Alex Crozier is the only coach Cal Poly women’s soccer has ever known, and he’s positive tonight is the biggest nonconference match in the Mustangs’ history.
“This is probably the best team we will have ever played in my 19 years here,” said Crozier, a four-time Big West Conference coach of the year who also earned that same national distinction at the Division II level in 1993.
Simply, it doesn’t matter who you are in collegiate women’s soccer, no list of accolades surpasses that of No. 1 North Carolina (4-0-1), which will face off with Cal Poly (3-2) at Alex G. Spanos Stadium tonight at 7.
The Tar Heels are two-time defending national champions and have won three of the past four. If their 20 overall national titles doesn’t surprise you, surely the number that they haven’t won will.
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There are only eight NCAA Women’s College Cups out there that don’t belong to North Carolina. The Tar Heels took every title from 1986 to 1994, and head coach Anson Dorrance — the program’s only head coach since its inception in 1979 — has never gone more than two seasons without winning the national championship.
“They’ve won so many national championships, I don’t want to think this way, but it’s almost like an untouchable thing,” Cal Poly senior forward Whitney Sisler said. “But they get beat at least once every year, and they haven’t been beat yet this year.”
Pulling off the upset would be a huge accomplishment for the Mustangs, whose best chance to score may rest with Sisler, the latest in what looks to be a pipeline of high- kicking high jumpers.
After scoring just four combined goals in her first three years on campus, Sisler — who advanced to the NCAA finals in the high jump last spring — has exploded for four in her first five games this season.
She has half of the team’s total on her own and in only 10 shots.
The scoring bursts are something she, as well as Crozier, expected to come earlier in her career after signing out of La Costa Canyon High in Carlsbad.
“We saw her originally, and she was pretty close to being developed, but for some reason or another, injuries or little things would hold her back, and they aren’t holding her back anymore.
“It was partly mental, maybe over thinking things before … Now, she’s having fun. She’s playing a little looser, and just going for it, and I think that’s making the difference.”
If Sisler continues to lead the team in goals, it will be the fourth time in seven years that distinction has been held by a two-sport track and field athlete. Former NCAA high jump champion and 2008 Olympian Sharon Day was the leading scorer in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
Whereas Day signed with the Cal Poly track team and then began playing both sports, Sisler was just the opposite, but the chance to play both is what swung her toward the Mustangs.
With offers on the table from Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara, USC and Boston College, Crozier was the only coach who was positive he would allow Sisler to run track, Day’s earlier success perhaps blazing the trail.
“That was an eye-opener for Whitney, and I think it was one of the things that attracted Whitney to Cal Poly,” Crozier said, “being able to train with Sharon on the track and play with her on the soccer field as well.
“If there’s a track-soccer athlete or something similar, we definitely don’t throw it in the trash because you never know.”
North Carolina on the other hand can be much more selective about its recruits. With a roster dotted with players from all across the nation, the Tar Heels regularly produce players that go on to play for the national team, most notably the most decorated women’s soccer player of all-time, Mia Hamm.
Only four players on the North Carolina roster are from in-state. At Cal Poly, only two players aren’t from California.
The Tar Heels’ leading scorer is freshman Kealia Ohai, a forward from Draper, Utah, who’s a concurrent member of both the under-18 and under-20 U.S. national team player pools.
Their starting goalkeeper is Anna Sieloff, a freshman from Troy, Mich., who’s in the under-18 player pool.
But it’s hardly a two-player show. Enduring North Carolina’s pressing, frenzied style — which is sustained through liberal substitution patterns — is compared by opponents to an attempt to survive exposure to a tornado.
“They’re going to be moving the entire time,” Sisler said, “and we’re just going to have to keep them under control, not let it get blown out of proportion, just kind of keep it small and try to find balls through.
“If we do everything the way coach has been telling us to do it, we have a really great chance. I really want to upset them. We’ve been given a great opportunity.”