Aug. 23, 2002
The focus of the 2002 Washington State soccer team is on returning to the NCAA Tournament, and head coach Dan Tobias believes his team has the talent, experience, and depth to accomplish that feat for the second time in three years.
"Our goal is to establish ourselves as a team that is perennially in the NCAA Tournament," Tobias said. "The good thing is, during my tenure, this will be our most experienced team." The Cougars return seven starters and 16 letterwinners who have a combined 275 career matches started under their belts. The team also features eight players who competed in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
"Our experience gives us the appropriate reference point," Tobias said. "This group understands the focus and commitment that will be needed to be successful."
Headlining the list of returnees is senior midfielder Katrina Stroh. This season, the Federal Way, Wash., native, will add another title after her name: captain. Stroh is already third on WSU's all-time points list, but will be called on for more than scoring goals in 2002.
"Katrina has demonstrated great commitment to the program, especially this past spring, and we believe she will be an outstanding leader," Tobias said. "Captaining allows her leadership qualities to leap into the forefront and that makes our team better."
Helping to offset the loss of departed seniors Beth Childs and Liz Duncan will be four juniors who have started all 37 matches in their Cougar careers. Forward Rachel Rodrick, midfielder Kim Morgan, and defenders Mariette Boyce and Shay Hobby have combined to start 148 matches and score 52 points. Rodrick and Morgan join Stroh as 2002 team captains, while Boyce and Hobby provide WSU with a rock solid tandem in front of goal.
"We have the luxury of great experience in the back with Shay Hobby, Mariette Boyce, and Niki Ironside. They have grown and matured so much and it shows, both on and off the field," Tobias said. "In the midfield, we also have a great core of center midfielders led by Kim Morgan, Christie Spear, Jenna Wirtz, and Cailan McCutchan," Tobias said.
Rodrick is already No. 7 on WSU's all-time point list with 31, including 19 in 2001. The University Place, Wash., native, is entering her second season as team captain.
"A good way to describe Rachel is a leader by example. She does everything the right way," Tobias said. "As a leader, she does a lot of things that you may not notice. She looks after her teammates. She does things that keep the group close together and has done a great job growing and maturing."
Sophomore Christie Spear rounds out the list of returning starters. Spear had a promising freshman season cut short by injury, competing in only nine of 17 matches, but is expected to be back at 100 percent for the start of the 2002 campaign.
"The key is that she has done everything the doctors and trainers have asked her to do and I think that is why she came back so strong. She is a very creative, free-flowing, attacking player and we are always impressed with how well she finds people in front of the goal. We are excited about bringing that dimension back to the team."
"The coaching staff is very confident in this year's group of goalkeepers," Tobias said. "We not only have excellent goalkeepers, but we have one of the best keeper trainers in Curtis McAlister. Under his tutelage, all three (Sara Leibowitz, Katie Hultin, and Meghan Miller) have made great strides.
"Sara Leibowitz comes into the preseason as the number one goalkeeper. We said from the start that she is an extremely athletic, gifted student-athlete and I think she will do great. We are very confident," Tobias said.
Leibowitz, a 5-11 junior, has given the coaching staff and her teammates reason for optimism with the limited opportunities she received to shine the last two seasons. Leibowitz is 4-1 as a starter with a 0.89 goals against average. Redshirt freshman Katie Hultin could also see playing time.
Washington State should also be bolstered by transfer Nicole Wilcox from Iowa State. Wilcox knocked in 13 goals and added nine assists in two seasons at ISU, leading the Cyclones in scoring each year. Connecticut transfer Shelby Brownfield was slated to join the Cougars for the 2002 season, but was injured this summer playing for the Seattle Sounders.
"The advantage for them (Wilcox and Brownfield) and for our team was that they were able to come in the spring," Tobias said. "They got acclimated to school, which was the main priority, and they got acclimated to the team. They made a pretty smooth transition. They are top-notch players and they will fit in with the team, on the field and off."
Aside from experience, depth will be another important factor for WSU in the run toward the postseason. The Cougars were riddled by injuries in 2001, which allowed several freshmen to stop into the lineup and contribute immediately.
Sophomores Cailan McCutchan, Megan Cecchini, Keegan Hughes, and Sara Silver-Hill all started between two and eight matches last season and should battle for positions in the starting lineup this season. Fellow freshmen Tiffany Taylor and Kara Jordan combined to play in 21 matches and should be valuable contributors in the rotation again this season.
Tobias welcomes five freshmen to the Cougar soccer family this fall. Washington products Carmen Anderson of Kennewick, Jennie Kunc of Maple Valley, and Haley Miller of Yakima join Wilsonville, Ore., standout Alix Rustrum and from Las Cruces, N.M., Ashley Smith.
Anderson was a two-time most valuable player in the Big 9 Conference, while Kunc led Tahoma to the Class AAAA State title last season and is a promising defender. Miller was a three-time All-Mid Valley selection and led West Valley High School to the Class AAA State title in 2001. Rustrum scored 73 career goals with 46 assists at Wilsonville and Smith captained her club soccer team, Rio F.C., to the State title in New Mexico.
Washington State will tune up the for the 2002 season with an exhibition against Eastern Washington Aug. 24 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The regular season starts Aug. 30 against Minnesota in Missoula, Mont., at the Diadora Cup tournament.
"Everyone has worked so diligently to improve all aspects of the program and we are excited to begin what we believe will be a very successful 2002 season," Tobias said.