The Grand Canyon University women’s soccer team, about to begin its third season of a four-year transition from Division II to D-I, is ready to show it can play with the Big Boys… er, Big Girls.
GCU will take on defending Division I national champion Florida State early in the 2015 schedule.
“We are very much looking forward to playing against the top team in the country this year over in Tallahassee, Florida,” says head coach Stevie Gill, who begins his eighth season as the Antelopes’ head coach. “In order to accurately assess our strengths and weaknesses, it is imperative that we play against the best players in the country so we know exactly where we are within our program’s development and what we need in order to be successful.”
That game is scheduled for Sept. 13, the last game on the non-conference schedule before the ‘Lopes head up the hill to Flagstaff to play in the NAU Mountain Classic. Conference play begins after the NAU tourney with a Sept. 26 opener on the road against Bakersfield.
There are several reasons Gill feels optimistic about matching up with the Seminoles.
He goes into the new season as the reigning Coach of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That’s got to be worth something, right?
But he also returns with some top-notch talent from a team that went 7-3 in conference play and had built huge momentum as the 2014 season closed, winning their last five games and seven of the final eight.
And during the season they showed they could step up in the big games. The ‘Lopes, who were picked to finish in fifth place in the WAC, beat pre-season favorite Seattle, handing the Redhawks their only conference loss of the season. GCU tied for third with Utah Valley.
But about that returning talent…
Gill has some youngsters in the fold that will continue to develop into elite performers, including goalkeeper Blakely Fraasch and forward Milla Benedetti, who enjoyed impressive freshman seasons last year. The 5’6″ Fraasch posted four shutouts in goal, which was the second-most in the conference and now ranks her fourth on the GCU all-time list. And Benedetti finished second on the team in scoring with seven goals and led the WAC with five game-winning goals, which puts her second in the GCU record books for game-winners in a season.
Maria Monterroso, a native of Guatemala who plays forward with Benedetti, will also be back for her junior year after leading the team in scoring as a sophomore with eight goals, putting her fifth in the league in that category.
And then mix in some new talent that includes a couple of additional forwards from Washington that could provide some immediate impact. Deseree Doty, a four-time All-State selection, set a new state single-season record of 53 goals and led her high school team to a pair of state championships before leaving. McKenzie Cook also helped her school to a state championship last season and was twice named the league MVP.
In addition to a solid roster, the ‘Lopes will have the added advantage of beginning the 2015 season with their first five games at home.
This will all result in high expectations for Gill and his crew this season.
But then, that’s not necessarily a bad problem to have.
(Photo: GCU Athletics/ Darryl Webb)