May 29, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - If all went perfectly, Stanford would have had 19 women's soccer players available for spring practice.
However, with injuries, medical precautions, youth national-team call-ups, and even other-sport commitments, Stanford's women's soccer roster was stretched thin this spring.
During its spring schedule, the four-time defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal might have had one sub - two was a luxury. Practices often were down to 10 players. Five-on-five was the norm.
But while spring might seem merely a bridge to the fall season when an nine-player incoming class of reinforcements arrives - coach Paul Ratcliffe used the just-concluding spring season to the team's advantage.
"It was a great opportunity to look at every single player on the squad because we had small numbers," Ratcliffe said. "We had a thorough evaluation of every single player on the team -- small group sessions where every player got a lot of touches. Each individual player made great progress."
Stanford heads into a transition year, though not in expectations. The Cardinal is coming off a 21-1-2 season and its fifth NCAA College Cup appearance. It has six starters returning, including all-conference players Emily Oliver, Lo'eau LaBonta, Chioma Ubogagu, and Courtney Verloo, and welcomes a strong freshman class.
Other returning starters are goalkeeper Oliver (0.54 goals against average, 4 shutouts), outside back Laura Liedle and midfielder Alex Doll (6g, 3a). Also back is Kendall Romine, a starter in central defense during the 2011 NCAA championship season, but limited by injuries in 2012, and Maya Theuer, who started six times as a freshman last season and should be a rock on the back line.
The transition will take place in the form of position battles throughout the lineup, even at goalkeeper with the arrival of freshman Jane Campbell, a veteran of the full U.S. national team camp at age 17, to a position already held by an All-America.
Another advantage of the small spring lineup? The chance to see how players react to playing new positions - a valuable opportunity to evaluate the player's versatility.
"I don't even think of the win-loss record, to be honest with you," Ratcliffe said of his spring strategy. "I'm looking at individual players and trying to get them better. The least important thing to me is winning and losing in the spring. It's about getting the team better.
"Getting individuals better first is the first priority and building the team concept is a secondary aspect. The most important thing is individually making players better, and looking at them for the future, and how they're going to fit in for next year."
Next, there is the summer.
"The most important thing is that they find a team to play on, to keep their game fitness and keep their sharpness," Ratcliffe said. "Hopefully, they'll all find a team to play on, keep going, and maintain where they're at, and maybe increase a little bit leading into the season."
That season begins in essence when the Cardinal reports on Aug. 6 and opens training the following day with fitness testing, with the season-opener set for Aug. 23 at perennial national contender Boston College. That's when the spring season can truly be evaluated.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics