WOMEN’S SOCCER CAPTURES FIRST WEST COAST CONFERENCE TITLE
Natalie Garcia’s soccer résumé is something to behold. She excelled in one of the nation’s preeminent youth soccer organizations, the San Diego Surf Soccer Club, was a decorated four-year varsity letterman at San Pasqual High School, and even had the opportunity to compete in the Women’s World Cup last summer as a member of Mexico’s national team.
Yet, when Garcia allows herself to take stock of her on-field accomplishments through the years, none are likely to leave a more lasting impression than the four years (2008-2011) she spent as a defender/midfielder for the University of San Diego Women’s Soccer Program.
“Being a Torero, to me, isn’t just about the name of the school or location; it’s the family I know I have here,” she says. “There’s a bond, a connection, with this group. We’re basically like sisters. I know I’ll be keeping the relationships I’ve built here for the rest of my life.”
And the Lady Toreros’ 2011 campaign will likely be an especially endearing memory for Garcia, her teammates, Coach Ada Greenwood and his staff. They’re the first team in the program’s history to win the West Coast Conference (WCC) championship.
“We saw so much potential from the start, even before our preseason camp started,” Garcia says. “It wasn’t just us, either. It was parents, coaches, even close friends who are some of our better fans who saw it. We knew the ability was there to accomplish a lot, and it drove us to achieve what we did this season.”
Contributions came from everywhere. Senior striker Stephanie Ochs, the first USD player to win the WCC Player of the Year award, scored eight goals and assisted on 14 more. Garcia, WCC defensive player of the year, anchored the back line and chipped in five goals and 11 assists. Senior goalkeeper Courtney Hawkins had six shutouts and a 0.86 goals-against average. Juniors Lexi Deol and Dani Russell, sophomore Taylor Housley and freshmen Mariah Butera, who led USD with two NCAA playoff goals, all performed well.
Yet, with all their individual successes, the team’s watershed moment came in the wake of a painful loss. The Toreros had just dropped a tough decision to conference rival Pepperdine, their fifth consecutive defeat at the time, and were a disappointing 5-7-0 for the season. A family meeting was warranted, and it happened right there on Pepperdine’s home field.
“We’d hit rock bottom,” Garcia says. “For us seniors, we knew that if we lost any more games it would literally be our last chance to get a top seed (through the conference) or even into the NCAA Tournament, which we’d been to every year I’ve been here.”
Road victories against Portland, a longtime USD nemesis, and WCC newcomer Brigham Young University followed. It set the stage for the 3-0 WCC title-clincher over Santa Clara, and a playoff run that culminated in the team advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament for the first time in program history.
“This season shows us what we have to do to accomplish what we all strive for,” says Butera, a WCC All-Freshman Team selection. “We can look at that banner, ‘WCC champions,’ and know it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there, but I know we have the motivation to do it again.” — Ryan T. Blystone