LONG BEACH >> The 2017 Long Beach State women’s soccer teams has almost all of the characteristics of a national powerhouse. Despite having to replace a decorated senior class that included the Big West Conference midfielder and goalkeeper of the year, the 49ers have one of their deepest and most athletic teams in program history.
LBSU is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Big West champion and is ranked No. 24 in the TopDrawerSoccer.com preseason poll. The 49ers also have an elite striker in senior captain Ashley Gonzales, who was one of 61 players named to the 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List for the best player in the nation. The only thing that’s been missing for the 49ers recently is NCAA postseason success despite reaching the tournament six of the last nine years. Their last win was in 2011.
“Nothing has really been earned by this group,” 14th-year coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “It’s been earned by the program. Now this group needs to grab that and run with it.”
LBSU opens the regular season with two games at George Allen Field this weekend. The 49ers host Cal State Northridge in a nonconference game Friday night, and take on No. 6 UCLA on Sunday.
“We’re looking to settle into the season,” Ingrassia said. “We’ve got some very tough games to start, so that’s always a challenge because you want to grow from every game while getting results. This team is mature enough. Every single player here has played in big games.”
Gonzales, who was the Big West Conference Offensive Player of the Year after scoring a team-high 11 goals last season, ranks fifth all-time at LBSU with 28 goals. She is one of five three-year starters, and almost half of roster has started games at LBSU.
“We’re deep, and over the years we’ve gotten more athletic,” Ingrassia said. “I think this is the most athletic team we’ve had.”
Gonzales will be joined up top with newcomers Katie Pingel and Rola Badawlya. Pingel is a sophomore transfer from Santa Clara who helped the Broncos beat LBSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year and reach the Elite Eight. Badawlya graduated from Riverside King High this year after setting the school-record with 45 goals and 34 assists as a senior.
Gonzales said that team chemistry has been key to LBSU maintaining its positive momentum.
“Since my freshman year we’ve been working on our team chemistry,” Gonzales said. “As seniors, and as captain, it’s our job to make sure the freshmen and new players know the standard and what to expect. To do that, we need to have good team chemistry.”
Fourteen of 34 players on the roster are first-year players, but the defense is full of returning starters. Sophomore center backs Kaitlin Fregulia and Chloe Froment will anchor the back line with senior Allie Emmons and junior Alyssa Alvarez in front of junior goalkeeper Imani McDonald.
Because of injuries to last year’s Big West goalkeeper of the year Ashton McKeown, McDonald has already started eight games at LBSU before her first year as the full-time starter. The Long Beach Poly High alum said her nerves are a little less frayed this season.
“It’s an easier mindset than having 35 minutes to get ready to start after (McKeown got hurt in warmups), but it’s still a little nerve wracking because I know I’m the number one and being there for my teammates is what I want to do, first an foremost,” McDonald said.
Fregulia and Froment, the Big West Freshman of the Year last season, are talented enough that Ingrassia can play three defenders in the back when necessary. Senior Jessica Vincent and juniors Dana Fujikuni and Rocio Rodriguez will run the midfield in front of a back line that has incredible service skills up the field.
“By the end of the weekend I’d like to have made some strides towards this teams identity and playing style so we can push forward from it,” Ingrassia said.
LBSU announced this week that former Gonzaga guard Bryan Alberts will transfer in and play this season due to the graduate transfer rule.
Alberts, a 6-foot-5 guard with two years of eligibility remaining, started 10 games as a redshirt freshman at Gonzaga and played limited minutes last season.
“He will add scoring and versatility at all three perimeter positions,” 49ers coach Dan Monson said. “Graduating from Gonzaga in three years gives insight to his discipline and maturity while also giving him two years in our program.”