There seem to be few certainties in life: death, taxes and the Cal State Northridge women's soccer team possessing a stout defense. Anchored by one of the top goalkeepers in the conference and several returning starters, the Matador defense looks to be the cornerstone for most of the success CSUN anticipates achieving in 2011.
"We have a lot of young, talented players on this roster ready to step up," West said. "They have all worked extremely hard in training, basically since the end of last season, to excel in this campaign."
Patrolling the last line of defense for the Matadors in 2011 is a stable of goalkeepers who have put together a strong record of success in a short period of time.
At the front of the group is junior Cynthia Jacobo, who has earned All-Big West Second Team honors in each of her first two seasons with the program. In those two seasons, she has compiled 16 wins, 12 shutouts, 116 saves and a school-record 0.89 goals-against-average.
In 2011, Jacobo picked up 11 wins, tying her for the second-most in school history for a single season. She also had 92 saves, a 1.07 goals-against-average and seven shutouts.
What's more impressive is that she has saved her best performances for the Big West Conference portion of the schedule. Jacobo has amassed a 10-3 record with nine shutouts and a microscopic 0.38 goals-against-average versus league opposition.
Also returning for her junior season is Haley Hawes, one of the team's captains. In 2011, Hawes earned her first career win by making three saves against Seattle in the regular season finale.
"Cynthia is on the verge of becoming a breakout star due to her technical abilities and desire," West said. "Haley provides this team with energy and leadership and is one of the strongest voices on the squad. We feel confident about what to expect from all our keepers."
Along its defensive back line, CSUN returns a host of experienced players that help make it the heart of the team. Even West can admit that having too many players for positions on the field is a good problem to have.
Leading the charge for the Northridge defense is senior Brielle Slepicoff, an outside back who earned NSCAA All-West Region Second Team honors and All-Big West First Team honors in 2011. She has also displayed a knack for getting to goal in crucial situations and brings in 10 career points (two goals, six assists) into her final season.
"Brielle is an outstanding student-athlete and serves as a great example for our younger players," West said. "She brings tremendous speed and discipline to her position. She has continued to improve since the first day she set foot on campus and it is exciting to see that culminate with what should be a strong senior season."
Junior Katie Russ has appeared in 40 games over the past two seasons, including 32 starts. In 2011, Russ picked up her first career goal in the Matadors' victory over Cal State Fullerton. Fellow junior Stephanie Norton has seen action in 16 matches through her first two seasons and adds to the depth along the outside.
CSUN also returns a pair of sophomores who had eventful rookie campaigns in 2010, Chloe McDaniel and Wendy Warner. After sitting out a season, McDaniel was one of CSUN's steadiest defenders and started 15 of the Matadors' final 16 contests. Warner was a true freshman in 2010 and responded by appearing in 18 matches and making 12 starts.
Another sophomore, Shannon Ward, saw action in 13 games as a true freshman and could see time both along the defensive backline and in midfield.
"Katie Russ has been a big part of our success over the past two seasons and brings in lots of toughness. Chloe and Wendy learned quickly last year and that experience should help them as they continue to develop. Stephanie and Shannon are both outstanding individuals with good speed and discipline and add to the collective strength of our defense," West added.
As far as newcomers, West and his staff are excited to add several fresh faces they hope will contribute immediately. One of those players is freshman Leandra Walker, a tall defender that could see time both in the center and outside of the defense.
Another pair of freshmen West expects to see on the pitch during the course of the 2011 season are Jessica Small and Amilee Smith. Both should see time on both defense and in midfield due to their technical ability and speed.
"I think Leandra is ready to make an immediate impact with our team," West added. "She is a strong, physical defender who sees the field well and is tough in her marking."
In midfield, the Matadors figure to be buoyed by a mix of upperclassmen and new faces. For most of these players, the 2011 campaign represents an opportunity for not only increased playing time, but starting roles as the Matadors lost several mainstays to graduation.
A pair of seniors, Alexis Barbara and Katie Coulas, should see time in the center of the field. Barbara earned her first career assist and point in the 2010 season and brings in 44 career appearances into her final season. Coulas has battled through injuries the past two seasons, but will look to build upon her 35 career appearances to earn time on the pitch.
"For these two, the key will be staying healthy. Alexis and Katie want to end their CSUN careers on a strong note and both will have the opportunity to contribute meaningful minutes to this team," West said.
CSUN has a steady group of juniors in midfield also looking at an expanded role in the upcoming season. Melissa Fernandez headlines the group after leading the team with five assists en route to All-Big West Honorable Mention honors in 2010. She added her first career goal during the campaign and could also see time up front at striker.
Stephanie Galarze is another junior who put together a nice 2010 campaign. In her second season with the Matadors, Galarze recorded her first two career assists and scored her first career goal in a win at Cal State Bakersfield.
Another junior has seen an increase in playing time over her first two seasons is Marie Hirsch. She enters her third season with 35 career appearances and two career assists. Jessa Yukihiro also expects an increased role with the team after joining the squad before the 2010 campaign.
"Our junior midfielders bring in a lot of potential, from Melissa's ability to break down a defense to Stephanie's speed on the outside to Jessa and Marie being able to control the ball in the middle of the field," West said. "I have seen so much from this group in practice sessions and this year will be their time to take what they have learned and apply it in a significant way."
Among sophomores in midfield, West and his staff have high expectations for several returning players, including Amanda Smith and Haley Chee. Smith came off her redshirt season to finish with two assists while appearing in all 21 matches. Chee, who usually occupies a holding position, appeared in 12 games in her rookie season.
"Amanda really impressed with her speed and precision in whipping in crosses and Haley is another holding midfielder that will be counted upon to help the team transition from offense to defense and vice versa," West said.
West and his staff also have a healthy stable of incoming freshmen they expect to contribute in midfield. Cori Deason, Tabatha Dickson, Devyn Leslie and Hannah Wissler all bring in accomplished prep and club careers to Northridge and add much needed depth for the Matadors throughout the pitch.
Up front, the Matadors will look to a crop of experienced returning players to lead the attack.
Among those poised for a stellar campaign is senior Heidi Farran. After earning All-Big West honors in 2009 following a four-goal campaign, Farran slipped to just one goal in 2010. However, she has reported to camp motivated and ready to leave a lasting mark in her final season with the Matadors.
One of the bright spots of the 2010 season was the play of Brittanie Sakajian, who produced a four-goal, two-assist campaign. She had two three-point performances during the year and West believes the year of seasoning she got in 2010 will pay huge dividends in 2011.
"Heidi has come into this season determined and prepared to have a stellar campaign," West said. "She has the skill, and more importantly, has the desire to finish strong and help lift the program to new heights. Brittanie is another one of our young players who is just beginning to scratch the surface of her potential. A four-goal rookie campaign is a great start, but she and I both expect even more this year."
Junior Marisa Miller recorded her first career point during the 2010 season and is expected to take on a larger role in 2011 like so many of her teammates.
"Marisa's drive and fitness level is the best it has ever been since she arrived on campus. She has great technical ability and the more she can stay on the field, the greater chances we have to be successful."
Although Northridge brings in ample experience for 2011, it will be up to a new group of Matadors to assume a larger role both on the field and in the dressing room. Anchored by a stout defense, the Matadors have reason to be optimistic that the transition will be seamless. Ultimately, however, that belief will have to be played out on the field against a challenging schedule. Of that, we can be certain.