Tonight’s 6 p.m. West Coast Conference women’s soccer game between the host Toreros and Santa Clara is the regular-season finale and senior night for six USD players, but the game is also going to be televised live nationally on ESPNU and a win over the Broncos will give USD at least a share of the program’s first-ever WCC championship.
“It would be a life-changing thing and it would carry me throughout my life knowing how hard we worked and that it paid off,” said senior midfielder and Industrial and Systems Engineering major Elissa Magracia (pictured, at left) on the importance of finishing her USD career as a conference champion.
The Toreros bring a 6-1-0 conference mark into the game against the Broncos (6-0-1), who can also claim the WCC title with a win over USD or a tie and a Pepperdine loss today against University of San Francisco. The Toreros earn a share of the title with a win over Santa Clara and can be outright champions with a Pepperdine loss to USF.
The scenarios, of course, will play out as they do and that’s fine. The focus, anyway, this week for USD Coach Ada Greenwood and all players, including Magracia, senior striker Stephanie Ochs and senior defender Natalie Garcia, who played for Mexico’s National Team in the recent Women’s World Cup, has been on solid practices, strategizing for Santa Clara, and mentally preparing for what will be an emotionally charged night.
“Everyone’s so excited right now and we can’t wait to get out on the field,” said Ochs, a psychology major who leads USD with eight goals and has eight assists. “To the seniors, this means so much because it’s the last for sure home game and we want to go all out. I know I’ll love being out on the field and playing like I always do, but even more so because we’re playing for the title.”
That the Toreros are in a position to play for the WCC championship demonstrates their desire.
“We underachieved in nonconference play but we had one of the top 15 schedules in the nation,” Greenwood said. “But that may also be the reason why we’re playing for everything we are right now.”
The Toreros, 11-7-0 overall, split four games in its own early-season tournament and had a stretch where they lost five in a row, including the WCC opener at Pepperdine.
The Toreros come in with a six-game win streak since the 1-0 loss Oct. 6 to Pepperdine. It was there in Malibu, Calif., where a post-game team meeting “hashed out a lot of things,” he said.
“There was a different vibe. Players called each other out and told them they needed to play at a higher level. That can be tough to hear from another friend, but they expected nothing but the best from each other and, more importantly, from themselves. It set a good tone. We won the next game and it grew from there.”
Highlights of the streak include a road win against longtime nemesis Portland — USD’s 2-1 decision on Oct. 14 snapped a nine-year losing skid to the Pilots — and a 1-0 triumph at WCC newcomer Brigham Young University on Oct. 29.
“We’ve had our ups and downs in nonconference, but we’ve picked it up, pulled together and I couldn’t be happier with where we’re at,” Magracia said. “Everything we’ve been through has gotten us here. We just need to finish this game and get the championship.”
Greenwood, who has a 93-69-16 record and six NCAA Tournament appearances in his ninth year as head coach, said tonight’s game is about his team playing to its potential.
“If we execute our game plan we’ll have a very good chance,” he said. “This is a very talented team. We have a great back four, a great goalie, dynamic midfielder, one of the best players up front in the country in Stephanie and we have a lot of good players around her. We have the intangibles to play with anyone at any time and to beat anyone at any time.”
Seniors share Greenwood’s optimism. Ochs, Magracia, Garcia and the other seniors have the most to play for; they know the window on a college championship could close tonight. They cherish being a member of the women’s soccer program and they each equated this team to that of a close-knit family.
“I feel our team has been working really hard and to make it to this point means so much with this group of girls,” said Garcia, a business administration major. “Being a Torero, to me, isn’t just about the name of the school or location, but it’s the family I know I have here. There’s a bond, a connection, with this group. We’re basically like sisters. I know I’ll be keeping the relationships I’ve built here for the rest of my life.”
Should the program’s first conference championship come tonight, that permanent relationship will have something else to forever savor.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of USD Athletics