The Cal Poly women’s soccer team defied expectations when the Mustangs shrugged off a seventh-place spot in the preseason coaches’ poll to win six of their final nine matches and grab a share of second place in the Big West Conference last season.
This preseason, Cal Poly received two first-place votes in the poll but landed the fourth-place spot when votes were totaled.
“The coaches always have us feeling a little like the underdog,” senior Christina Farrington said. “We’re always placed lower than we believe that we should. We kind of look at it, not like a joke, but we definitely want to be like ‘Oh, you think we’re fourth? We’re going to finish first.’
“We like that it’s not seventh like we were last year, but we definitely want to move up. We want those rings.”
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Cal Poly has won seven Big West titles under 21-year head coach Alex Crozier, the most recently in 2009.
Led into an exhibition game against Pepperdine tonight at 7 by leading scorer and 2012 conference freshman of the year Elise Kreighoff and several other top goal scorers, the Mustangs figure to be a potent offensive team with the potential to be one of Crozier’s best.
“It’s a dynamic team, more so than we’ve had in years,” Crozier said. “If we can play to that dynamic level, it’s going to be very fun to watch and coach.”
Kreighoff is the focal point of the attack. The Clovis Buchanan High product burst on the scene in 2012 to lead the Big West with 11 goals and tally a team-high 22 points.
She said the key to her easy collegiate transition was her offseason fitness level, and Kreighoff did not rest on her laurels this offseason.
She trained with the amateur Central Coast Heat of the WPSL over the summer, anxious to get back and build upon all the team had accomplished in 2012.
She’s not worried about a spotlight that could be brighter in her second season.
“Obviously, I think when teams break our team down,” Kreighoff said, “I’m going to be a person to look for, but I don’t think necessarily I’m going to be the one they’re going to be like ‘Oh, my God. We need to defend her.’ I think this whole team as a unit is going to be hard to beat and defend.”
Said Crozier: “She’s smart, and she gets the game. She’s physically capable of pretty much doing anything she wants, and she just gets back after it.
“She’s a goal scorer, and maybe she gets what she got last year; maybe she doesn’t, but she is dangerous in the attack. Maybe what she does this year is not score all the goals but sets up all the goals.”
The Mustangs also return three of their other top four scorers from last year.
Sophomore Sarah Epps, who scored four goals and had four assists, fostered an especially productive combo setting up Kreighoff.
Junior Sarah Lancaster also had four goals, and Farrington, who moves from forward to outside back this year, scored three times.
With competition all over the field in the second week of training camp, the lineup has yet to be solidified, but even the defense, which is facing more transition than the attack, seems built to support the offense.
“What we’re talking about is defending as a team,” Farrington said, “because when you win the ball higher, you don’t have to worry about defending really far back.
“It’s actually a lot of work for every single player, but we’re doing well at it, on focusing on winning the ball up and keeping it in their half.”
The regular-season schedule kicks off with three of the first four matches at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, including the Aug. 23 opener against visiting Loyola Marymount, before a six-match road swing that includes three top-20 opponents in Baylor, Texas A&M and Santa Clara.
The Mustangs open Big West play at home against Long Beach State on Oct. 4.
“The potential of this team is way high,” Crozier said. “We have a lot of good pieces. Now, it’s a matter of all of those pieces doing the same thing together.”