As he prepared his Long Beach State women's soccer team for something truly historic, Mauricio Ingrassia figured what better way to illustrate what the 49ers have accomplished -- and what remains in their reach -- than to show off a little living history.
So off they went, upon flying into North Carolina for Friday's NCAA Division I quarterfinal at thid-ranked Duke, to visit Anson Dorrance, architect of the most dominant dynasty in American sports history.
Dorrance, with a nearly never-ending stream of legends -- Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, April Heinrichs, Carla Overbeck, Tisha Venturini, Lorrie Fair, Lindsay Tarpley, Lori Chalupny, Heather O'Reilly, Tobin Heath -- has guided North Carolina to 21 national championships and fueled the U.S. women's national team's dominance in the women's game.
“Four our girls, that's history,” said Ingrassia, whose 49ers (18-5-1) have won eight in a row, seven by shutout, en route to the Big West Conference tournament title, a first-round NCAA “upset” of No. 7 Pepperdine, victories over Miami and San Diego and to a wholly unexpected spot in the elite eight. “If you ask [female] college players around the country if they ever thought about playing at North Carolina, you'd see a lot of hands, and our program isn't any different.”
So Ingrassia's charges oohed and ahhed at all the silverware and championship banners and mementos of those icons, checked out the facilities and spend a little time with Dorrance, the winningest coach in the American game, any level, anywhere.
Now they head into a battle with a Duke team that's 20-3-1, has a vibrant attack led by freshman Kelly Cobb and sophomores Kaitlyn Kerr and Mollie Pathman and an outstanding backline anchored by sophomore Natasha Anasi. The smart money has the Blue Devils in the Dec. 4 final against No. 1 Stanford.
Nothing is expected of Long Beach State, which hadn't won in two previous NCAA appearances. Now they sit one very difficult win from a College Cup final appearance.
“The goal for the team was to get to the sweet 16 or better,” said Ingrassia, whose team has advanced further than North Carolina, defending champion Notre Dame and perennial powers Santa Clara, Portland, UCLA and Florida. “Once we got to the sweet 16, we got the team together and said, 'Define what 'better' means to you. They came up with some pretty good and pretty powerful answers, so we redefined our goal.”
The 49ers are led by forward Nadia Link (Rowland Heights/Walnut HS), a game-changer with skill and style (and 16 goals, 10 assists), and midfielder Shawna Gordon (Rancho Cucamonga/Los Osos HS), an imperturbable organizer (with 7 and 10) who, Ingrassia says, does “all the little things that go unseen.”
Nicole Hubbard (Lakewood/Mayfair HS), who has scored eight goals, is a force wherever she's stationed, and Nicole Sweetman (Oxnard/Oaks Christian HS) is a force on the flank off the bench, but a lot of the credit for Long Beach's run goes to the defense, especially center backs Alex Balcer and Jordan Nelson (Garden Grove/Pacifica HS and Loyola Marymount) and goalkeeper Kaitlyn Gustaves (Long Beach/Wilson HS).
The 49ers have 12 shutouts and haven't conceded a goal in 477 minutes, 43 seconds -- six games ago.
“This is a great opportunity,” Ingrassia said. “We'll see how we match up, see what their crowd is like. We've been saying we're confident, and we'll be ready to show what we can do.”
FIRST DRAFT: The Draft Site blog has the first mock of Major League Soccer's January draft that we've seen, and it has some bad news for UCLA. Forward Chandler Hoffman is listed as the No. 9 pick, by Chicago, and midfielder Kelyn Rowe is at No. 13, going to Colorado.
Hoffman is a junior, Rowe a sophomore. The Bruins have seen exceptional talent depart early for the pros, with good reason, and Hoffman and Rowe do appear to be next on the list.
UC Irvine Andrew Fontein is listed as a second-round pick, 24th overall, going to Chivas USA. The Goats also are linked to Louisville defender Austin Berry with the fifth overall selection. The Galaxy's listed picks: Maryland midfielder Matt Kassel at the end of the first round, Central Florida midfielder Warren Creavalle at the end of the second.
Listed at No. 1, for the expansion Montreal Impact, is Akron sophomore forward Darren Mattocks.
WORTH NOTING: Veronica O'Brien has stepped down as UC Riverside's women's coach to take an academic support services position at the university. O'Brien, who started the Highlanders' program, posted a 91-91-27 record in 11 seasons. Men's coach Nat Gonzalez, the Big West Conference Coach of the Year, will serve as interim. The former UCLA standout -- he played for the 1990 NCAA championship team -- is U.S. under-15 girls national team coach. ... Pepperdine forward Anisa Guajardo, who is from Clovis, near Fresno, received her first call-up to Mexico's national team for last weekend's friendly against Martinique. She previously played for Mexico's U-17 and U-20 sides. ... Cal Baptist's men open against Southwestern Assemblies of God, from Waxahachie, Texas, and the its women against Colorado Christian in the NCCAA quarterfinals Wednesday in Kissimmee, Fla.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: We're dealing with two weeks here. Jason Swope drew and converted the penalty kick that started Cal State L.A.'s fightback from a two-goal deficit to beat Chico State in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament, then scored twice more to upset Seattle Pacific in the second round.
UC Santa Barbara's Luis Silva (Los Angeles/Salesian HS scored and assisted goals in the NCAA Division I second-round victory over Providence. The Gauchos play Sunday at No. 2 Creighton.
RANKINGS: Only four of the dozen local schools in the current National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings remain alive: No. 4 UCLA and No. 13 UC Santa Barbara, which play in NCAA Division I third-round matches Sunday -- the Bruins are home against Rutgers, with a 5 p.m. kickoff -- and Azusa Pacific's fourth-ranked women and 15th-ranked men, which head to the NAIA championships next week in Alabama.
Here's a list of local teams in the NSCAA rankings:
7. UC Irvine
13. UC Santa Barbara
Receiving notes: UC Riverside
Nos. 1-3: New Mexico, Creighton and North Carolina
Receiving votes: UC Irvine, Long Beach State
Nos. 1 and 3: Stanford, Duke
17. Cal State L.A.
Nos. 1-3: Simon Fraser (B.C.), Franklin Pierce (N.H.) and Fort Lewis (Colo.)
Receiving votes: Cal State L.A.
Nos. 1-3: Grand Valley State (Mich.), California (Pa.) and Bridgeport (Conn.)
Nos. 1-3: Messiah (Pa.), St. Lawrence (N.Y.) and Christopher Newport (Va.)
10. Cal Lutheran
Nos. 1-3: Messiah (Pa.), William Smith (N.Y.) and Trinity (Texas)
15. Azusa Pacific
Receiving votes: Vanguard and La Sierra
Nos. 1-3: Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Hastings (Neb.) and Baker (Kan.)
5. Azusa Pacific
Receiving votes: Biola and Vanguard
Nos. 1-3: Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), Lee (Tenn.) and Mobile (Ala.)