Anyone who attends a game or even a practice of the 8th-ranked SCU women’s soccer team will witness a group of 30 women and four coaches hard at work and determined to drive toward their expressly stated goal. Freshman defender and midfielder Nikki Ambrose, the team’s first recruit from Canada, says it very simply: “When you come to Santa Clara to play soccer, a national championship is always the goal in mind.”
Coach Jerry Smith has officially begun his 24th season at the helm, and he is just as excited for this team’s prospects as any other year. He constantly emphasizes the core values that have driven both him and his players throughout his tenure as coach, including respect, responsibility, and Bronco pride.
This year, Smith also has a new volunteer assistant, SCU women’s soccer legend Aly Wagner. Wagner has a long list of career highlights; her time at SCU included scoring the national championship-winning goal over North Carolina in 2001 and winning the Hermann Trophy as the country’s best player in 2002.
Wagner, 30, recently retired from professional soccer and returned to SCU to finish her degree. “One thing led to another,” said Wagner, and before long she was back as a volunteer coach with the team she loves and hopes to inspire. Junior defender Jenny LaPonte, who is recovering from a hamstring injury and has been personally training with Wagner, said that she was “super stoked to see Aly here…she’s just so good.”
As important as coaching can be, a team must have good players to succeed, and this team is in no short supply of quality student-athletes. For soccer, especially, a good goalkeeper can often be the difference between a win and a draw or loss. This year, SCU has one of the nation’s best in junior Bianca Henninger.
Henninger, whose jersey number is, appropriately enough, 1, recently returned from Germany as the starting goalkeeper for the US in the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup. Her efforts were part of a drive to the quarterfinals for the US team, and she was awarded the Adidas Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper for her performance.
Back home and practicing again with SCU, Henninger is determined to eliminate any deficiencies in her already-solid game. “It was really cool to be able to play for your country…to hear the national anthem. I know it sounds corny, but it gives you a sense of pride,” says Henninger.
Finally, a team’s captain always plays a pivotal role in its success, and Smith has found two in co-captains Lindsey Johnson and Kendra Perry. Perry, a senior midfielder, said that as captain, it will be her and Johnson’s job to help keep the team motivated. “We need to be that voice for the team,” she said. She also mentioned that, outside of soccer, she (along with many other members of the team), leads through service, working with the Bay Area Women’s Soccer Initiative. Johnson said that she wants to serve as a role model for young girls, and every player agreed. It was clear, even with a national championship in mind and much hard work left to do, this team considers service to be a primary goal for this, or any, soccer season.
Go to the next game.