Oregon State’s Offense Will Hope To Stay Afloat Until the Return of Jenna Richardson
ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Francisco
A program besieged by mediocrity for much of its history, Oregon State now finds itself well entrenched as one of the top dogs in the Pac-12 after three sterling seasons in a row. The mission now for the Beavers is to come through with that one defining moment to propel the program into the national elite. With a talented and battle tested squad coming into 2011, OSU looked to be in a position to make just that happen, but the club just could not seal that program changing win that has seemingly been on the horizon for a while now. While nobody’s scoffing at a thirteen win season and third place finish in one of the nation’s toughest conferences, Oregon State never were able to deliver that monumental win that would’ve made everyone stand up and take notice.
Tipped before the season as dark horses to make significant progress through the NCAA Tournament, OSU instead slumped to a disappointing early exit, with state rivals Portland dumping the Beavers out on penalties in the first round. Even though the early postseason exit wasn’t what Oregon State wanted or expected from their 2011 season, it was still a welcome change from much of the club’s history.
Under the leadership of Tom Rowney in the very early years of the league, Oregon State did OK for themselves, finishing in the top tier of the league and reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 1994. Steve Fennah took over in 1998 but could never bring anything close to success to Corvalis. During a decade in charge, Fennah never managed to lead the Beavers to more than ten wins in a season and could never get the team above sixth in the league. OSU finished eighth or worse in the league in seven of Fennah’s ten seasons, including propping up the table in 2006 and 2007.
Unsurprisingly given all of the above, Oregon State’s NCAA Tournament drought stretched from their first appearance in 1994 all the way through Fennah’s final season in 2007. In stark terms, Canadian Linus Rhode was taking over a team in desperate need of hope after more than a decade of despair. Some had to be doubtful initially over Rhode’s appointment, considering he had, after all, been the associate head coach during Fennah’s unsuccessful tenure. But the Beavers’ administration opted to take a chance on the captain of Clive Charles’ 1995 College Cup team at Portland, hoping that he was the man to make OSU relevant nationally or even regionally for that matter.
Rhode’s first season didn’t offer up a lot of hope, or at least at first glance it didn’t. Keen observers would have noted that the Beavers ended up losing nine matches by a single goal that year, indicating they were getting closer, even if the final W-L-T record didn’t necessarily reflect that, as Oregon State finished on bottom of the league again. The payoff came in Rhode’s second year, as the Beavers took massive strides forward in 2009. After a disappointing opening day loss, OSU strung together seven straight wins, a start that would propel them to a much improved Pac-10 season that saw them win four matches, including against USC and Washington, good enough to see them finish fifth in the league.
It was also enough to send them to their first NCAA Tournament in fifteen years and only the second in school history. Oregon State would not be afflicted with stage fright in the Big Dance either, taking down Ohio State in Columbus before beating Florida in extra time, earning a Sweet Sixteen date with Notre Dame. Oregon State would fall on that evening but hardly did themselves any harm in a hard fought 1-0 loss.
Naturally, expectations going in 2010 were much higher for the resurgent Beavers, as OSU was tipped by many as a contender to make some serious noise. The Beavers would roll through a mostly tepid non-conference slate but proved they were real contenders by winning their first seven league games, including a 3-0 drubbing of UCLA. OSU couldn’t topple Stanford in the end, but runners-up in the league was certainly a great result for the resurgent Beavers. A repeat of 2009′s postseason run wasn’t in order though, as the club got an exceedingly tough draw. OSU would spank Memphis in the opening round but would be thrown into a match against Oklahoma State in the second round and would fall, 2-0.
With a good many of 2010′s talented squad returning, Oregon State was tipped by some as dark horse College Cup contenders and got an immediate chance to prove those credentials in the opener against a like-minded Florida State side. Despite a hard battle in Corvallis, OSU would fall just short, going down to the Noles, 1-0. After a couple of wins over lesser foes, OSU had another chance to make an impression and did so somewhat, recording a solid 1-1 draw with Santa Clara. A 2-1 win over Mountain West kingpins New Mexico would go down as the club’s best non-conference win, but a loss two days later to Portland was another frustrating opportunity gone by the wayside.
After a few more clean sheet wins at home, the club opened up league play on a winning note, taking home their third and fourth shutout victories in a row. In a match with potential Pac-12 title implications, OSU fell just short against a revenge minded UCLA side before sweeping the Arizona schools on the road. Though their Pac-12 form had been excellent, the Beavers’ lack of quality wins in non-conference play was weighing down their profile, and Rhode’s side were far from out of bubble trouble heading into the final five match homestand of the season, especially after losing their final away game of the regular season, a 1-0 upset defeat to Utah.
Needing a big finishing kick, OSU came through in the clutch, winning three of four and taking down many of their league bubble rivals in the process. The only defeat in that stretch came against Stanford, and even then, OSU had managed to give the Card a brief scare. Given the recent uptick in form, the annual Civil War derby against Oregon looked to be eminently winnable, but the Beavers would only be able to draw with the Ducks, keeping the club in the slightest of bubble trouble if the bubble contracted during the last vestiges of Tournament Week. With few upsets in conference tournaments though, OSU finished in fine shape, and even earned hosting rights for the first round of their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament.
It also offered up a chance at revenge, with the opponent being a Portland side that had edged them out in the regular season. Despite taking the lead early in the second half, OSU just couldn’t put their rivals away and were pegged back with a little more than twenty minutes to play. The shootout after one hundred ten deadlocked minutes was a white knuckle affair, but the Pilots would emerge victorious, 7-6, after eight penalties apiece. OSU had had another fine season, but “The Leap” would have to wait for another season after the cruel end to their 2011 campaign.
There are fears though that Oregon State’s window for emerging as an elite side may have closed for the time being with last season’s early postseason exit. A big factor is attrition, with the club losing five seniors from the starting lineup of last year’s veteran strewn side. Then you add in the fact that second leading scorer Jenna Richardson will in all likelihood miss the first month or more of the season on international duty, leading the line in the U20 World Cup for Canada.
And then there’s perhaps the biggest blow of them all, the loss of fellow Canadian Chelsea Buckland to an ACL injury during her training with the Canadian WNT for the upcoming Olympics. Buckland’s eleven goals last season paced the club, and the Beavers’ scoring talisman casts a big shadow over the club as she’s forced to sit this season out on the sidelines. Though Buckland would have been a senior this season and has already redshirted, she’s a prime candidate for medical hardship and a sixth season of eligibility in 2013.
But combined with Richardson’s pending absence, that’s over half of the club’s goals from last year gone in a flash. None of the other returnees managed more than two goals. With the loss of the club’s best defender, Brittany Galindo, as well as star goalkeeper Colleen Boyd to also deal with, Rhode will find himself with one of his toughest coaching jobs in all likelihood this season if he’s to get OSU back into the Big Dance.
Oregon State’s rise coincided with that of Boyd’s in goal, as the big Californian rounded into one of the nation’s finest keepers. A four-year starter for the Beavers, Boyd really began to come into her own as a junior in 2010, when she earned Third Team All-American honors after a sterling season that culminated in a whopping fourteen clean sheets. She couldn’t quite match that pace last season but was still strong enough to earn All-Region Second Team honors as the rock in goal for OSU. Obviously, replacing such a tenured and talented keeper won’t be easy, but Rhode has a fine number of options available to him.
Canadian junior Audrey Bernier-Larose is the incumbent and likely favorite to win the job for the Beavers. A transfer from Saint Leo University going into last season, Bernier-Larose got her feet wet at DI level with starts against Butler and Florida International and should at least have a slight experience advantage on her rivals for the starting spot. Senior Claire Pflueger is the other returning option but hasn’t played a minute for the Beavers as of yet after beginning her career with two seasons at Spokane Falls CC.
Rhode may also turn to a newcomer, most likely true freshman Samantha Prudhomme. A member of the powerhouse So Cal Blues club, Prudhomme comes in as a highly touted shot stopper with plentiful ODP experience and should have a chance to win major minutes right away for OSU. Despite a fair amount of options, replacing all Boyd brought to the table will be difficult in the short-term, meaning this group could take a step back this year.
Multiplying Oregon State’s problems this season is the loss of three of their four starting defenders from last year, not the best of omens when you consider the above loss of Boyd in goal. A four-year starter for the Beavers as the club rose through the Pac-12, Brittany Galindo twice earned All-Pacific Region honors as the club’s defensive standout. Galindo was more of a fan of crunching tackles than goalscoring and as such finished the season without a point but with four bookings to her name. The hard nosed Phoenix native isn’t alone in departing OSU this season.
An equally difficult loss to compensate for is that of Ashley Seal, yet another four-year starter whose versatility allowed her to play in defense or in midfield in equal measure. It was the former where she shone last season though, with the Oregonian starting all of the club’s games in her final season in Corvallis. Seal couldn’t match 2009′s five goal output but still netted twice, including a game winner against Arizona, and earned All-Pacific Region Second Team honors along with Galindo after the season.
Finally, the club loses big utility player Ashley Folsom, another player who double digit starts in every season with the Beavers. That included eighteen starts last year, and Folsom was able to display more of an attacking edge as a senior, with crucial goals against New Mexico and Washington State during the regular season.
As you can ascertain, that’s a whole lot of experience gone by the wayside, and a general lack of returning defensive depth may not help OSU’s cause. The one sure thing on the backline this season is senior Milan Cabrera, who will also have to be one of the team’s veteran leaders considering all the graduation losses. Cabrera stamped out a starting spot for herself full-time as a sophomore, scoring a couple of goals in the bargain. The Californian started every game last and will be a sure candidate to do the same this season as she tries to direct traffic on a backline likely to be full of different personnel.
Junior Jessica Niewoehner barely got off the bench as a rookie but saw her minutes increase dramatically last season as one of the club’s top options off the bench. She figures to add to the three starts she picked up last season as well and will be counted upon to make last year’s added experience count. There will also be high hopes for junior Morgan Kennedy, in her second season since a transfer from UNC Greensboro. There, she was one of the SoCon’s most promising young players, with a pair of winner’s medals to her name and many plaudits to go with them. Kennedy was mostly used off the bench last season but seems a sure bet to end up in the starting XI if on form this season.
Senior Justyne Freud, owner of one of the strongest legs in college soccer, has been fighting for a starting spot for the past two seasons but has had to be content with a handful of starts each season while being a big option off the bench. Very dangerous on set pieces, Freud’s also versatile enough to play in midfield, though the Californian will most likely be needed in defense this year, where a starting spot may finally beckon. After them…well, that’s a bit more up in the air. OSU brings in some rookies to replenish the ranks, but they don’t seem to be among the more known commodities in this class, so it’ll be worth watching to see if they can handle the rigors of Pac-12 play. You don’t get better by losing three strong seniors though, and this is another group that could be in for a dip.
Comparatively speaking, Oregon State’s midfield fares better than their other units as far as attrition goes this season. The lone loss is of Melinda Ingalls, a Wilsonville native capable in either midfield or attacking roles. Ingalls tore it up in a year at Western Oregon before transferring and becoming an automatic selection for Rhode in the first XI. Forever a cult heroine for the goal against Florida in 2009 that sent the club into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, twelve goals in two season had hopes high coming into the new season for the senior. Ingalls would struggle a bit to gain traction though, finishing with just three goals and three assists, slumping especially badly in league play with just one goal and one assists in Pac-12 play. She still was a viable offensive option though, and for a club short of them this year, her loss still hurts.
One of the club’s new stars in midfield could be junior Jacy Drobney, who won a starting job early in her rookie season and retained that spot last year. Drobney ended up starting nineteen matches in her sophomore season and seems close to a lock to be a lineup fixture this season. Drobney has shown limited offensive punch though, with just two goals and two assists last year, though Rhode will hope for a breakthrough this season. Senior Megan Miller is a likely candidate to join her in that starting midfield this season. A dependable option in spot starts for two seasons going into last year, Miller picked up her most starts in a season with ten last year. She finished without a point, but her experience may be too valuable to leave on the bench this year with OSU hurting for veteran leadership given all the losses to graduation.
Sophomore Brittney Oljar redshirted in 2010 but did well to bounce into the lineup last year, starting nine games and finishing with a pair of goals and two assists to match. Those goals both came in one of the club’s biggest games of the year, against league rivals Washington, and that bit of offensive spark should do her cause no harm as she pushes for a starting spot this year. Senior Lindsay Meiggs started much of her sophomore season and scored against UCLA but found herself pushed into a reserve role for much of last season. Her experience is an asset though on this year’s side, which should see her in with a chance again of major minutes.
Junior Brandi Dawson will also be hoping for increased minutes after exclusively seeing duty off the bench these past few seasons. Burly Canadian Erin Uchacz saw time in midfield last season as well but will almost assuredly be needed up front this season, especially early in the season without Richardson.
Depth has also been boosted by some talented additions by Rhode over the offseason. Gwendolyn Bieck starred for the powerful Crossfire Premier club in ECNL action and has been described as a well-rounded midfielder by the OSU boss. Joining her will be a pair of Region IV ODP standouts, Valerie Margerum and Hannah Russo. Margerum’s a defensive midfielder with ball hawking ability and fine distribution who might also get a look in defense, while Russo has pace to burn and could also end up up front this year. OSU doesn’t have a superstar in this unit, but there’s plenty of depth and good experience, meaning it looks like the club’s strength going into the new season.
Buckland was supposed to be the club’s safety valve in attack while Richardson was gone for the U20 World Cup, forming a deadly duo with her fellow Canadian upon the latter’s return. Instead, Oregon State finds itself likely without both for the first month of the season and without Buckland for the whole season. Buckland’s reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since a fine debut in 2009 with seven goals. Ten goals a season alter was enough to get her noticed by the Canadian WNT, and the Vancouver native was soon on the alternate list for Canada’s 2011 Women’s World Cup team.
Though she started a bit slow last year, Buckland roared to life with a hat trick against Florida International and scored her eleven goals in the club’s final fourteen games. That included seven goals in the league and five goals in the club’s last five Pac-12 games, a critical stretch in the season. OSU will be hoping she gets granted a medical hardship season to enable her return for 2013.
Richardson is one of Canada’s bright young prospects and could be a breakout star at the U20 Women’s World Cup, leading the line this season. The fleet-footed Surrey native won the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year award in 2010 after nine goals and five assists, including a hat trick against Memphis in the NCAA Tournament. She couldn’t quite match that pace in 2011 but also missed a pair of games and still finished with eight goals, including five in the league and four game winners overall. The question will be if OSU can stay afloat offensively without her, and whether the club can keep the heat off her when she does return.
Uchacz seems one of the most likely candidates to try and pick up the slack. That is if she isn’t selected to the U20 team herself. Though a likely outside bet, she has been in camp this calendar year and could create further problems for the club if chosen to go to Japan. Even if she does start the season with the Beavers, there’s little guaranteed as far as production is concerned. Though she entered very highly touted, there’s been little in the way of production on the stat sheet thus far. Three goals in two seasons isn’t a promising return, and Uchacz is going to have to take a big step forward if she’s to be a solution to the club’s potential scoring woes.
Junior Haley Shaw is another big body up front and was used as a target forward at times last season, receiving a big influx of minutes as a sophomore. Shaw only scored a pair of goals but did lead the team with five assists and could be in line for a starting role for the club this season. Sophomore Marissa Kovac also saw time off the bench in fifteen matches and could be in for an influx of more minutes out of necessity this season, while a newcomer or two could also end up being auditioned for a role up front.
On the whole though, the Beavers could be in for a world of hurt early on giving the paucity of options without Buckland and Richardson. Richardson’s return will obviously help alleviate some stress, but OSU really needs for a second scorer to emerge to ensure the junior isn’t just swarmed by opposing defenses. Finding one or not could well determine the course of the Beavers’ season.
It might be a dreaded rebuilding season for Rhode’s Beavers in 2012. Losing so many starters through graduation and injury is tough to overcome in any league, but in the Pac-12, such losses become even more magnified. The tenacious defense which has become one of OSU’s calling cards these past few years is going to have to do some serious scrambling to stay one of the league’s best after losing Boyd in goal and so many starters on the backline. Going forward, the Beavers will likely be sputtering early on without their big two in attack, while so much will rely on Richardson’s form upon her return.
At least the majority of the non-conference schedule looks manageable. OSU can probably grind their way to wins against everyone on that slate but Portland and UC Irvine, and defeats to either or both probably won’t sting too bad in the RPI. But an upset defeat to their lesser non-conference foes could leave them a big hole to dig out of come league play. Rhode’s done a fine job in Corvallis so far, but bringing this squad back into the NCAA Tournament given all that’s been lost would be one of his best coaching jobs.