Alex Crozier saw glimpses of greatness from the Cal Poly women’s soccer team at the end of last season.
With the Mustangs favored to win the Big West Conference and a talented veteran group returning, the 24th-year head coach wants to see a consistently high level of play in 2015.
“That’s kind of been our focus,” Crozier said. “How can we be great all the time?”
Cal Poly begins its season at 7 p.m. Friday against San Francisco at Negoesco Stadium, the first of four consecutive road matches to open the year. The Mustangs will play Saint Mary’s at 2 p.m. Sunday in Moraga.
The first two matches will serve as a primer for one of the most rigorous nonconference schedules Crozier has seen in his more than two decades as the program’s head coach.
Before opening Big West play in October, the Mustangs will face five teams ranked in the top 20 of the preseason national coaches poll, including three in the top 10. Cal Poly goes to No. 2 Virginia on Aug. 28, and then hosts No. 3 Stanford in the home opener Sept. 4.
Cal Poly also will host No. 18 Cal and No. 19 BYU, and close out nonconference play at No. 10 Pepperdine.
“We’re just really excited to play a nonconference schedule that’s that tough,” said Robin Mertens, part of the Mustangs’ nine-member senior class that has posted a conference-best record of 18-5-2 in Big West play the past three seasons.
Mertens is among the eight returning all-Big West performers from last year’s team that finished second to Cal State Fullerton in the final standings. The Mustangs’ season ended in the Big West conference tournament semifinals last November, falling to Long Beach State on penalty kicks.
That loss jump-started a productive offseason.
Crozier said the Mustangs “kind of changed some things culturally” knowing the 2015 season could be special. He hopes this year’s team will play with an aggressive edge and look to attack more often.
That starts up front with senior forward Elise Krieghoff, arguably the most decorated player in Cal Poly history.
Krieghoff has led the Big West in scoring three consecutive seasons, tallying a school-record 46 goals during her career. That total is tied for the third-most among all Division I players entering this season.
“Having someone like Elise automatically raises the level of play,” Mertens said. “Having someone up top like Elise to play against every day makes me better, makes the entire defense better and it makes all of us perform at our top level.
“No one wants to get beat by Elise.”
Easier said than done.
Krieghoff has earned first-team all-Big Sky honors three straight years, and was the conference’s freshman of the year in 2012 after scoring 11 times. She broke the single-season school record with 21 goals as a sophomore, a mark that stood since 1992.
She scored 14 more times as a junior.
Krieghoff said she spent the summer playing for Fresno Freeze FC of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, leading the team in goals (six) and points (13).
“That really prepared me for what we’re going to do in the fall here,” Krieghoff said. “ … It really put my body in shape and mentally it checked me into soccer mode.”
Cal Poly added eight true freshmen to the roster, a group both Mertens and Krieghoff said have fit in seamlessly. Coupled with all-conference returners Megan Abutin, Alyssa Giannetti, Kendra Bonsall, Nicole Wheeler, Emily Hansen and Giana Rosati, the Mustangs field a competitive roster from top to bottom.
“It’s not going to be, at least I don’t think, just the Elise Show,” Crozier said. “But she’s still there and she’s still dangerous. We’ll kind of see how it all goes.”
Cal Poly also hopes to take aim at the national attendance record later this season. When the Mustangs host UC Irvine on Oct. 23, which coincides with alumni and parents weekend as well as football homecoming, they hope to fill Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The national record of 10,128 fans was set last season when USC and UCLA played in the season finale at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A capacity crowd at Alex G. Spanos Stadium can fit 11,075, which would surpass the current program record by more than 8,500.