In the 61st minute of the 2022 Big West Women’s Soccer Championship semifinals, Cal State Long Beach gained some momentum up the left side of the field. The ball crossed to the right side before a CSULB attacker knocked in the game-winning score.
That goal ended the season for the Mustangs.
Last year, the Cal Poly Women’s Soccer team was the number one seed in the conference going into the Big West Championship with a 6-1-3 conference record. It was the second year in a row the Mustangs had been the number-one seed in the Big West regular season but fell short of winning the championship.
“No one is satisfied,” head coach Alex Crozier said. “There is a burning desire (to win). If we want to get to the NCAA tournament, the road to get there is through the conference tournament.”
The team lost some important players after last season, such as midfielders Camille Lafaix and Megan Hansen and defender Kylie Rojas. However, Crozier said there is a seasoned group returning to the squad.
Sophomore forward Emily Lieber had a large presence in the Green and White scrimmage. She made key passes and touches to set up scoring attempts. Last season she earned Big West All-Freshman Team honors after having four assists and starting in 18 of 19 matches last season.
Junior defender Emma Brown is another crucial piece to the Mustangs’ defense. She was named to the All-Big West Preseason Coaches Team after earning All-Big West First Team honors last season.
“It’s an awesome award to get, and I am looking forward to using that as motivation to have a really good season,” Brown said.
In 2022, Brown started all 19 matches and played all 90 minutes in 18 of the 19 games the team played. She aided the Mustangs’ defense in putting up a program-best seven shutouts in conference play.
A tough non-conference schedule
In the 2022 season non-conference play, the Mustangs played a difficult slate of games. They fell to No.12 Stanford and other strong programs such as Gonzaga. The result of the tough competition was a 2-5 record.
The team will continue to play tough competition this season in preparation for conference play.
This past spring the Mustangs scrimmaged several schools, including the defending national champion UCLA Bruins. Cal Poly will rematch with the No.1 Bruins on Aug. 24 in Los Angeles.
“We played them in the spring, and it was a really good showing for us,” Brown said.
Along with UCLA, the team is facing other strong non-conference opponents such as No.19 Santa Clara, LMU, UC Berkeley and Gonzaga. Crozier says these matchups will be competitive and set the team up to have success in conference play.
Newcomers to the program
The team started fall training camp on Aug. 1 where 12 true freshmen joined the group. With the addition of the freshman along with transfers and returners, the roster has a total of 37 players.
Graduate defender Brooke Golik believes there is a “strong backline of starting players” that will help support the freshman.
“The incoming freshmen are giving us strong bodies we need so we can sub in people [and] continue to achieve excellence when it comes to the end of the season,” Golik said. “Our longevity of performance with this big roster is crucial.”
Golik is a newcomer herself. She transferred to Cal Poly last season as a member of the beach volleyball team. However, prior to playing for the Mustangs, she played four years of soccer at SMU.
The Los Angeles native has one more year of soccer eligibility and will use it to be a veteran presence on a young team she told The Gallop podcast in May.
Green and White scrimmage observations
In the Green and White intrasquad scrimmage, junior defender Aynsley Conner, who was on the winning White team, saw a lot of energy on the field, especially by the freshman.
“We had a lot of new faces out there,” Connor said. “I think the potential is off the charts this year. There is so much ability for young players to really develop.”
The score of the scrimmage was 1-0 white team with the sole goal scored by sophomore forward Jessie Halladay. Halladay was happy with her goal and the way the team played, especially in the second half.
“This game was great to get to know each other and there were some great moments and I am excited for our games coming up,” Halladay said
Crozier said that in the first half, the team was so excited to play that they started running to the goal and forgot they were playing.
In the second half the team settled down and moved the ball and started to play better as a unit.
Crozier is heading into his 32nd year as head coach. He says that this is a fun team to watch and if fans come out to games they will be pleasantly surprised.
“I don’t think anyone is resting on past success,” Crozier said.
The Cal Poly Women’s Soccer team played their first game on Saturday, Aug 12 to a draw against San Jose State on Mustang Memorial Field.
The team will take on Fresno State in their first non-conference game Thursday, Aug.17 at Bulldog Soccer Stadium.