Landing sixth in the Big West Conference preseason poll this month was a minor shock to Cal Poly women’s soccer head coach Alex Crozier.
A four-time conference coach of the year who has captured seven Big West titles, Crozier has spent most of his previous 19 seasons with the Mustangs at or near the top of the standings.
Going into today’s season opener at Cincinnati, Crozier is primed for a return to the top, even if his coaching peers might not be expecting much.
“We’ll learn a lot this weekend,” said Crozier, whose team will also visit Dayton on Sunday, “but I think we have the potential to win a lot of games. The coaches picked us sixth, which surprised me. But looking from the outside in, no one really knows what we have, and last year, I think we were a little off.
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“This year, we’re probably going to surprise a lot of people.”
With a goalkeeper poised to have a breakout season, an experienced mix of veteran returners and some impact freshmen ready to play right away, Crozier said it may take a couple of matches for the team to jell, but the expectations are higher than last season’s 9-9-1 record might indicate.
After her first full season as the starter, Brooke Gauvin is back in goal for her senior season. Starting in 18 games, Gauvin showed glimpses of great play, Crozier said, recording six shutout victories.
In the non-shutouts, however, Gauvin allowed 1.8 goals per game and finished the season stopping 82 percent of Mustangs opponents’ shots on goal.
In 2009, goalkeeper Coral Hoover emerged to have an MVP season in her senior year. Crozier said Gauvin is ready to break out in her final year of eligibility.
“Last year, she had some good games,” Crozier said. “We were a little inconsistent in the back, but we have a very good back four playing in front of her now, and they’re going to be able to keep us in games. And we’ve got some players that are going to be able to score some goals, too, now. It’s a good combination.”
Cal Poly lost leading scorer Whitney Sisler to graduation after Sisler scored eight of the team’s 22 goals last season.
The leading returning scorer is junior forward Bianca Burright, who had four goals and tied for the team high with three assists.
Haley Walker, a junior who scored twice last season, was the only other Mustangs player to score multiple goals in 2010, though there are others who have shown potential.
Junior forward Cici Kobinski had a breakout freshman season, scoring four goals in her first year on the team in 2009. That same season, Tiffany Gummow scored five times.
Gummow moved to defense last season. She and Kobinski scored once apiece, but Crozier is bringing Gummow back to the midfield, where she should get more scoring chances, and Kobinski remains one of the best dribblers on the team.
The scoring could also be bolstered by true freshmen Allie Begin and Sara Lancaster.
Begin scored 29 goals in her four-year varsity career at San Ramon Valley High, leading the the East Bay Athletic League in scoring and being named to the ESPN All-Area team and NCSAA/Adidas All-Regional Team.
Lancaster scored an eye-popping 50 goals and had 23 assists in three season at Galena High in Reno, Nev., where she was twice named offensive player of the year in her league.
With their successful backgrounds, Crozier hoped the freshmen would develop into quality contributors, but the coach said they’ve even out-performed the tempered expectations usually reserved for freshmen getting used to the upgrade in competition level.
“They come in and they just play,” Crozier said. “They’re not holding anything back. Often times, freshmen or new players come in and try to play safe and not make mistakes. They just get at it. They have a nose for the goal.”