The Cal Poly women’s soccer team could have used Carrie Andrews last season.
The Mustangs finished with a 14-5-1 record, a regular season Big West Conference (7-1-0) championship and ended the year with a shootout loss in the conference tournament final against UC Santa Barbara.
There’s no telling how much better things could have gone with the reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year on the field.
Still, Cal Poly might be glad to have Andrews — a senior who was forced to redshirt while improving her academic standing at Cuesta College last year — even more this season.
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Despite having three of their top four goal scorers back, the Mustangs are deciding between two first-year starters in goal and inexperienced defenders on the back line.
Her talents might just be more appreciated on a developing defense.
“She’s huge,” Cal Poly head coach Alex Crozier said. “When she’s on the field, players play better. They want to play better because she’s on the field. It will make a big difference.”
That certainly hasn’t excused Andrews from the academic issues that landed her in this position.
She is positive, however, that she has learned a valuable lesson from the experience.
“It was definitely the hardest hurdle I’ve ever had to overcome,” Andrews said. “Soccer is my life, and I always put that first. I never realized you have to have a balance in your life. So I took care of it, did my duties. I’m back on the team. I’m here to hustle and hopefully do better than I did two years ago.
“I’m not a captain this year, but I’m definitely going to set an example as a role model and a loud presence.”
After sitting out a 3-2 exhibition victory over NAIA Azusa Pacific, Andrews made her season debut in Sunday’s 7-0 season-opening loss to No. 3 UCLA, during which she played 40 minutes off the bench.
Considering how the Mustangs hung tough in a 2-1 loss to No. 4 Stanford in last year’s opener, it was a discouraging start for a defense that may need to jell quickly in order to reproduce the success of 2009.
Cal Poly has four matches before its next major test, a Sept. 10 date with defending national champion North Carolina at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs’ first home match will be Sept. 3 against San Jose State.
The scoring punch is expected to be there.
Senior forward Morgan Miller is back after tying for the team lead with five goals and four assists. Junior Tiffany Gummow has been rotating in more on defense, but she also had five goals last year.
Sophomore speedster Cici Kobinski had four goals as a freshman, and sophomore Bianca Burright could join her among the team leaders. Burright had two goals in the exhibition against Azusa Pacific after scoring one goal and passing for five assists last season.
Former San Luis Obispo High star Afton Thulin, a junior, also started at forward against UCLA and could be looking to have a breakout season.
The end results still could depend on a defense that lost senior keeper Coral Hoover, who had a 0.57 goals-against average and tallied 11 shutouts last season, and senior defender Julianne Grinstead, who also chipped in with four goals.
Brooke Gauvin started in goal against UCLA, giving up the first six scores. Gauvin also lost the three games she started early last year. Johanna Pfeiffer gave up the final goal against the Bruins after subbing in at the half.
“Our biggest thing that we need to work on is communication,” Andrews said, “and I think I can help bring that and organizations. We’re all physical, and we’re all tactically strong. It’s just all about working out the little kinks and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”