Inside USD

Torero Teams Find Their Way to First Place

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

They’re the first ones to tell you that it doesn’t mean too much right now. They’ll say it’s nice, but what matters most is how you finish. That’s exactly what head coaches are supposed to say when their teams are in first place at the midway point. And they’re right.

Nonetheless, three University of San Diego fall sports teams are currently atop their respective West Coast Conference standings: women’s volleyball (8-0 WCC, 16-2 overall), men’s soccer (5-1, 7-6) and women’s soccer (3-0, 7-7). What makes it meaningful is that they’ve each had a slightly different formula for success.

Women’s Volleyball

Coach Jennifer Petrie’s volleyball team has been here before. It’s a program with seven WCC titles and 15 NCAA postseason appearances to its credit. Four more wins this season and the program will notch its 15th year with 20 or more wins. Petrie, head coach since 1999, said the long-term success is a motivating measuring stick for each new team to uphold.

“The past teams’ success has created a standard for the program,” she said. “Year in, year out, the expectation has already been set.” And this year’s Toreros? “They’re meeting them,” she said.

Ranked 13th in the national American Volleyball Coaches Assn. poll, this team is balanced blessed with depth. “Typically, we’ve had teams with one or two players leading us. This year, we’ve shown that on any given night anybody’s capable of stepping up. We’re deep, we’re healthy and a lot of players are contributing. We’re extremely hard to defend because teams can’t focus on just one or two players.”

She pointed to the senior leadership of outside hitters Carrie Baird and Amber Tatsch, libero Kandiss Anderson and middle hitter Shelby Staab. There’s also an experienced group of juniors — setter Rachel Alvey and middle hitters Chloe Ferrari and Katie Hoekman — who’ve won a WCC title and have played in the NCAA Tournament. There’s a surplus of freshman and sophomore talent, too, meaning the program’s future is bright.

The immediate future, though, is now. The Toreros play five of eight remaining WCC matches on the road and a Nov. 14 nonconference match at San Diego State. “We still have a very competitive part of the schedule ahead of us, including BYU twice,” Petrie said. “This week (Oct. 18 at San Francisco, Oct. 20 at Saint Mary’s) will be a telling week for us. When you’re undefeated, everybody wants to beat you. It would be a highlight of the season. We’ll be extremely focused, too, because the closer you get to playing for a championship, the more determined you become.”

Men’s and Women’s Soccer

A determination to succeed might best describe USD’s men and women’s soccer teams, led by coaches Seamus McFadden and Ada Greenwood, respectively. These veteran coaches know the importance of having their teams ready for anything in a sport that doesn’t always reward a better team. Both are riding winning streaks — five for the men, four for the women — amid lineup shake-ups via a system change (men) and injuries.

Seamus McFadden, the only USD men’s soccer coach in its 32-year existence, prides himself and the program on “playing soccer; aesthetically, we look good and people say they like the way we play, that it’s nice to watch. We want to play the beautiful game.”

The way USD has been playing since McFadden and his staff changed things up — recording 13 goals during the winning streak — players are adjusting to new roles, shot on goal are up and it means more scoring chances.

“When (nonconference foe Cal State) Northridge ran us off the field, 5-0, we knew something was wrong,” McFadden said. “Their coach said afterward that we’re a good team but we’re like a sleeping giant. When we wake up, look out.”

The Toreros amped up their pressure up front and players’ roles and playing time changed. It started on the road against Santa Clara and blossomed in a 3-2 win at St. Mary’s, always a tough place to play, McFadden said. Success against Portland, Gonzaga and on the road against Loyola Marymount and San Francisco has USD in a good groove.

Men’s soccer has six conference titles, 12 NCAA postseason appearances and was the 1992 NCAA national runner-up under McFadden’s direction. He knows another WCC title and a postseason berth are within reach. The Toreros have six regular-season games left, including four at home. McFadden, though, isn’t looking beyond USD’s Oct. 24 home game versus LMU.

“We’d like to win conference, it’s our goal every year, and we know we have a good team. We’ve won five in a row and we’re playing well. But soccer’s a fun, old game,” he said. “I don’t like to look too far ahead. We want to just focus on getting three points (for a WCC win) in the next game.”

The women’s soccer program won its first WCC title and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011. This season has been much more challenging, Greenwood admits, but it has afforded a valuable lesson in perseverance. The Toreros have battled on despite major injuries to two senior captains, starting two freshmen goalies and having an ultra-competitive schedule in which 10 of 14 games have been on the road.

“It’s been challenging, but that’s what life is about. Our players have grown a lot from this experience,” said Greenwood, in his 10th year as head coach.

The evidence is courtesy of the winning streak, including its first three WCC matches with five to play. Playing four of them at home, starting with an 8 p.m. ESPNU nationally televised game Oct. 19 against Portland, should help.

“A lot of people were counting us out when we were 3-7, thinking we couldn’t turn it around,” Greenwood said. “But we’re in a good place right now.”

First place.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Volleyball and men’s soccer photos courtesy of Brock Scott (scottphoto.net); Women’s soccer photo courtesy of Tom Kovton.

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