Sometimes college teams struggle incorporating freshmen talent into a team with veteran experience, but that’s not been the case for the 2018 version of Long Beach State women’s soccer.
“All of the freshmen have a chance to start,” All-Big West midfielder Katie Pingel said. “We have so much more confidence and better leadership this year.”
LBSU coach Mauricio Ingrassia has put a premium on team building during the offseason for a group that has nine returning starters and six freshmen. The incoming class could be the most talented that Ingrassia has put together in his 14 years at LBSU.
“They spent a lot of time together creating culture and building leadership,” Ingrassia said. “We had them read books together, and they did a lot of soul searching, learning and connecting themselves. That built a lot of trust.”
That connectivity blossomed last weekend when Ingrassia took his team to the Olympic training center in Chula Vista for a four-night stay.
“We trained, ate, slept, repeat all week,” Ingrassia said. “Being isolated without distractions together as a group helped. We got a lot out of it.”
LBSU showed glimpses of their cohesiveness during a scrimmage with UC Irvine last weekend at Great Park Stadium in Orange County.
“This group is definitely different,” senior midfielder Dana Fujikuni said. “It’s just such a positive atmosphere. We really just want to work hard for each other. It’s been fun so far. Our connections are growing a lot, and soon it will show on the field.”
The most important addition to the team is actually a returner in forward Ashley Gonzales. She was the 2016 Big West Offensive Player of the Year, but suffered a season-ending knee injury against UCLA last year. The senior worked hard in the offseason to recover from surgery and get medically cleared for team practice this month.
“I couldn’t sleep before the first day of training,” Gonzales said. “But it felt good to be on the field with my teammates. I was a little nervous at first, but once I got into the game, it felt like I was back.”
Ingrassia said he will take it slow with Gonzales, and limited her to 45 minutes in the preseason scrimmages.
“Ashley is that player who finds you energy and finds you goals when the game is stale,” Ingrassia said. “She’s been a very important part of our attack for the last few years, and now she’s also a leader. Today, in the middle of training she stopped it and brought everyone in because she didn’t like the mentality. She rallied the troops. It’s a plus to have her in a leadership role.”
Gonzales already has 28 career goals, which ranks fifth in school history, and is top-10 in total points and shots.
“With her back we have more confidence in the attacking position,” Pingel said. “It’s like we have another chance, and another option. I think everyone is happy to have her back out there.”
Gonzales injured herself in the second game of the season last year against UCLA, and LBSU will open this season on Friday against the No. 2 Bruins before returning to George Allen Field on Sunday at noon for the home opener against SMU. UCLA was the NCAA-runner up last year, and is one of five tournament teams LBSU will face this year. Other notable nonconferece games at home are Auburn (Sept. 2) and St. John’s (Sept. 7).
“It’s good to start off against the best because I think we deserve to be on the same field as them,” Pingel said.
LBSU’s talented freshman class is led by Sierra Castles and Elysia Laramie, who were both invited to the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team training camp in May. Castles played both forward and midfield for Beach WPSL of the Women’s Premier Soccer League. Laramie is a defender and forward who had 15 goals and 13 assists in 24 matches as a junior at Simi Valley High. She was the only player to log 90 minutes in the scrimmage against UCI.
“There is a future in these kids,” Ingrassia said. “Getting them in the weight room and getting them stronger is going to really develop them into the players they can be.”
“It’s really exciting to see that a lot of the freshmen can make a huge impact on the field,” Gonzales said.
Ingrassia said that Rola Badawiya, Rocio Rodriguez, Kayla Cannon and Makayla Soll will be some of the other scoring options up top with Gonzales. Badawiya was second on the team with four goals as a freshman last year. Rodriguez had three goals and an assist.
Pingel will remain in her role as an attacking midfielder, and Fujikuni will support her in the defensive midfield. Pingel had three goals and two assists last year. Taylor Bistline also will play a major role in the midfield.
LBSU was picked to finish second in the Big West behind UCI while Gonzales, Pingel and defender Chole Froment were all named to the Preseason All-Conference team.
Froment will be without her fellow All-Conference center back Kaitlin Fregulia, who is still recovering from a knee injury suffered late last season. Froment will be joined on the backline with returning starters Alyssa Alvarez, Sarah Maher and Sarah Pilster.
Maher (Wilson High) and Pilster (Poly) will be lining up in front of goalkeeper and fellow local product Imani McDonald (Poly). The senior was one of six student-athletes chosen for the Big West Service and Leadership awards last month. McDonald has appeared in at least one game in each season since arriving at LBSU. She only lost three of her 11 starts last season while making 35 saves and posting five shutouts.
“The biggest concern this year is to make sure we’re settling into the season as quickly as possible,” Ingrassia said. “That’s difficult with a hefty schedule.”
LBSU is trying to reach a seventh NCAA Tournament under Ingrassia. The Beach has won four Big West regular season titles and three conference tournaments in that span.