Having already navigated one of the more challenging nonconference schedules in program history, the Cal Poly women’s soccer team shifts its focus this week to an eight-game stretch that will determine its postseason fate.
The Mustangs bring a 4-2-5 record into their Big West Conference opener at 4 p.m. Thursday against UC Davis at Aggie Soccer Field. Pegged as the preseason favorite to win the Big West championship, Cal Poly has played to a draw in its past three matches against preseason top-25 teams Cal, BYU and Pepperdine.
“We’ve been getting better every week,” 24th-year head coach Alex Crozier said. “But I think the fact that we’ve tied our last three games — even though they’re against good teams — there’s a little bit of frustration. So they’re still pretty hungry, which is good.”
The Mustangs’ only losses have come against No. 3-ranked Virginia, last year’s national runner-up, and sixth-ranked Stanford during an eight-day stretch.
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A three-game winning streak followed the loss against the Cardinal, with Cal Poly outscoring those three opponents 10-2. Since then, the Mustangs have gone to double overtime before tying No. 23 Cal (0-0), BYU (1-1) and Pepperdine (1-1).
“That’s not enough for us,” senior goalkeeper Alyssa Giannetti said. “Seeing that we can hold our own and we’re getting opportunities to score and not putting those away is pretty disappointing.
“When it comes down to it, we need to finish those opportunities, especially in conference when every game is so valuable.”
Giannetti again has been the anchor of Cal Poly’s cohesive defense.
She leads the Big West in saves (65) and save percentage (.878) and her six-save performance in a shutout against the Golden Bears earned Giannetti Big West Conference defensive player of the week accolades Sept. 21.
Since making her first start as a true freshman in 2012, Giannetti has never missed a game — a string of 69 consecutive starts — and has proven to be one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the country.
She enters Thursday’s match against a much-improved UC Davis team having played 6,329 minutes in her career, which is the sixth-highest total in goal of any active player among 332 Division I schools.
“As a team, if you’re going to be good, your keeper needs to be solid defensively but also needs to come up with big saves now and again,” Crozier said. “… She’s everything we hoped she would be this year.”
An early ankle injury to three-time first-team all-conference forward Elise Krieghoff forced Cal Poly’s go-to scoring threat to miss two games. She put away any doubts of the injury potentially lingering with a standout showing this past weekend.
In scoring one goal apiece against BYU and Pepperdine, Krieghoff was selected as the Big West Conference offensive player of the week for the ninth time in her career. No player in the 20-year history of the conference has earned the weekly honor more than Krieghoff.
A goal on Thursday would be the 50th of Krieghoff’s career.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle for her because every time we do step on the field there’s one or two players kind of in her shorts, just on her all the time,” Crozier said. “So she’s got to deal with that. But she wants to play at the next level professionally after this season, so it’s a challenge for her.”
Freshman forward Caitlyn Kreutz has been able to alleviate some of the scoring burden with a team-high five goals on 17 shots. Kreutz and Krieghoff were prep teammates at Buchanan High in Clovis, and that relationship has benefited the young forward early in her college career.
“I kind of knew how she played,” Kreutz said. “(If) she was that good her senior year (of high school), I can’t imagine how good she was going to be her senior year of college.
“Obviously it’s Elise, she’s crazy good.”
Junior forward Megan Abutin has continued to facilitate offensively and leads the team with three assists to go with three goals.
Last season, Abutin tied the school record with 18 assists, the ninth-best mark in the country.
All three forwards will need to be effective against a resurgent UC Davis team.
The Aggies are 7-3-1 and tied with UC Santa Barbara for the second-best record among Big West teams. The six goals UC Davis has allowed are the fewest in the conference, and freshman goalkeeper Alexis Smith has collected seven shutouts, one away from setting the program record.
“You go into a battle in every game you play and not a lot of conferences are like that,” Giannetti said.
“It’s like a coin toss who’s going to be in the top four going into the (Big West) tournament. Just who can stay consistent and keep improving as the games go by,” Giannetti said.