Despite losing a handful of decorated seniors that doubled as Big West Conference and tournament champions last year, Long Beach State women’s soccer is coming into the 2019 season both cohesive and confident.
“Our chemistry is great,” 16th-year coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “Everyone gets it, they’re understanding what we’re trying to do and there’s a single-mindedness to the team. I like it.”
The best news coming into this season is that center back Kaitlin Fregulia has returned from a knee injury that kept her out all of last year. The senior was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year and All-West Region in 2017.
“It’s been way too long and I’m so beyond ready,” Fregulia said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for about two years now. It was rough getting the muscle memory back in training, but not to jinx it, I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
Fregulia has five goals and three assists in 35 games played at LBSU.
“She gives us offense on set pieces and obviously defensively she’s such a presence,” Ingrassia said. “And this is her fourth year so she’ll bring that maturity and confidence.”
Santa Clara transfer Myah Baksh will join Fregulia at center back with senior Ayana Robles and junior Kaylee Ramirez on the outside. Long Beach Poly alum and junior defender Sarah Pilster also will be in the mix.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Seymour is the only returner in net with extensive experience. She will be battling for playing time with Spanish transfer Marta Alemany Sanchez, who is phenomenal with her feet. That could prove the difference in Ingrassia’s system that builds from the back.
Senior Katie Pingel will be the leader in the front of the midfield, and Ingrassia said her ability to score will be key to the team’s success. Pingle had four goals and three assists last year on 35 shots.
“If her name is in the paper, that means we’ll have an outstanding season,” Ingrassia said of Pingel.
Joining Pingel in the midfield will be sophomores Charlotte Guillory and Sierra Castles (pictured). Ingrassia said Castles and fellow sophomore forward Elysia Laramie have impressed him during offseason training.
“They are two of the most improved players for sure, not only mentally but physically as well,” Ingrassia said. “Sierra has been a standout so far.”
Laramie will play up top with juniors Kayla Cannon and Nadiyah Siqueiros. The three forwards only combined for three goals and four assists last season.
“I’m very excited to be playing up to and hoping to score some more goals this year,” Laramie said. “I already know (we can win the Big West). I already feel it. I know we can do it.”
A lot of that confidence flowing throughout the program comes from the team’s trip to France in June. Ingrassia organized the 12-day trip to include sightseeing in Paris, scrimmaging the Argentinian national team and supporting the world champion Team USA at the World Cup.
“From a cultural standpoint, it was unreal,” Ingrassia said. “Not just the everyday living, but the history of the city was just incredible. The soccer was obviously an experience that I don’t think any other college team got, and there were a lot of them out there. Then the World Cup experience tied it all together, making it the trip of a lifetime.”
Pingel said her favorite part of the entire trip was the bus rides.
“There’s a lot of girls on the team I didn’t think were outgoing, crazy and funny, but I got to see them on the bus dancing, singing, goofing around and playing games,” Pingel said. “Even (Ingrassia) was surprised because certain people like me, I’m not really a loud person, but I was having fun and I think it surprised him.”
LBSU also had phenomenal performances against the Argentina women’s national team in a pair of scrimmages on the third and fifth day of the trip, ticking off another box on coach Ingrassia’s summer bucket list.
Argentinian-born Ingrassia started his college coaching career at Long Beach City College, and had the Vikings scrimmage the Argentinians and coach Carlos Borrello in 2003 when they were on an American tour. Ingrassia then took his first senior class at LBSU to Argentina in 2008 for more scrimmages to help them prepare for the Olympics in China.
“We tried to play again this year when they came to the states but the timing didn’t work,” Ingrassia said. “So I told (Borello) good luck in France and that we’d see him there. That’s when he realized he could use us to prepare for the World Cup.”
Argentina was able to come to France a few days early because Ingrassia and LBSU were already in Paris ready for action.
“Watching them pull up in a FIFA World Cup bus that says Argentina on it, and they’re all getting out to play against us, that was one moment from the trip that stood out for me,” Ingrassia said.
Luckily his side wasn’t intimidated and went toe-to-toe with the Argentinians in both games. LBSU even scored first on a nice goal from Castles, but Argentina won both games 2-1. Laramie also scored for the Beach.
“It was a great learning 180 minutes and we couldn’t believe how well we were doing,“ Ingrassia said. “They know we can play, and they get a different type of competition we can give them. We give them a better game than what they can get in South America. The physicality and competitiveness is what (Borello) pointed out to me.”
“I wouldn’t say I was shocked but it was really fun and good to see,” Pingel said of the scrimmages. “I think we can be better than last year because we play faster as one unit. It was exciting to play as one.”
“We were ecstatic,” Ingrassia said. “Countries (in the World Cup) have to qualify, then they get three guaranteed games. We came here and got two games. What else could we ask for?”
LBSU opens the season tonight at Arizona, and hosts No. 4 UCLA at 6 p.m. on Sunday at George Allen Field in the home opener.