Longtime Cal Poly women’s soccer coach Alex Crozier is willing to admit there were times last season when the Mustangs would differ a little too much for star forward Elise Krieghoff.
It’s not all that surprising considering Krieghoff was arguably the most talented player in program history, having scored a school-record 52 goals as a four-time first-team all-Big West Conference performer. With Krieghoff now graduated — and enjoying her rookie season with the Boston Breakers of the National Women’s Soccer League — the Mustangs will have to fill a mighty big hole in production.
“Right now, it’s more of a collective thing, and I think we’ll probably end up being a better team because of that,” said Crozier, now in his 25th season leading the Mustangs. “I think that will take us a little farther than we have in the past.”
Perhaps it’s fair to say Friday’s season opener at No. 18 Cal marks the official beginning of a new era at Cal Poly, one that Crozier hopes will be an improvement from last year’s relatively underwhelming six-win season.
Sophomore forward Caitlyn Kreutz, often the beneficiary of the defensive attention given to Krieghoff last season, steps in as the new focal point of the attack. Kreutz scored a team-high seven goals, including two game-winners, and handed out one assist on the way to earning Big West all-freshman team honors.
“I think she’s going to have a much better year,” Crozier said. “There were a lot of learning moments for her last year because everything was different. I think she kind of has an idea of what we’re looking for.”
Kreutz was nothing short of a scoring machine during her decorated prep career at Buchanan High in Clovis, the same school that produced Krieghoff and ex-Mustang Kacey Held. In leading Buchanan to four consecutive Central Section Division I titles, Kreutz tallied 67 goals and 34 assists for a team consistently ranked in the top 50 nationally.
After proving she could score at a similarly high rate in college, Kreutz received an invitation to try out for the Philippines Women’s National Team. The 5-foot-3 forward made it through three rounds of tryouts and earned her first international cap at the Southeast Asian Nations Football Federation Championship in Mandalay, Myanmar.
“When we flew to the tournament, it was absolutely unreal,” Kreutz said. “The best experience of my life.”
She played as a reserve during a 4-0 loss to Vietnam on July 28 and made her first start two days later in a 2-0 win against Singapore.
Playing overseas and navigating a language barrier was nothing new for Kreutz, whose father, Olaf, is from Germany and her mother, Rosemary, immigrated to the United States from the Philippines.
Kreutz said she frequently visited her parents’ home countries growing up and has been to Germany and the Philippines eight times each. Her first taste of international soccer was with a German regional team when she was 16.
“I hated it,” Kreutz said bluntly.
This fall, Crozier hopes to see Kreutz build off a strong on-field relationship established in the spring with fellow sophomore Stephanie Magellan. The midfielder was voted Cal Poly’s most improved player last season and spent the summer competing for the Brazilian Under-20 Women’s National Team.
Senior midfielder Megan Abutin figures to be heavily involved in the Mustangs’ attack again this year. Her 20 career assists rank No. 2 all-time at Cal Poly, and she’s five away from breaking the school record set by Kolleen Kassis in 1995.
“I think within that, there’s a good combination of players,” Crozier said. “Caitlyn is getting better at not just trying to carry the team by herself. When that starts happening and when she does start taking advantage of her opportunities, she’s going to be lethal.”
The graduation of goalkeeper Alyssa Giannetti, who played a school-record 77 matches during her career, leaves Cal Poly with a new starter between the posts.
Crozier said he has “four very talented goalkeepers” competing for the starting spot. Sophomore Brittney Viboch is coming off a redshirt year, and Fresno State transfer Domenique Banta likely will challenge for the starting spot ahead of true freshmen Sophia Brown and Rachael Haaland.
“I think as we go,” Crozier said, “it will tend to become clear.”
Cal Poly women’s soccer 2016
Last year: 6-8-5 overall, 2-6 Big West
Top returners: F Caitlyn Kreutz, MF Megan Abutin, D Kendra Bonsall
Key losses: F Elise Krieghoff, GK Alyssa Giannetti, D Robin Mertens
Season opener: 4 p.m. Friday at No. 18 Cal
Home opener: Aug. 26 vs. San Francisco