Heading into year number-two of the Jeff Leightman era, the San Jose State University women's soccer team aims in 2009 to continue the process of turning around the fortunes of a program that has not had a winning season since 1999, while targeting a Western Athletic Conference title and subsequent NCAA Championship berth.
Leightman has 16 letterwinners and all but one starter back from a year ago, to blend with another strong recruiting class with more local flavor. All 27 Spartans on the 2009 roster are from California, with exactly one-third of them calling San Jose their hometown.
San Jose State heads right into its regular-season schedule at home against South Bay foe Santa Clara for a second season in a row, on Friday night, August 21, ushering in the brand-new FieldTurf installed inside Spartan Stadium.
"I think we're in a much better position to make a run this year, than we were last year," says Leightman about their post-season ambitions. "We're a much better team. We still have a lot to learn about ourselves, and about how to win as a program, since it's been so long since this program has really had great success.
"Our goal is opening up with Santa Clara on Friday and making an impact during our non-conference season, to build momentum so that when we start WAC play, the stone is rolling downhill. You can have little hiccups here and there, but we want to keep that rolling in the direction that we want to go, toward getting to the WAC Tournament, getting a decent seed, and then going and winning games in the WAC Tournament. Our goal right now is to win a WAC championship, but we have a lot of work to do between now and November, to give us a chance to make that happen."
Nina Butera, a redshirt junior and San Jose native out of Presentation High School who enters the 2009 season with more starts, 27, than any active Spartan, will again be the number-one choice in goal. Danielle Anderson, a fellow junior and transfer from Ohlone College, will back her up.
"Right now, Nina's playing very well. She's commanding her penalty box better than she ever has. We're proud of what she's doing. She really worked hard over the summer, and is playing better than I've seen her. She's been solid."
Jessica Ingram, a local product out of Santa Teresa High School who impressed her teammates and coaches alike while being voted San Jose State's Defensive Player of the Year as just a freshman in 2008, returns to lead the defense.
"What's good about our back line this year, is we have a lot of depth. Many players can play in different spots. We're more athletic in the back this year than we were last year, especially with our wide backs. We'll be able to attack more.
"We have strong center backs to anchor our back line, between Jessica Ingram, Kelsy Holm and Brittany Boehm. Angela Santoro may play there as well. We've got strong players in the air for our center backs, and good attacking options at outside back. Lo (Lauren Ng-Pinkerton) will probably play one outside back, and the other one will probably be Angela (Santoro) right now. Then we have other options with Kim (Johnston), and Kelsey Costan, who comes in as a freshman forward, but we may shift her to an outside back role where she can attack. There are lots of different options available to us in the back."
Senior Angela Nuñez and true freshmen Krista Cullen and Helen Phan will also compete for time on defense.
Hallsie Pacheco, a fourth-year senior out of Lodi, Calif., intent on closing her collegiate career with a bang, will lead the central midfield triangle for Leightman's squad.
"We've got a healthy competition in central midfield. Three will start. Hallsie's (Pacheco) playing better soccer than I've ever seen her play. She's made a commitment to fitness, and has really raised her game to a whole new level. We're excited about what she can do.
"After Hallsie, we have Lauren Sanchez, who is a defensive central midfielder, a great ball-winner, and is very tenacious. Mandy (Amanda Martin) is a tireless worker and just covers ground like crazy. Shanelle Furner wins balls in the air and has a blast of a shot. Then we can bring in a couple of freshmen. Shannon Righetti has played really well in the preseason, and Amanda Simat has done very well. I think we have a lot of options in the center of midfield as well."
Shannon joins older sister Stephanie Righetti on this year's squad, while Costan and fellow freshman Munvir Dhillon provide further depth in the middle.
The theme of depth applies to the forward position as well, but it starts with second-year senior striker Emmy Belding, a WAC Offensive Player of the Year candidate who led Spartan field players in virtually all statistical categories in her first season in the program. The Aptos, Calif., native tallied 17 points from eight goals, including three game-winners, and one assist.
"This is the deepest and the most athletic we've been up top, between Emmy (Belding) and Kelsey Lord, a freshman coming in who has really impressed us with her athleticism and her desire to go to goal and score. Then we have a whole bunch of others who are right in the mix of earning starting roles. Katie Bonadies has done well this preseason, Katie Knopp is athletic and dynamic as a forward, and Michelle Haughey is fast and tenacious. Michelle played great against Santa Clara in the spring, winning physical battles.
"Roxy Kamal is obviously in the mix. Roxy is probably the smartest and best tactical soccer player on our team, so she certainly will play a significant role as well.
Bonadies and Kamal, local products out of Los Gatos and San Jose, respectively, were elected co-captains. The elder Righetti, and Laura Hill, a true freshman from Southern California who has impressed with her work rate and who Leightman calls "a thorn in the opponent's side," are other offensive threats."