#BWCWarmUp Fall Preview - UC Riverside
BigWest.org chatted with UC Riverside head coaches Nat Gonzalez (women's soccer), Tim Cupello (men's soccer) and Michelle Patton (women's volleyball) to preview the upcoming 2014 season.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
Older and Wiser: Did you know that the Highlanders started all underclassmen in the Big West Tournament title match last season? One of the greatest factors for UC Riverside in 2014 will be the collegiate experience the majority of the squad now possesses, compared to the squad that entered 2013. Coach Nat Gonzalez emphasized that last season’s success greatly depended on the moment it “clicked” for his newcomers.
Stamina: As coach Gonzalez explained, one of the challenges his young team faced last season was stamina. While most freshmen entering collegiate athletics have played a number of club games on back-to-back days, the speed and pace of sports at the DI level can be eye opening. With a season under their belt, the sophomore returners are primed to contribute endurance and depth.
Reevaluation: Gonzalez described a moment last season in which he and his staff reevaluated their personnel both on and off the field. Deciding to alter the game plan first resulted in three consecutive 1-0 losses at the end of non-conference play. The squad could have gone two ways at this time – continue to buy into the new program, or give up. The players chose the former and in sticking it out, swept their first weekend in conference play. Those five matches, Gonzalez noted, changed the course of the season.
Goal-Getters: While the team netted 22 goals, which ranked third in the conference, the Highlanders stress the importance of tightening their defense having allowed 34 goals last season, the most of any in the Big West. But as far as offense goes, two players who will be key to the team’s offensive efforts are junior Tyler Cunningham, who led the Highlanders with five goals and 10 points in 2013, and UCLA transfer Tayler Dragoo.
Middle Mayhem: Look for these attacking midfielders to be assets this season in sophomore Sammy Arellano, Breanna Avila and Danielle Lopez. Last season, Arellano had the second-highest goal and point total for the Highlanders with three netters and two assists for eight points. Avila had a goal and an assist of her own for three points and Gonzalez shared how much Lopez impressed in the spring. The three are expected to own a significant amount of playing time come the season.
QUOTABLES – NAT GONZALEZ
(On team leadership): “I think the group that’s here has gone through the transition with me being the new coach two years ago and they’ve bonded together and understand that the way we play, it’s definitely a team concept.”
(On playing in the 2013 Big West Tournament final): “Being this young and being literally two kicks away from getting to the tournament… it’s something that’s within our grasp.”
(On young squad): “I think they’re starting to trust each other a little more and as that trust grows, I think we’re going to become a little harder to beat.”
(On 2014 team): “There’s a group that’s changed the program around and hopefully last year’s results isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal so I think they’ve enjoyed the journey. I think the process is hard, but once the hard work is said and done and they look back at what happened last year, it’s a journey and rarely do you see a young group do what they were able to do.”
(On team’s mentality): “The whole team enters every game as a unit and they understand that in order to get it done they have to have each other’s backs. It’s a blue-collar mentality and as they get older we’re hoping some of the details, the more sophisticated parts develop as they get older and mature.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
2 Opponents that appeared in the 2013 NCAA Tournament
3 Highlanders named to the CollegeSportsMadness.com 2014 Big West Preseason All-Conference Team (Sammy Arellano, Briana Thomasson, Tyler Cunningham)
7 Home games in 2014
19 October date when UCR and Cal State Fullerton meet in a rematch of last year’s Big West Tournament final
82 Career saves total for Elizabeth Silas, fifth on the Big West active career leader board
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
It’s Official: Tim Cupello inked a long-term contract in March to become head coach of the UC Riverside program, using a one-year term as the interim head coach as a proving ground. After arriving at UCR in 2010 as an assistant coach, Cupello’s squad last year tied the program record for most Big West victories, recorded its third straight winning season, and advanced to the conference tournament for the second time in history. Cupello seeks to march the program forward even further, with goals of a Big West championship and an NCAA Tournament berth a primary focus.
Depth At Keeper: UC Riverside is the only squad in the Big West with two proven starters at goalkeeper. Junior Ashkan Khosravi started 18 games as a freshman in 2012, and set the program record for wins (10) by a goalkeeper in a single season. Injuries sidelined him until early October last year, but he returned to start the final eight games, recording a 1.23 goals against average. During Khosravi’s absence, senior K.C. John stepped in and promptly registered three straight shutouts. Regardless of which player starts in the 2014 opener, the other is a solid insurance policy.
Balance Desired: Fourteen different players scored for the Highlanders in 2013, and no one had more than three goals. Cupello expects more of the same balance this season, depending on various players to take advantage of scoring opportunities. Perhaps the top candidate to emerge as a bonafide goal scorer is Romario Lomeli. He netted a goal in his first collegiate game, and tied for the team lead in goals scored en route to Big West All-Freshman Team honors.
Earle Leads Solid Back Line: Cupello is excited about the cohesiveness of his back four – Otis Earle, Stephen Copley, Philipp Dominique and Hector Romo appear to have the inside track on starting roles. The foursome combined for 58 starts last year. Earle is the most experienced of the well-rounded group, and has 10 career assists to his credit.
Schedule Upgrade: The program ramped up its non-conference schedule, and purposely so according to Cupello, hoping to reap the benefits of better preparation for a grueling Big West slate and ultimately a shot at an NCAA Tournament opportunity. The Highlanders play at New Mexico, a program that made the College Cup last year and is a preseason No. 5 pick in the NSCAA poll. UCR also hosts Bakersfield, Santa Clara and San Diego in back-to-back-to-back tests during September.
QUOTABLES – TIM CUPELLO
(On what he has tried to instill in his team): “Most importantly is belief. We have a lot of talent here on this team, and I think the belief that we could and should win matches is a big part of it.”
(On Romario Lomeli): “I think Romario has tremendous potential. I think he’s hungry, motivated and focused, and I think just like the rest of the guys, I’m pretty optimistic about how his career can develop over the next couple of years.”
(On Otis Earle): “He’s the type of player that has the physical and technical attributes, and now he’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that he may have the opportunity to make a career out of this game, and I think he’s one that I’m anticipating potentially being a big impact for us this year.”
(On having Ashkan Khosravi and K.C. John as starting goalkeepers): “Having those guys compete with one another, I believe that competition breeds success, and as long as they’re continuously creating that healthy competition environment in training, it’s only going to benefit each other and ultimately the group.”
(On playing in the Big West South Division): “From a pure soccer and coaching standpoint, I absolutely love our conference and our division. There is some great soccer being played, and I know my players love competing because it’s exciting. It can pretty much go either way at any given time. I think that we are right there to compete for a championship just like any other team in the conference.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
3 Consecutive winning seasons for the Highlander program
4 Career Player of the Week citations for goalkeeper Ashkan Khosravi, tied for fourth-most in Big West history
7 Length of unbeaten streaks to start the last two seasons – 5-0-2 in 2013 and 7-0-0 in 2012
14 Players who scored at least one goal for the team in 2013
28 Number of victories for UC Riverside over the last three seasons
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN 2014
Cox Catalyst: Headlining the 2014 UC Riverside women’s volleyball roster that returns 10 letterwinners is junior Ashley Cox, who paced the Highlanders last season with 227 kills and a 3.07 kills per set average. The middle blocker recorded a team high 248.5 points in 2013 but was also clutch on defense, finishing second on the team with 134 digs.
Another Scoop Please: Maddie Hubbell returns to the lineup after a stellar freshman campaign where she registered a 3.93 dig average to rank fourth in the Big West Conference. En route to a 369 dig total in 2013, which placed her seventh in the league, Hubbell recorded double-digit digs in 21 contests, which included four 20-plus dig matches. She also tied for third on the team with 11 service aces.
Taller Than Average: One of the seven newcomers set to make waves in the Highlanders’ 2014 roster is Helena Peric, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Smederevo, Serbia. The coaching staff feels the junior college transfer brings maturity to the youthful roster and some much needed height. UC Riverside’s lineup has been on the shorter side over the past few years with the 2013 lineup averaging 5-foot-8.
Road To Success: Head coach Michelle Patton enters her second season at the helm of the UC Riverside Highlanders. Prior to joining the UCR family, Patton spent five years reviving a San Francisco State program that lay dormant from 2004-07. In 2012, the Gators posted the second-best winning percentage in the history of the program going 21-9 on the year including a 16-6 mark in California Collegiate Athletic Association play and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Highlanders Collect Frequent Flier Miles: UC Riverside kicks off the season competing in four consecutive road tournaments, beginning in Las Vegas for the UNLV Invitational. The Highlanders are slated to battle Western Kentucky and host UNLV in the season-opening event. They follow their Nevada road trip with a visit to Flagstaff, Ariz., which is sandwiched between two Utah journeys, the first to Cedar City for the SUU Tournament and the second to Orem, Utah, for the La Quinta Inn & Suites Invitational.
QUOTABLES – MICHELLE PATTON
(On her first season coaching in the Big West in 2013): “I think just getting in and understanding the competition level of the Big West, which is obviously improving every year. It helped to get a little more grounded and understand where we were as a team and where we need to be.”
(On what components they want to work on): “I think it is offensive. We need to be able to terminate the ball more effectively and make less errors. We also need to be able to put a little more pressure on our opponents with our serving as well. Those are some things we are focusing on.”
(On the return of junior Ashley Cox): “She will be coming back for her third year and she knows what to expect and what needs to be done in order to help the team improve. We have had many conversations with her so we expect for her to come back a little more prepared for her junior year.”
(On the schedule): “I don’t know if I particularly can say one or two particular teams. Our preseason is going to be huge in terms of growth that we need to have with seven incoming players within that short period of time to get us prepared. I think every single match against every single opponent is going to be extremely important.”
(On the incoming class making an immediate impact): “We recruited basically all seven of our players to come in and compete for a position so it will be an interesting preseason.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
5 Players 6-feet or taller on the 2014 roster, the lowest amount in the Big West
7 Matches against 2013 NCAA Tournament participants
12 Number of matches in the Highlanders’ season-opening road trip
227 Kills Ashley Cox recorded during her sophomore season to pace the Highlanders in 2013.
2001 - Year UC Riverside moved to Division I and joined the Big West. The Highlanders won DII national titles in 1982 and 1986.