Boise, Idaho - The San Jose State University women's soccer program took in an unprecedented haul of hardware and awards from the Western Athletic Conference, with Jeff Leightman and Jessica Ingram earning Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year distinction, respectively, and five Spartans gaining All-WAC honors.
The awards were announced at the league's annual banquet on the eve of the 2009 WAC Tournament in Boise, Idaho, on Wednesday, November 4.
Ingram, a sophomore out of Santa Teresa High School, was one of three Spartans who are San Jose natives recognized by the conference. Roxy Kamal, a fourth-year senior out of Presentation High School, joined her on the All-WAC first team, as did forward Emmy Belding (Aptos, Calif.) and midfielder Hallsie Pacheco (Lodi, Calif.), both seniors.
Nina Butera, a fourth-year goalkeeper and former teammate of Kamal's at Presentation, represented San Jose State on the All-WAC second team.
This is the first time in program history that four Spartans made first-team all-league, and a first for San Jose State with five all-conference honorees in a single season. The program previously had two first-teamers five times, and four all-league picks on three occasions. No Spartans were chosen for all-conference distinction in 2008.
"I'm extremely proud of our kids," remarked Leightman by phone from Boise. "They have worked so hard all year. To earn the regular-season (WAC) championship and the number-one seed, it's a testament to their hard work. It's nice to see them get recognized. They really have turned this thing around. To go from no players on the all-conference teams (last year) or preseason all-conference team (this year), to having four on the first team, and one on the second, I just think it's an incredible testament to their hard work and dedication this year. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Ingram becomes the fourth player in program history to be named WAC Player of the Year. Nicole Irwin was the 2006 WAC Offensive Player of the Year, while Stacie Alberico, formerly Stacie Savage as a Spartan, was a two-time WAC Pacific Division Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997. Ingram has started 18 of 19 games this season as one of two center backs for San Jose State, missing just a non-conference tilt at Cal State Bakersfield on October 25. She has rarely been off the field during the games she has appeared in this year, excelling as a defensive stopper while contributing one assist offensively on the opening goal of a 3-1 home win over league foe LA Tech last month. The Spartans have posted six of their seven shutouts with Ingram in the lineup, and have given up 17 goals as a unit in 2009, seven below their school-record 24 in 1999.
Leightman, in just his second year in charge at San Jose State, led the program to its first winning campaign since 1999, and the first WAC regular-season crown since it joined the conference for the 1996 season. The Spartans began this year picked to finish sixth in the nine-team WAC, and got out of the gates with an 0-4 mark. They proceeded to run off a school-record 14-match unbeaten streak, to settle on a current overall record of 11-5-3, first-place league finish and subsequent first-round bye as the top seed entering the WAC Tournament. They await the winner between Nevada and New Mexico State in Friday's first semifinal match at 11:30 a.m. (PST).
Leightman's Spartans have eclipsed numerous other program standards during an incredible regular season. San Jose State also broke team marks for longest win streak (six games), most consecutive shutouts (five games), longest shutout streak (491:18), longest road unbeaten stretch (seven games) and single-season WAC wins (five). The Spartans have also equaled the program record for most shutouts in a season, with seven, and have picked up their first regional ranking this decade while earning a fifth straight WAC Tournament berth. Leightman was previously the 2004 America East Conference Coach of the Year during his 10 seasons at alma mater Binghamton (N.Y.).
Kamal leads the Spartans with 23 points from career bests of seven goals and a conference-leading nine assists. The two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Week has appeared in all 19 games, starting each of the last 16. Her most recent contributions were arguably her most vital, as she scored a superb opener within four minutes of the first-half whistle from 30 yards out and assisted Belding on the second-half winner in a 2-1 home triumph over rival Fresno State on Senior Night last Friday, October 30.
Belding, a transfer from Cabrillo College, leads the Spartans in goals for a second straight season, currently with 10, including a league-best four winners. She has bettered her total of eight from her first season of major college soccer in 2008. Belding recorded one of just five three-goal hat tricks in the WAC in 2009, during an 8-0 win at Howard on September 13. She ranks third on the all-time Spartan list with her 18 goals.
Added Leightman, "Emmy has had a great year, especially given the adversity in her personal life, losing her mother. I couldn't be more proud of her. She's been great. I felt like she probably could have been recognized (by the conference) last year, but wasn't. She wasn't all that upset about it, came back, and did everything she was supposed to do. Given her personal circumstances, I admire Emmy. She is just a tremendous human being, and it's great to see her succeed on the field as well."
Pacheco is another one of six fourth-year Spartans on the current roster. The midfield general has had her steady play translate into individual success on the offensive end in her final campaign, as she has produced her first four collegiate goals, to go along with two assists, for a career-high 10 total points, fourth-most on the team. She has started all 19 games, and is the Spartans' active leader with 69 games played and 45 starts.
"Hallsie's been our engine all year," said Leightman. "She plays a pivotal role in our midfield, and starts our attack and possession. We really go as Hallsie goes. She is an unsung hero, because she does a lot of the little stuff that isn't on the score sheet, but she gets it done. All of our attacks start with her. She may not get many assists and points, but she is a driving force in everything that we have going on."
Butera, like Kamal a two-time WAC honoree already this year as its Defensive Player of the Week, leads the league with a 0.77 goals-against-average that is well on pace to break her own single-season individual record of 1.05 from 2008. She is second in save percentage (.863), saves (82) and shutouts (5). Butera has started all 17 matches she has appeared in this season, and is first all-time in the program in goals-against-average (1.01), and second in saves (238) and shutouts (10).
"Obviously, looking at Northern California as a hotbed for soccer, to have local talent doing well and being successful at the local school, that's great for our area," concluded Leightman about his standout trio of San Jose products. "It shows that it really can work here. Our job now is to keep all of our local players and make them Spartans, not have them go off to other schools. They know they can be successful at San Jose State."
Over one-third of the 2009 Spartan roster of 26 players, nine in all, are San Jose natives. The post-season conference honors are the first for all five Spartans. Leightman is the program's first Coach of the Year since Philippe Blin in 1996. Seniors Belding, Butera, Pacheco, Brittany Boehm, Angela Nuñez and co-captains Kamal and Katie Bonadies, accepted the WAC regular-season trophy at Wednesday's banquet.
San Jose State flew out of Oakland, Calif., early on the morning of Wednesday, November 4, directly into Boise, arriving just before 10:30 a.m. local time. The Spartans held a 90-minute training session in the afternoon, prior to the evening's awards dinner. Friday's semifinal can be viewed on-line, for a subscription fee, at www.WAC.tv, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. Sunday's title game is set for a 12:00 p.m. (PST) start.
First Team All-WAC
Emmy Belding, F, Sr., San Jose State
Shantel Flanary, F, So., Utah State
Roxy Kamal, F, Sr., San Jose State
Chelsea Small, F, Fr., Idaho
Hallsie Pacheco, MF, Sr., San Jose State
Mari Punzal, MF, Jr., Hawai'i
Chandra Salmon, MF, So., Utah State
Jessica Ingram, D, So., San Jose State
Lindsay Roberts, D, So., Boise State
Lindsey Smart, D, Sr., Utah State
Katie Graul, GK, Sr., New Mexico State
Second Team All-WAC
Natalie Ratnavira, F, So., Nevada
Shannon Saxton, F, Jr., Boise State
Ambree Ako, F, Sr., Hawai'i
Britta Bourne, F, Sr., Hawai'i
Brandy Hickcox, MF, So., Boise State
Molly Nizzoli, MF, So., Fresno State
Jazmin Cardoso, MF, Fr., New Mexico State
Kendall VanDine, D, So., Fresno State
Vanessa Gonzales, D, Fr., Fresno State
Annabelle Allen, D, So., Nevada
Nina Butera, GK, Jr., San Jose State
Offensive Player of the Year: Shantel Flanary, So., F, Utah State
Defensive Player of the Year: Jessica Ingram, So., D, San Jose State
Freshman of the Year: Chelsea Small, Fr., F, Idaho
Coach of the Year: Jeff Leightman, San Jose State