Sophomore forward Elise Krieghoff has scored 11 of the Cal Poly women’s soccer team’s 16 goals this season, the fourth most in the nation. The Mustangs open Big West play on Friday with a home match against Long Beach State.
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In many ways, the Cal Poly men’s and women’s soccer teams are one and the same.
Both squads feature a nationally ranked scorer, trudged through a daunting pre-conference schedule and just missed out on a Big West Conference championship a year ago.
More importantly, both teams have no intention of coming up short in 2013.
As for the women, Cal Poly started the season with four consecutive wins, but was soon thrown into the gauntlet, facing No. 20 Baylor, No. 17 Santa Clara and then-ranked Texas A&M on the road.
“They expose your weaknesses,” head coach Alex Crozier said. “Against teams like that, one mistake and you pay for it. Of course we wanted to win all of those games. But in the end, we responded well to those losses and we fixed the things that were broken. We’ll be a better team because of it.”
The Mustangs now sit at 4-6 after losing six straight, and host Long Beach State on Friday in the conference opener.
As far as the competition goes, the Big West is wide open this year, Crozier says. Even UC Riverside, which currently sits in the basement of the conference, has a deceiving record. Five of the Highlanders’ seven losses were by one goal.
“There’s no easy games in conference,” Crozier said. “Which is good for our conference and makes it more competitive when we get into it. Everyone has taken their bumps, us included, so it’s going to be on the day, who gets the job done. So we just need to be prepared to grind it out every day.”
In 2012, Cal Poly posted a 6-1-2 conference record, and was one game away from advancing to the Big West Tournament finals, but fell, 2-0, to eventual conference champion Cal State Northridge.
“It was a good year, but you always want to win your last game,” Crozier said. “We felt like we were the best team in the conference, we were just a little bit off. We’ve built on that. We have a good core of players back. Once we find our rhythm, we’re going to be contending for the championship.”
One of those returning core players is Elise Krieghoff. Through 10 games, the sophomore forward has scored 11 of Cal Poly’s 16 total goals, and ranks fourth in the country with 1.1 goals per game.
“The pressure’s on for us this year,” Krieghoff said. “A lot of media attention has been on me so a lot of people expect a certain expectation from my team. We have to work harder than we had to last year.”
The Cal Poly men’s soccer team has a star of its own. Senior forward Mackenzie Pridham, the 2012 Big West Offensive Player of the Year, is tied for third in the nation with eight goals.
Pridham’s teammates know how to score, too. Eight other Mustangs have at least one goal, and Cal Poly leads the nation with 27 goals.
“We definitely have the potential to contend for a championship,” head coach Paul Holocher said. “We’re locked in on that goal. To do that, we’re going to have to continue to find ways to score goals like we have in our pre-conference and be a balanced team, a team that can produce shutouts and be very, very sound defensively.”
Like the women, Cal Poly was tested early this season. After getting shutout by No. 4 Creighton, the Mustangs pulled off the biggest upset in the program’s history, defeating then-No. 6 UCLA in Los Angeles on Sept. 5.
“We realized that we can play with the best teams in the nation,” Holocher said. “We’ve also learned that college soccer has a lot of parity in that any team can compete and beat you on any day and vice versa. You can’t take anybody for granted and you have to prepare for everybody.”
Cal Poly also opens up its Big West schedule this Friday, hosting UC Riverside at 8 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium following the women’s 5 p.m. start.
Holocher considers Cal State Northridge the favorite to win the Big West. The Matadors are on Cal Poly’s heels with 23 team goals, tied for third in the country. Rival UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis are two other clubs which can’t be underestimated, Holocher says.
“This could be the most balanced Big West conference that I’ve seen in my time here at Cal Poly,” Holocher said. “I really do think it’s wide open. I think there’s a number of teams that have the potential to win the conference. Whether it’s Davis or Irvine or Northridge or even Riverside who we’ll be playing on Friday, (all are) very quality teams.”
The men’s opener against UC Riverside will be televised on BigWest.TV, while Cal Poly women’s soccer fans can track live stats on GoPoly.com.
“We have a lot of potential to do well,” Krieghoff said. “I think as a team sometimes we lack motivation at practice and in games. Going into this week and going into conference we’ve really got to stay motivated and visualize where we want to go with this year. It can make or break us.”