The smiles faded as one goal after another was scored. The euphoria of advancing to the NCAA Tournament disappeared as quickly as it came, taking the joy out of a sunny afternoon as Santa Clara wrapped up a 3-0 first-round victory last fall against Long Beach State.
While the game and the opportunity to advance was lost, the team’s resolve to return to the postseason has stayed strong, never wavering during the long bus ride back to Long Beach, early spring practices and the opening of the 2017 season. The defending Big West champion women’s soccer team is determined not to miss another opportunity, whether in a half, a game or future NCAA Tournaments.
“In a game, there are moments that are benchmarks for what happens the rest of the game,” Coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “In the Big West final, we had a few moments that went our way to jump on the other team. (But) then in the NCAA Tournament, we had a couple of moments that didn’t go our way and it was the opposite.”
Ingrassia, starting his 14th season as head coach at Long Beach State, said those types of experiences can help with motivation, something he is counting on this season. The Beach, unbeaten in spring play, played tough Sunday but lost to defending national champion USC, 1-0, in an exhibition game at George Allen Field.
The lone goal came at 23:07 in the second half when the Trojans’ midfielder Sydney Sladek hit the back of the net on a pass from Samantha Trinceri, slipping past a diving Imani McDonald in goal for the Beach.The Beach were led by senior forward Ashley Gonzales who took five shots, two of which were on goal, while Kaitlin Fregulia added a pair of shots with one on target. The remaining four shots from LBSU came from Jessica Vincent, Dana Fujikuni, Katie Pingel, and Erica Stephan, who came off the bench to notch a shot on goal.
The Beach features several new players and a few talented returnees who will be looking to lead the team back to the postseason.
Gonzales, named Big West Offensive Player of the Year, will be counted on not only for her scoring prowess but her leadership skills. Named a team captain, Gonzales scored in 10 of 19 games last season and her 21 points were second-best in conference.
She was named one of 30 players on the 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch list his week. Considered the most prestigious individual award in college soccer, the trophy honors the top male and female players in the country.
“Every year she’s getting a little bit better,” Ingrassia said of Gonzales. “(And) we go as she goes and she knows it. I expect big things and she does what she needs to do offensively.”
Gonzales will be joined on the field by Big West Freshman of the Year Chloe Froment, a native of France who anchored the back line last season. She assisted on five goals last season, tying for the most on the team and earned All-Freshman First Team TDS Women’s DI Best XI and second team All-West Region honors.
The Beach will be looking to replace two-time Big West Midfielder of the Year Mimi Rangel, who contributed four goals last season, as well as standout goalie Ashton McKeown, who made 67 saves and had eight shutouts in 19 games last season.
“You don’t really replace those types of players,” Ingrassia said. “It’s always been our philosophy that we don’t rebuild, we re-invent ourselves in a different way. We had a great spring and now with the inclusion of the new players we are looking sharp.”
Junior Imani McDonald will start in goal for Long Beach State this season. Sophomore Mia Hummel, a transfer from Texas A&M, was expected to challenge McDonald for the job before she got hurt in the spring. Both players posted five shutouts each during spring games.
“Imani has the experience of being in the program the past two years,” Ingrassia said