When Cal women’s soccer coach Kevin Boyd is asked about his biggest concern heading into the 2001 season, he has a hard time coming up with something he’s really worried about. But ask him about the team’s biggest strength, and an answer is immediate.
“Our attacking potential is just great,” Boyd said Tuesday. “We’ve been playing exceptionally well up front, with our attacking midfielders really doing some great work. We’re just loaded offensively.”
But although Boyd may be excited about his midfielders, the real optimism comes from having Laura Schott and Kyla Sabo up front. Schott, a junior from Wilsonville, Ore., was named first team All-America last season after leading the Pac-10 in points (47), goals (23) and game-winning goals (9). She spent the summer traveling with the U.S. under-21 national team, scoring her first international goal against Norway, and should be even more of a force this year.
“”The biggest improvement for Laura has been tactically,” Boyd said. “She reads the game better, and she’s more assertive.”
Schott needs 21 goals this year to tie the team record for career scores, held by Joy Biefield-Fawcett.
Slightly overshadowed by Schott’s breakout season was Sabo’s steady play. Starting all 21 games last season, Sabo led the team with eight assists and scored six goals. The senior works well with Schott, as six of her assists led to goals by her strike partner. She was a steadying influence up front, a nice contrast to the explosive All-American.
Boyd said he will likely play with three forwards this season, with junior Krysti Whalen and sophomore Kassie Doubrava competing for the third spot. But according to Boyd, there are even more options up front for the Bears.
“Even behind (Doubrava and Whalen) we’ve got some pretty lethal players,” he said.
Boyd is now in his fifth year with Cal, and this year’s team is the most highly regarded to start the season during his tenure. Most pre-season polls have the Bears in the top 15 nationally, with Soccerbuzz.com ranking them fifth. But that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference for the coach.
“We’re not looking at the rankings yet. Pre-season rankings don’t mean a hill of beans. It’s where you finish that matters,” Boyd said.
The biggest question marks come in the back for Boyd’s team, as four-year starting goalkeeper Maite Zabala and two starting fullbacks are gone. While the defensive slots are covered with veterans Kathleen Cain and Kim Stocklmeir, there is a fierce battle taking place for Zabala’s spot in the net, with four candidates bucking for the starting nod. Senior Gabby Ronick would seem to be the front-runner, as she was Zabala’s understudy last year, but true freshman Mallory Moser, from Branson High in Marin County, has looked impressive and could earn significant playing time.
“It was easy before, as Maite was clearly the strongest goalkeeper we had,” Boyd said. “But competition can be a very healthy thing, make everyone work even harder.”
Boyd is leaning toward playing with four fullbacks, rather than last year’s three-woman defense. Departed Tami Pivnik was a natural at sweeper, taking control over the defense and cleaning up mistakes, but none of the current defenders can fill that role. Instead, they will play a flat four in back, with sophomore Lucy Brining joining Cain, Stocklmeir and lone returning starter Ashley Mueller.
The midfield should be a strength, with junior Brittany Kirk and sophomores Kim Yokers and Ashley Valenzuela all holding onto their starting positions. The Bears lost stalwart wing Natalie Stuhlmueller, but will play with three midfielders rather than the four from last season. Kirk was third on the team with 13 points last year, including overtime game-winning goals against Missouri and USC, while the fiery Valenzuela was the team’s Freshman of the Year while starting 19 games.
But Yokers could be the best of the three this year, as Boyd considers her to be on the verge of a breakout season. An excellent defender, Yokers is much stronger this year and could control the flow of the game from her central position.
Other players who will compete for playing time in the midfield include junior Lee Ann Morton, one of the team’s fastest players, and freshman Kacy Hornor from University High in San Francisco.