Pepperdine heads into Friday night's showdown at Santa Clara likely for the West Coast Conference women's soccer championship with a 13-0-4 record, a school-record 18-game unbeaten streak and a No. 3 spot in the national rankings.
Head coach Tim Ward thinks it's the just the beginning.
Pepperdine has had some outstanding teams but never been considered a national power, but in a landscape that is embracing more and more contenders every year -- it's not just North Carolina, Notre Dame and Santa Clara anymore -- “I feel we're a team of destiny a little bit,” Ward says.
“I feel a change in the air ...,” he says. “I think it's our time. I think it's our time to rise up and become a power in women's soccer.”
They've made their first move with a young but veteran side that has locked things down in the back, conceding just nine goals in 17 games, while feasting on a varied attack led by a local hero and two major signings from Fresno.
The three forwards -- cerebral Laura Cole (Whittier/La Habra HS), finisher Anisa Guajardo and freshman phenom Lynn Williams, the latter two from the Central Valley -- have gotten most of the attention, combining for 19 goals and 13 assists, but Ward is fond of the assessment a friend, a top high school coach, offered after watching the Waves: “Twenty-six women with one heart.”
“I don't know if this is the most talented team we've ever had,” he says. “It certainly rivals the 2002 team [that went 18-2-2, won the WCC and reached the NCAA Sweet 16], but it is a great team. The environment, the camaraderie and team spirit definitely is what gets us through the tight [moments].
“We still have a long way to go to get better. Here we are undefeated, but we can get so much better. ... We have no illusion we're all that or we're there yet. That's another nice thing about the team. There's a lot of humility. We're sticking together like good teams should, sacrificing for each other, and we're staying humble.”
Credit goes to the senior leadership -- Cole, defensive midfielder Karissa Garcia and left back Myriah Stockman -- and the knowledge that with 10th-ranked Santa Clara and fellow national power Portland still on the schedule, the team hasn't won anything yet.
The Waves' foundation is goalkeeper Roxanne Barker (Irvine/Woodbridge HS), a burgeoning South Africa national-teamer mentored by volunteer coach Ian Feuer, the Galaxy's goalkeeper coach; a backline featuring Stockman, right back Michelle Pao and central tandem Kelsea Smith (Camarillo/Oaks Christian HS) and Kristin DeGrandmont, and depth strengthened by a 10-player freshman class Ward predicts can be spectacular.
What they've accomplished began with a win in the opener at Cal and a comeback, after being 44 seconds from defeat, to win in overtime at Cal State Fullerton in their third game.
“At that point,” Ward says, “we all looked at each other. I've been doing this long enough to know when teams has special qualities. This team that night, we were witnessing something great, and we all know that.”
Pepperdine is 6-0-2 on the road, 5-0-0 in WCC action, and not shying away from NCAA championship talk.
“Gosh, I think we all believe,” says Ward, who has a 157-81-39 record in his 14th season in Malibu. “At this point, because we haven't lost a game, anything is possible. We've beat some teams that are pretty good. Are we Barcelona? No. Man United? No. But you can make a run and win the F.A. Cup. I think our team is capable of that, yeah.
“I think we have enough talent and definitely have the right team spirit and enough gamers in our program. ... We're capable of it.”
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Cal State Dominguez Hills' Jessica Murphy (Torrance/West Torrance HS) was a scoring machine last week. She followed a one-goal, one-assist performance in the Toros' dramatic 4-3 victory over Cal Poly Pomona with five goals in a 6-2 rout of San Francisco State, tying the school and California Collegiate Athletic Association record set 14 years ago by Heather Rolland.
Local conference Players of the Week:
Pacific 12 Conference (NCAA Division I)
Men: San Diego State's Miles Byass (Highland/Redlands HS)
Big West Conference (NCAA Division I)
Men: Offensive -- UC Davis' Kevin Schulte (Riverside/M.L. King HS); Defensive -- UC Davis' Omar Zeenni (Arcadia/Crespi Carmelite HS)
Women: Offensive -- UC Irvine's Natalia Ledezma (La Mirada/La Mirada HS and UCLA); Defensive -- UC Irvine's Sarah Devine
California Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA Division II)
Men: Cal State L.A.'s Rosario Bras
Women: Cal State Dominguez Hills' Jessica Murphy (Torrance/West Torrance HS)
Pacific West Conference (NCAA Division II)
Men: Cal Baptist's Osvaldo Bastida (Anaheim/Katella HS)
Women: Cal Baptist's Nicoline Jorgensen
Golden State Athletic Conference (NAIA)
Men: Offensive -- Biola's Cody Shelton (Joshua Tree/Yucca Valley HS); Defensive -- Vanguard's Cody Adams (Rancho Santa Margarita/Trabuco Hills HS)
Women: Offensive -- Vanguard's Lindsey Holman-Kelley; Defensive -- Point Loma Nazarene's Madi White (Valencia/Valencia HS)
ETC.: The GSAC tournaments begin Tuesday and Wednesday for area NAIA schools. The SCIAC, the local NCAA Division III league, begins its tournaments Wednesday. The Big West's women's tournament starts Thursday. And the D2 California Collegiate Athletic Association opens Nov. 4 at Cal State Stanislaus.
RANKINGS: UC Irvine's surge in the Big West Conference women's race has it on the verge of the title -- and back in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's rankings. The Anteaters, who will win the crown with a victory Sunday over UC Riverside, are No. 24 in the Division I poll.
Here's a list of local teams in the NSCAA rankings:
9. UC Irvine
23. UC Santa Barbara
Nos. 1-3: Maryland, New Mexico and Creighton
24. UC Irvine
Nos. 1-2: Stanford and Oklahoma State
Receiving votes: Cal State Dominguez Hills
Nos. 1-3: Simon Fraser (B.C.), Franklin Pierce (N.H.) and Fort Lewis (Colo.)
19. Cal State L.A.
Receiving votes: Cal Baptist
Nos. 1-3: Bridgeport (Conn.), Abilene (Texas) Christian and Grand Valley State (Mich.)
Receiving votes: Redlands
Nos. 1-3: St. Lawrence (N.Y.), Messiah (Pa.) and Christopher Newport (Va.)
11. Cal Lutheran
Nos. 1-3: Messiah (Pa.), William Smith (N.Y.) and Trinity (Texas)
11. Azusa Pacific
Receiving votes: The Master's and La Sierra
Nos. 1-3: Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Baker (Kan.) and tie between Rio Grande (Ohio) and Hastings (Neb.)
6. Azusa Pacific
Receiving votes: Biola and The Master's
Nos. 1-3: Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Lee (Tenn.) and tie between Concordia (Ore.) and Point Loma Nazarene