienced players. Seven of the nine starters back have been in the regular lineup at least two full seasons. And joining the dozen returnees are four true freshmen and one transfer.
"The thing I love about this team is how much adversity they've overcome," Gozley said, referring to her squad's ability to rebound from the 4-13-1 showing in 1995. "There is a tremendous amount of strength pooled together on this team. When the players step on the field now, they are survivors, and they understand they couldn't have done it without each other."
That resiliency showed a year ago, especially on defense, as the Cougars posted the finest defensive numbers in school history. That unit will again be asked to shut down opponent attacks.
Other challenges presented by Gozley were of a more personal nature, especially to members of the Cougar offensive attack. Scoring opportunities increased last season, but the Cougars managed to put the ball in the goal just 19 times.
"The message that we're sending is that we have enough talent to be scoring goals," said WSU's fourth-year coach. "Production is going to be the bottom line. Those who produce will remain on the field. I've never sat a player who is scoring goals."
Washington State's 18-match schedule offers top out-of-region competition, as well as battles with traditional western powers, to provide the Cougars an opportunity to springboard into postseason.
The Cougars collide with five foes that advanced to the 1996 NCAA Tournament. Santa Clara will visit Pullman in mid-September. WSU also battles Minnesota of the Big Ten, Kentucky of the SEC and Pac-10 regulars Stanford and Washington - all on the road.
-- Lisa Gozley, head coach
"We've had to make the sacrifice of going to our opponents and playing on their home fields this fall," said Gozley, who noted WSU gets the return games at home in 1998 when the majority of Cougars will be seniors. "We are talented enough to handle a schedule like this, succeed and get into the tournament."
Washington State has plenty of depth up front with a number of talented returners and newcomers. Competition will be fierce among the strikers and Gozley will be looking for that right combination come August.
"We're going to look for the people who work best together and who can get us on the board," Gozley said.
Junior Amy Chippendale moves to the front line after playing most of her first two seasons at sweeper and in the midfield. She was the third leading scorer last season with three goals and one assist.
"Chip is our most creative striker and it's time for her to be a true striker," said Gozley. "We know she can finish scoring opportunities."
The Cougars also return fifth-year seniors Tina Walsh and Jen Croft.
Walsh is WSU's active leading scorer with 11 career goals and four game winners. She tied for the team lead in scoring a year ago with three goals and two assists.
"Walsh has quick feet and has the ability to beat people one v. one," Gozley said.
Numerous injuries have limited Croft (she's played in just six contests since 1994). Gozley notes that Croft will still be an intense leader for the Cougars.
The newcomers include junior transfer Denise Cooke and freshmen Deka DeWitt and Karli Silveira.
Cooke, who came to WSU last spring from Kansas, led the Jayhawks in scoring in 1995 with six goals.
The 1997 season marks the first time that soccer sisters will play together for WSU. Deka DeWitt, the younger sister of Cougar senior Shalli, is called "a pure goal scorer" by Gozley. Deka, of Fife High (Auburn, Wash.), was the starting forward for the F.C. Royals U-17 squad that won the 1996 national championship.
Silveira scored more than 25 goals for her Del Mar (Calif.) High team last year. Gozley compares her to Walsh on the basis of work rate and effort.
Most Cougar attacks will originate in the midfield, according to Gozley, particularly from the flanks. The biggest concern Gozley addressed during spring ball was to define the roles of the midfielders, especially juniors Kimberly Schelpf and Randi Glas on the outside.
"It was a matter of Kim and Randi understanding that they are two of the fastest people on the field," said Gozley. "Their role is to get behind defenses and create scoring opportunities again and again. That's something they really haven't done until this past spring."
Their hard work in spring paid off. Schelpf improved her one v. one skills while Glas, who is strong enough to crack a shot from 30 yards, honed her shooting technique and accuracy.
Center responsibilities will likely fall to Shalli DeWitt, WSU's most technically gifted player.
"Shalli's real strengths lay in her ability to keep control of the ball in traffic and provide service," said Gozley, who challenged DeWitt in the final third of last season. Shalli responded with a pair of goals on the road.
Another move could be the addition of sophomore Christina Pallan to the midfield. Pallan started all 17 games as a defender in 1996.
"Christina can help us offensively in a big way coming out of the midfield," said Gozley, which in turn could help ease the pressure on DeWitt.
Cooke or Silveira could also see playing time in the midfield.
The nucleus of Washington State's record-setting defense which allowed only 16 goals returns from a year ago.
Headlining the list of returners is sophomore Meagin Donovan who started all 17 matches at marking back. Donovan built a reputation as a physical, dominating defender who won most every ball in the air. She was the only frosh named to WSU's Lanzera All-Tournament team (which included Montana, Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee).
"Donovan plays the game the way it is suppose to be played," said Gozley. "She competes for every ball whether it's pickup, practice, whatever."
Junior Lynsey Coffey, who started every match last year, is penciled in at stopper. She did an excellent job shutting down opponents, including Portland's All-America Justi Baumgardt in a close 2-0 loss. Coffey also played the majority of the season with a broken nose.
"Lynsey is the emotional leader of this team," Gozley said. "Players respect Lynsey and look to her for guidance."
Freshman Kerie Baker, a former Parade Magazine All-America pick, will likely join Donovan as the other marking back. The All-State pick from Borah High (Boise, Idaho) may also move to sweeper if Pallan makes the move to the midfield.
Another solid defender that will see plenty of time at marking back is junior Sarah Privette. A back (nerve) injury kept her out of several early matches last season, then a hamstring pull hindered her playing time during the spring. A healthy Privette can provide a real boost on defense.
"Injuries slowed Sarah down, but she's healthy again," Gozley said. "She has great anticipation and can come forward with the ball."
Jessica Glazer, a Pac-10 All-Conference second team pick in 1996, was in goal every minute of every match for the Cougars. Her goals against average of 0.89 broke the previous best of 0.98 set by the 1994 NCAA Tournament squad and ranked fifth in the NCAA West Region.
"There is no doubt Jess is one of the top goalkeepers in the country," said Gozley.
Senior Tammy Cotie is back after she used a redshirt year in 1996.
"Talk about paying your dues and being unselfish to the program," Gozley spoke of her fifth-year keeper. "Her ability has improved every single year."
"People always talk about Jess' success, but Tammy helped her achieve it."
New to the crew is freshman Rebecca Faulkner, a physical 5-foot-9 player from Liberty High (Brentwood, Calif.) who Gozley feels can develop into a quality goalkeeper within a short period of time.