Midnight practice kicks off promising ASU soccer season

Kevin Boyd borrowed from college basketball’s motivational gimmick of starting a new season with a practice at midnight, calling his Arizona State women’s soccer team into the darkened night for a 90-minute opening practice on Wednesday.

The 6th-year head coach was obviously trying to piggyback on the momentum created last season with a big win on Senior Day to close out the home schedule, and then a hugely important season-ending victory in Tucson over rival University of Arizona in the annual Territorial Cup match.

The 1-0 victory over Washington in the final home game was the seventh shut-out of the year, as the squad put a balanced effort on the field with 13 shots on offense and a stingy defensive performance that allowed just two shots on goal.

That was followed by a 2-1 win over the Wildcats, the second straight against their Pac-12 rival and 14th in the 17 times they’ve played.  The ASU defense held the Cats scoreless for the first 75 minutes, and senior forward Sierra Cook put an exclamation mark on an outstanding college career by scoring both Sun Devil goals.

Last year’s team needed those two final wins just to pull up to an 8-11 overall record and a 4-7 mark in conference play.

That 2011 season was really the first misstep in Boyd’s time at the controls of the program.  He arrived in 2007 from California, where he led the Golden Bears to eight NCAA Tournament appearances in his 10 seasons there.

In 2009, the Sun Devils earned their first trip back to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, and then went back the next year for just the second time in school history the program has made back-to-back NCAA appearances.

Now, with the disappointing 2011 season behind him, Boyd has re-loaded with 13 new players on this season’s roster, including three local prep stand-outs: McKenzie Beryhill, a midfielder from Greenway High School in Phoenix; Cali Farquharson, a forward from Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix; and Lucero Lara, a midfielder from Hamilton High School in Chandler.

They join three other local athletes already on the 30-man roster: Blair Anderson, a junior midfielder from Gilbert High School; Alyssa Freeman, a senior forward from Red Mountain High School in Mesa; and Taylor McCarter, a senior midfielder from Sahuarita High School in Tucson, who was a Pac-12 Honorable Mention last season.

One of the most important additions is a transfer that just announced she will be arriving from Western Illinois University.  It’s an important piece to Boyd’s plans for this year because Liz Schulze is a goalkeeper.  Until he got her commitment, Boyd was faced with a roster deep in talent, but with just one goalie, Chandler Morris, a 5’8″ redshirt freshman from California.

Even with the addition of Schulze, there still won’t be a lot of college experience in the net this season.  She played just her freshman year at Western Illinois, starting one game.

But, overall, Boyd appears pleased with what he has to work with this year.

“I thought our newcomers showed what they could do,” he said followed his little midnight experiment.  “They were very good.

“I told the team that we are twice as good as we were last spring.  Our depth has improved significantly.  It’s without a doubt the deepest group I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”

However, the nighttime scrimmage was probably also a good indicator of how difficult it is at this stage to predict success in 2012.  The 60-minute game ended in a 1-1 draw.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/ Steve Rodriguez)