Before the Athena’s semi-final game here at 7:30 tonight (at Pritzlaff field), I sat down with Women’s Soccer Coach Keri Sanchez to talk about her regular season SCIAC championship winning team and the beginning of tournament play. The Athenas won the SCIAC tournament last year after a fourth place finish in SCIAC play and advanced to the round of 16 at NCAAs in Sanchez’s best season as a coach so far. Sanchez has quite the resume as a player as well, having played on four straight Division 1 championship teams for the University of North Carolina, playing alongside legend Mia Hamm, and currently being a professional player for the Los Angeles Sol.
The Forum: How big is the regular season SCIAC championship for the team compared to being the fourth place team last year?
Keri Sanchez: I think you always want to host [the SCIAC tournament], I think home-field advantage in any sport is big, except so far with the women’s tournament, the first seed hasn’t won, so we are looking to be the first team to do that.
The Forum: Who do you see as the biggest competition in the SCIAC tournament?
KS: I think once you get to the tournament, any of the four teams can win. Redlands always plays us tough, we beat them in overtime away and had a good win over them at home, but Cal Lutheran tied us, and Oxy will be fired up to come after us. I think any time you play a team for a third time, it is tough to win.
The Forum: Which players would you consider the leaders of the team?
KS: I think we have a few, All of the seniors (Camila Friedman-Gerlicz, Giselle Galanto, Kelsey Rose, Nicole Sady-Kennedy, Courtney Funk), as well as Laura Hagen, our leading scorer, and Kirsten McAfee and Stefanie Chan have been strong all year as well. What is nice is that our team is so deep, and so some games it is different people stepping up, but our older players are definitely exhibiting the leadership needed to win the big games.
The Forum: What is your team’s X-factor?
KS: I don’t think we have a person that is our X-factor, our X-factor is our bench. When we sub in, we are as strong or stronger than when we started, so we get to keep putting in fresh bodies that are equally talented. So it’s not the same person every time, its different people, but overall our X-factor is our depth.
The Forum: How much of a role will experience play, as your team won the SCIAC tournament last year and made it to the round of 16 at NCAAs?
KS: I think that is huge, if you look at any of the top teams in the NCAA tournament, they are usually there consistently. I think the more experience that you have in big games, the better chance your team has to win, because a playoff game has a different sensation.
The Forum: Who is the top competition in the West outside of SCIAC?
KS: Puget Sound is always tough, leading the Northwest Conference, as are Trinity and Hardin-Simmons, and independent schools Chapman and UC Santa Cruz. Its always interesting because we are so spread out, and when the NCAA is trying to match up teams regionally, we [the west] tend to have some problems in getting teams in.
The Forum: Do you think your experience as a highly successful college player helps you when coaching?
KS: It always helps to coach players when you have been in their situation, and I know what they are feeling and what they are going through, I had a great college coach through those times, so I hope that my experience is bringing them a little bit of knowledge. I think it does help, but it is all about whether you can get your word across to your players.
The Forum: What do you see as the biggest games of the season so far?
I think our two come from behind wins, one of them over Redlands, and overcoming a lull in scoring, we had couple of ties, a loss to Chapman and had a close win over Oxy, which were some bumps in our road. But you always want to see how a team handles those moments, and it was really nice to see the team come through those times and find a way to tie and win games that we may have lost in the past.
The Forum: What do you see as the keys to repeating as SCIAC champions?
You know there is the famous quote “offense wins games, defense wins championships,” and the defense was a huge factor in us being able to go as far as we did last year. That is one of the things we are trying to work on is our Goals Against Average, and overall we have been doing a better job and we hope to continue that into the playoffs.