NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---
The CSUN women's soccer team opened its 2014 training program Wednesday with a spirited group of practices as it prepares for the upcoming campaign. Entering his ninth season as the Matadors' head coach, Keith West expects this squad to quickly adopt a dedicated purpose and direction.
The excitement around the program is palpable. The team has a strong mixture of returning experience and newcomer intrigue. Despite a rocky 2013 season, the Matadors have been a consistent threat in the Big West Conference, holding a 22-14-4 record against league opponents since 2009.
For 10 days, the squad participates in three practices a day. In addition to the coaching staff, the team has several dedicated athletic training professionals at each practice and has been working extensively with John Lockwood, an assistant strength and performance coach for CSUN Athletics.
"As a team, it is definitely a blessing to be out there. From the beginning of our spring season, we have taken on a new demeanor. We have put in a lot of extra work and taken the initiative to work with Coach Lockwood. I think that is where the progress we are seeing in practice comes from," junior defender Rachel Webb said.
CSUN returns 18 letterwinners and seven starters from last season. The Matadors boast a quartet of seniors who have helped lead the team to previous unseen heights: Melissa Lopez, Brittanie Sakajian, Leandra Walker and Hannah Wissler.
As sophomores this group helped lead the Matadors to a NCAA Tournament berth and Big West Tournament Championship. Sakajian is a fifth-year senior who has enjoyed a prolific offensive career since arriving on campus. Walker also has been a starter for most of the past two seasons while Wissler and Lopez both saw increased roles in 2013.
The Matadors figure to be tested from the onset in 2014. After an exhibition contest on Aug. 15 at Long Beach State, the team will travel to face off with Michigan, Toledo and Utah over the first two weeks of the season. Michigan and Utah both participated in the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and the Wolverines figure to enter the season with a national ranking.
"I think because last year was tough, knowing we had the potential but we did not work hard enough, we worked very hard over the summer and it is already showing through first few practices," junior midfielder Tabatha Dickson said.
The home opener revolves around a Sept. 5 contest with Gonzaga of the West Coast Conference. Two days later, another WCC foe, San Diego, comes to town and extend a rivalry that will be the seventh fixture between the two sides since 2009.
West also brought on a new assistant coach, Colleen Augustine, to work with the team's goalkeepers. Augustine was an All-American at Oregon State and competed in a pair of women's professional leagues in the United States. As a member of the Western New York Flash in the Women's Professional Soccer League, she helped lead her team to a league title.
"Everyone's fitness is the best its been as a whole in my time with the program," junior forward Kendall Moskal said. "People are building off each other and working off each other and our team chemistry and work rate is in a good place right now. The fact that everyone stuck together over the summer and worked is paying off."