Santa Clara faces a familiar foe in the NCAA tournament
THE SANTA CLARA
November 10, 2016
For the second straight year, Santa Clara women’s soccer drew the Long Beach State 49ers at home in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Broncos narrowly defeated Long Beach 1-0.
Santa Clara enters the tournament ranked #37 overall in RPI after finishing the season with a record of 9-6-4, while the 49ers sit ten spots lower at #47 with a 10-6-4 record.
The Broncos earned the higher ranking for their incredible strength of schedule this season, the hardest in the country. Santa Clara faced nine teams that are now in the NCAA tournament, finishing a respectable 2-3-4 in those difficult games.
“We’ve played nine games that are going to be exactly like the game we are going to play on Saturday,” said Head Coach Jerry Smith. “That experience has helped us grow as a team and deal with those pressure moments.”
Santa Clara’s most impressive win of the season was a 3-2 OT victory at home against USC, who finished the year ranked #6 in RPI. Coincidentally, Long Beach also beat USC this year by a score of 1-0 at home as well.
Long Beach has a potent offense, scoring 30 goals on the year. They feature Ashley Gonzales, who has scored 11 goals on the season.
“They are a very good attacking team,” Smith said. “Anytime you have a doubledigit goal scorer, that’s fantastic.”
The strength for the Broncos all season has been their defense, with a back line anchored by two second-team All-WCC recipients, junior Kellie Peay and freshman Gudrun Arnardottir. Santa Clara will need to continue its defensive prowess to stop the high-powered 49er attack.
For a team that has struggled to score during stretches of the season, two of the Broncos forwards have gotten hot at the right time.
All-WCC Jordan Jesolva and first-year All-WCC Maddie Gonzalez have scored the last four goals in Santa Clara’s three most recent games, two apiece.
Having the whole team healthy has returned Santa Clara to their scoring ways. Many of the Broncos, including Gonzalez, have suffered from lingering injuries lasting much of the season.
“It’s wonderful to have a healthy team,” Smith said. “We have a fairly experienced group, and a group that is playing their best soccer right now.”
Having home field advantage may be just as important as a healthy squad. It certainly played a role in last year 1-0 tournament win over Long Beach.
“Playing at home was probably the difference in the game,” Smith said. “It was a tight game that could have gone either way.”
On Saturday, the Broncos will look to utilize their home-field advantage to propel them to a second-round matchup with #1 overall seed Stanford, heavily favored in their first tournament game vs. Houston Baptist. Santa Clara would love another shot at the Cardinals after suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in Palo Alto earlier this season, including a potentially game-tying shot from Jesolva that rung off the crossbar.
But first they must take care of Long Beach. The match will be held at Stevens Stadium this Saturday, Nov. 12 at 1:00 p.m.
Contact Bo Kendall at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.