Northridge, Calif—–Cal State Northridge women’s soccer took the field on Friday against Pepperdine and hoped to end any doubts the program faced after goals leader Cynthia Sanchez and starting goalkeeper Jovani McCaskill graduated last season.
After a rough opening 10 minutes of play, CSUN found its rhythm in the second half and played to a 1-1 draw.
Redshirt freshman Alyssa Aquilar scored in the 63rd minute and CSUN’s midfield held firm led by Brett Guarino. Guarino strengthened the Matadors center after an uneven first half.
Guarino handled the pressure from Pepperdine’s defense and set up the team’s first goal with a volley deep down field to the feet of Aquilar.
“One of the things that I always seemed to struggle with during my first two seasons was not being able to handle the ball well with bodies coming at me,” Guarino said. “Even during the spring time I felt that it had been a struggle at time, but I’ve fought through and I felt really good with how we played.”
Newcomers in goalkeeper Taylor Thames and forward Alexis White played quality minutes in their debut.
Thames played the first half and made three saves. Her highlight moment came on her second save by redirecting a well struck shot by Pepperdine’s Leila McFarland from 14 yards out.
White came into the game at the 11th minute and sent a volley across field that nearly turned into a goal for Sydney Gilbert. White has been touted as being one of the fastest athletes on CSUN’s roster but showed an extra level of touch and finesse.
Her ability to play fast and create could give coach Keith West a reason to put her in the starting rotation sooner rather then later.
“We’re excited to see what Taylor can do for us here,” West said. “A tremendous talent and a player who I think will do big things for us in the near future.”
Thames admitted afterward she felt nervous playing in her first game.
“It’s always exciting when you’re playing in your first game and especially at the next level,” Thames said. “It was definitely nerve wracking at first but once the game started I pretty just honed in. I’m proud of what I did along with my other freshman and we’re only going to grow from here.”
One of the elements CSUN lacked at times last season was having consistent speed to play with teams like Cal State Fullerton who won last season’s Big West Tournament final.
Now with the addition of White along fellow freshman Sophie Yanez, Victoria Cue, Ify Mbeledogu and Gabriella Robles; the Matadors now have the pieces needed to matchup with more athletic teams.
Injury Report: Senior captain and defender Lindsay Kutscher injured her right ankle in the 85th minute but walked off the field under her own power.
Mbeledogu hurt her right knee after coming down awkwardly in the fifth minute and was seen on crutches after the game.
Grades: GK- Taylor Thames: Thames started at goalkeeper and made a key stop in the 22nd minute. Thames showed off her athleticism and handled pressure well. Thames will continue to grow but needs to communicate better with her back line. The first 20 minutes saw CSUN under constant duress but it should improve over time. Grade: A-
F- Beth Fitzsimmons: Was very active in her 31 minutes of action. Had a shot on goal and worked well off of Guarino. Grade: A
MF- Bret Guarino: Had a tough time transitioning in the first half but once she got comfortable her offense did too. Looked very comfortable playing with pressure, something she did not do well in the past. Grade: A-
MF- Christina Nixon: Solid first game. With Guarino solidified the middle in the second half. Grade: A-
MF- Marissa Favela: Played 18 minutes but Keith West saw everything he needed to see from her. She is one of the best in the country at taking corners and will be a major impact player in 2018.
D- Amanda Martin- Played 90 minutes and will make up another formidable CSUN backline with Kutscher and Katelyn Von Meter. Grade: A
D- Lindsay Kutscher- “Where isn’t Lindsay Kutscher?” is the question. Even in a preseason game the senior captain was everywhere both pushing the attack and then challenging Pepperdine’s forwards. Was injured in the 83rd minute and it’ll be interesting to see if she plays in the final preseason game Sunday against Cal State Fullerton. Grade: A
MF: Sofie Yanez- The freshman showed why she belonged. Will still need to adjust to the speed of the game but played in line with her upperclassman. Worthy of a start and passing grade. Grade: B
D- Katelyn Von Meter- Seemed apprehensive at times with the ball at her feet but works well alongside Kutscher and Martin. Grade: B
GK- Amanda Delgado- Played the second half plus overtime and watching her battle with Taylor Thames for the starting goalkeeper spot will be fun. Handled pressure and contact well during her 59 minutes of action. Communicated well and despite having multiple knee surgeries seemed comfortable moving in the box. Grade: A
F- Alexis White- Tons of hype coming out of training camp about White’s ability and in her debut, she showed why. Two minutes in, delivered a near perfect volley across field and then harassed Pepperdine both in her transition to defense and then her speed down field. A freshman who could find herself in the starting rotation soon. Grade: A
F- Amy Aquino- Aquino is playing for her starting spot after being a freshman Big West first team member in 2017. She created space and carved out space in the center. Grade: B
MF- Payton Jo Armijo- Came off the bench and was aggressive. The loss of last season’s senior class is a gain for players like Armijo who can come in and provide depth this season. Grade: B+