Eyeing repeat, women’s soccer prepares for national title defense

first_imgMatt Karatsu | Daily TrojanBefore current head coach Keidane McAlpine arrived at USC in 2014, the women’s soccer program was experiencing a downturn. The team had not compiled a winning record since 2010, and McAlpine knew there would be no quick, easy fix to right the ship. So the former Washington State coach instituted a three-year plan to change the program’s trajectory and bring it back to national prominence. Three years later, the Trojans enter 2017 as the defending national champions, having beaten West Virginia 3-1 in last season’s College Cup Final. McAlpine called his shot and watched it go in, but now a new question emerges: What happens next? “We’re back at square one a little bit having graduated quite a few of our impact players,” McAlpine said. “We have to go back to the beginning and make sure that the lessons that we learned over the last three years are not forgotten. But at the same time, we’re not at the beginning in the sense that we’ve had some unbelievable experiences over the last three years that current players can now use as fuel.” Back in January, five USC players were selected in the National Women’s Soccer League Draft — the most out of any school. The Trojans lost stalwarts such as midfielder Morgan Andrews, who was taken third overall by the Boston Breakers. Andrews was the team’s top goal scorer last season and a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, which honors the top player in Division I soccer.The Trojans also bid farewell to striker Katie Johnson, whose two goals in the national championship game propelled the team over West Virginia. Reigning Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year Sammy Jo Prudhomme moved on to the NWSL as well after recording a stellar 15 shutouts in 25 games in 2016. Defender Kayla Mills, a three-time All-Pac-12 First Team honoree, and 2016 Pac-12 Defender of the Year Mandy Freeman now ply their trade for Sky Blue FC.While the NWSL Draft may have highlighted the program’s vitality, it also signaled a new challenge for McAlpine: He now has to replace players who have anchored the team since he first arrived.“This team is just going to be different,” McAlpine said. “I think, on last year’s team, we had some brilliant individual performances. This year’s group is going to share the ball a little bit more, [be] quicker and have to rely on the unit a lot more to get things done. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — I think it’s going to be a great thing.” Without many of last year’s star players, the Trojans will need some newer faces to emerge and fill the void. McAlpine expects junior Leah Pruitt and redshirt senior Alex Anthony to step into larger roles this fall spearheading the USC attack.McAlpine also highlighted senior midfielder Sydney Sladek and junior defender Ally Prisock, who will provide veteran leadership behind the forwards.Last year, USC’s hallmark was its suffocating style of play. The team led the Pac-12 in virtually every defensive category, even recording more shutouts (six) than goals conceded (five) in conference play. The Trojans return two defenders — Prisock and sophomore Julia Bingham — from last year’s group, but they also have the unenviable task of replacing Prudhomme. Her likely successor, senior Julia Murphy, has played just five games in her career. In the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Trojans often relied on superior defensive play when they were unable to produce goals (USC scored just three goals in the four games leading up to the final). With a new and inexperienced goalkeeper, the team may not have the same luxury this year. However, Anthony returns to spearhead a revamped Trojan attack. Perhaps now the highest profile member of the roster, the former Maryland transfer was tied for first on the team with 10 goals last season. “Last year she transferred and there was still an adjustment period,” McAlpine said. “To have a 10-goal season in an adjustment year is pretty impressive. But I think now there’s a bit more familiarity, and as a senior [she’s] hungrier.” Three years after McAlpine arrived at USC, the women’s soccer program has now returned to the national spotlight. Unlike in the recent past, the team will no longer slip under the radar, as they enter this year ranked No. 3 in the nation in the preseason coaches’ poll. Despite the program’s new stature, its goals remain largely the same. “As much as we’d like to be champions, we set our sights on getting better every week,” McAlpine said. “And you want to be top three in the Pac-12 to give yourself a chance to be seeded in the NCAA Tournament and then make a run. We just try to get better every day and get to the small goals. And if we do enough of it, we’ll put ourselves in position at the end.”last_img