Eastern to face Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Fullerton in first tune up of 2010
After a stellar 2009 season in which the Eastern Washington Eagles rose from the bottom of the Big Sky rankings to claim runner-up honors in the regular season, head coach George Hageage and the entire Eagle soccer program is eager to get the 2010 campaign underway. The Eagles will head to California this weekend to take on Cal State Bakersfield on Friday (Aug. 27) at 7 p.m., followed by a matchup with Cal State Fullerton on Sunday (Aug. 29) at 1 p.m.
The Eagles will play the Roadrunners for the fourth time in as many years, with CSU-Bakersfield holding a slight advantage in the all-time series at 2-1. Last season, the Roadrunners topped the Eagles by a score of 1-0, but it was a tightly contested battle, as the game-winning goal didn’t come till the 86th minute. Both teams fired an even 21 shots in the match.
On Sunday, Eastern will be looking to claim its first-ever victory against the Titans, after having dropped its two previous meetings during the 1999 and 2002 seasons.
“It is no secret in the world of soccer that California rules the roost in terms of quality players,” said Hageage. “These games will without a doubt be tough, but we feel confident in our ability to compete with both teams, and hopefully we can come away with a few early-season wins.”
Although Eastern is slightly behind some other schools in the nation, as this will be their first outing of the 2010 season, the Eagles are looking forward to a successful debut.
“We are really excited to get on the field,” said Hageage. “Our staff is a little nervous because we didn’t get a chance to see the girls play before our first official game, but that has not affected how we’ve practiced and prepared over the last two weeks. I know we are more athletic than we were last year and we have a strong group of senior leaders. There has been a lot of compeition for positions, but everyone is pulling together and there is definitely a positive vibe among the players right now.”
Eastern is returning 13 letterwinners from the 2009 roster, seven of whom were starters a year ago. Five of those seven starters were named to the All-Big Sky conference teams. Highlighting the list is senior Brittany Sparks, who was a first-team selection. Last season, Sparks set the EWU single-season record for goals (11), points (22) and game winners (3). She, along with senior Lacey Schreiner, will serve as captains for the 2010 season.
Both of Eastern’s games this weekend in California can be followed via live stats. Just go to www.goeags.com and click the live stats link within the women’s soccer schedule!
Scouting the Opposition
• The Roadrunners are returning 18 letterwinners from their 2009 roster, including 11 starters. The team will also feature six senior members.
• Returners Kassi Massey and Sam Pena led the team in goals last season with three apiece. The two players also finished 1-2 in shots and shots on goal.
• The Roadrunners went 6-11-2 in 2009, including a 2-1 victory over then-No. 13 San Diego. They are also riding a two-year winning streak against the Eagles.
• The Titans welcome back 13 letterwinners from 2009, including 10 starters.
• Cal State Fullerton compiled a 6-8-5 overall record last season, while going 4-3-1 in the Big West. They were picked seventh in the 2010 BWC Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
• Cal State Fullerton’s returns its top two goal scorers from 2009 in Stacey Fox and Danielle Bitonti. Both players scored three goals apiece, including two game winners.
• The Titans have earned a bid to the NCAA tournament in three of the last five seasons (2006, 2007, 2008).
Eagles Picked Sixth in BSC Preseason Poll - Similar to the start of last year’s storybook season, Eastern was picked sixth in the 2010 Big Sky Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Last year, the Eagles were selected eighth in the preseason rankings, but proved the pollsters wrong when they claimed runner-up honors in the regular season with an impressive 4-2-1 conference record. That mark in league play was the best for the Red and White since the 2004 campaign. Including last year’s run, EWU has advanced to the BSC tournament four of the last eight seasons.
Record-Setting Sparks - Senior Brittany Sparks appears in the EWU record book in eight different categories. Last season, she set the school record for single-season goals (11), points (22) and game winners (3). She is tied for first in career goals (14), while ranking second in points (31) and game winners (4), and fourth in total shots (92). If Sparks scores just one goal this season, she will become the top goal scorer in Eastern Washington history!
Brannan in the Books - Last season, Whitney Brannan etched her name in the EWU record book in four different categories. She is currently tied for fourth in single-season goals (5), tied for second in assists (3), third overall in shots (48) and fourth in points (13). Brannan, who returns this year for her junior season, was named to the All-Big Sky honorable mention team for her efforts in 2009.
It’s a Family Affair - The Eastern Washington Eagles have a long history of “soccer sisters.” This year, the team features one set of sisters in Whitney and Brianna Brannan. Throughout history, the Eagles have had three sets of twins on the team, including two at the same time. Cynita and Cyeeta Mott and Jennifer and Kim McMullen all played on the field together during the 2004 season. In addition to siblings, the EWU coaching staff is a full-family effort. Head coach George Hageage and assistant coach Tamara Hageage have been married for 10 years, while George’s father, George Jr., has served as volunteer assistant coach for the last seven seasons.
2010 Season Outlook
After a breakout year in 2009, in which the Eagles rose from the bottom of the Big Sky rankings to claim runner-up honors in the regular season, EWU head coach George Hageage looks to take another step forward and earn a bid to the BSC championship game for the first time in school history.
The Eagles have played in the semifinal match of the BSC tournament five times in the last 12 years, but no Eastern team has ever advanced to that coveted final round. With seven returning All-Big Sky players, it seems there would be no better time than now to accomplish this goal.
“I am really excited about our team heading into this season,” said Hageage. “We have a very balanced roster that includes five strong senior leaders, several returning juniors and sophomores and a wide array of enthusiastic freshmen. There is a lot of potential for success both in our non-conference and Big Sky schedule.”
Specifically, the 2010 roster will feature 13 returning letterwinners, seven of which were starters a year ago, nine incoming freshmen and two junior transfers. The Eagles also welcome back four squad members who have practiced within the EWU system for at least one complete year.
Although Eastern has a strong lineup in place for 2010, the team will have work to do in replacing first-team all-conference selections Chelsey Hannesson and Brittney Doran, and four-year letterwinners Mandy Cheney and Morgan O’Friel.
“We only lost four players total from last year, but all four were starters,” said Hageage. “We are going to miss the leadership and skills of those four veterans, and especially the strength provided by Chelsey and Brittney in the middle of the park. Those two really had a dominating presence on the field, most notably with their ability to win balls in the air. Between the two of them, they won about 70 percent of all balls in the air that we won as a team.”
“In addition to their physical prowess, Chelsey and Brittney were both mentally tough,” commended Hageage. “They were vocal leaders and provided guidance both on and off the field. We certainly have girls this year who are technically and tactically sound, so it is more a question of who will be able to fulfill the intangibles that Chelsey and Brittney offered to our squad.”
Eastern will have five seniors to look to for that kind of leadership in 2010, and those five seniors will be spread evenly around the field as it includes a goalkeeper, two defenders, a midfielder and a center forward.
This season, the Eagles will be especially strong between the pipes, as they return two letterwinners from 2009, including All-BSC selection Lisa Dimak. Playing in her first year of collegiate soccer, Dimak started 16 of EWU’s 18 games last season, recording 62 total saves and four shutouts. She was also twice named the BSC Defensive Player of the Week.
“Lisa is a natural athlete,” said EWU assistant coach Tamara Hageage. “She has the personality of a goalkeeper in that she is self-driven, analytical and is always looking to get better. She took a huge leap between Spring and Fall last year, and we are looking for her to make the same kind of progress this season. Although she will be a senior, she is still somewhat new to the collegiate game, so she exhibits similar weaknesses that any young goalkeeper would have. But really, Lisa’s main strength is her ability to catch on to things quickly, so I expect to her to once again lead our defense and be one of the best goalkeepers in the conference.”
In addition to Dimak, Eastern welcomes back sophomore Jamie Walker, who earned her letter last year after appearing in 11 games, two of which she started in the net. Walker had 31 saves in her 503:07 minutes of play in 2009.
“Jamie has tremendous size and is very athletic,” said Tamara Hageage. “Although Lisa is the favorite for the starting spot, Jamie will certainly have a shot if she proves herself during preseason. Jamie does a great job of distributing the ball and has an amazing left-footed punt. I am really proud of where she has come since the start of her freshman year, and I look forward to seeing her progress even more this season.”
Eastern will return three of the four players who started in the back line last season, including seniors Lyndsey Martin and Hannah Kreminski and junior Sara Byrne. These three players will provide a strong foundation for the Eagle defense, as all three have earned Big Sky honors at some point in their careers. Kreminski is coming off an impressive season, as she was one of the four Eagles named to the All-Big Sky Honorable Mention team in 2009. Byrne will return for her junior campaign after starting all 18 games as a freshman and sophomore. In 2008, she was honored as a BSC second-team selection. Martin also received conference recognition in 2008, as she was a member of the honorable mention squad.
“We have great chemistry working in the back line this year,” said Hageage. “Although we lost Chelsey, I am confident that whoever fills her spot will have no trouble adjusting because she will be playing with three already solid, experienced defenders.”
Tess Locke, who was a squad member in 2009, will look to move into that final starting spot on defense. But freshmen Melissa Bishop and Brianna Brannan, sister of returning forward Whitney Brannan, will also have a good shot.
“Tess made massive improvements during the spring season and we expect her to really step up and fight for that position,” said Hageage. “But Melissa and Brianna are both talented players, and both are quite tall, so that could be an important factor as they would provide height for us in the back.”
Contrary to Eastern’s back line, the midfield will experience considerable change in 2010, as the Eagles graduated three of their four starters from a year ago. Although it may seem like a daunting task to replace that many role players, Hageage is confident in his options.
“We have a great mix of athletes who can fill the void that was left in the middle of the park,” said Hageage. “I am really excited about Lauren Jacobsen, who did an awesome job as a freshman. I see her as the next Brittney Doran. She has the same solid fundamental skills, but probably does an even better job of spreading the ball and distribution on the field.”
As a freshman, Jacobsen earned All-Big Sky honorable mention accolades. She scored two goals for the Eagles, including the game-winner against Weber State, which gave Eastern its first-ever victory in Ogden, Utah.
Others who will vie for a spot in the midfield include senior Lacey Schreiner, juniors Kirsten Fausko and Charlene Hitchcock and sophomore Melissa von der Hofen, all of whom saw significant playing time in 2009. Fausko started 11 of the 18 games in which she played, recording one goal and one assist. Schreiner, who will serve as one of the two team captains this season, also played in all 18 contests in 2009, tallying one assist.
The Eagle offense will enjoy a potent blend of experience and new talent, as it returns two starters from 2009, and welcomes several new faces to the mix. Most notably, the Eagles will have back the school record-holder for goals and points in a single season, Brittany Sparks. The senior from Kennewick, Wash., scored 11 goals last year, including three game winners, which also marked a new EWU record. Sparks was a first-team all-conference selection and was twice named BSC Offensive Player of the Week.
“We expect Brittany to do exactly what she did last year – be smart, be aggressive and do everything she can to put herself in a position to score,” expressed Hageage. “After having a season like she did, we anticipate the opposition will really go after Brittany. She will be always be marked, so we need to figure out ways to get other people involved. We expect Whitney [Brannan], Kasey [McNeill] and freshman Siara Byers to be those players.”
As a freshman in 2009, Brannan was named to the All-Big Sky Honorable Mention squad after starting 17 of the 18 games in which she played for the Red and White. She was Eastern’s second-leading scorer with five total goals, one of which was the game winner against Sacramento State. Brannan also dished out three assists to bring her point total to 13, which is fourth on EWU’s all-time records list.
McNeill also played an important role in 2009, as she appeared in 12 games, tallying one goal and one assist. Adding depth to the forwards will be freshman Siara Byers, a first-team all-league selection from Bremerton, Wash.
“Siara is fast and very crafty with the ball,” said Hageage. “Unlike some of our forwards in the past, she is also fairly tall, which will be an advantage as it creates a bigger target up front.”
The Eagles will open the season with a pair of road games in California, followed by two home matches against Seattle and UC-Irvine.
“We should be challenged right off the bat, as three of our first four games are against California schools,” said Hageage. “It is always a little tough to face those teams, based solely on the fact that they are playing outside on the grass all year round”
The Eagles will also make a trip to South Dakota to take on the Coyotes of USD and the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State. SDSU should provide a good test for the Eagles, as it is the reigning champion of the Summit League.
However, the biggest challenge the Eagles will face in their “pre-conference” schedule will come one week later when it faces the Trojans of Southern California. USC is ranked 19th in the NSCAA 2010 preseason poll. The Trojans have made 11 NCAA tournament appearances in history, including a national championship run in 2007. Eastern will enjoy home-field advantage though, as the Trojans will make the trip to Cheney on Sept. 26.
Eastern’s Big Sky season will be begin with road matches versus Portland State (Oct. 8) and Sacramento State (Oct. 10). The Hornets are ranked No. 2 in the BSC preseason poll, while the Vikings landed at No. 3. The Eagles, who were picked sixth, beat Sac State 1-0 last season and battled Portland State to a 1-1 draw.
The Eagles will then play four its next five conference games at home, including a matchup with preseason favorite Northern Arizona (Oct. 24). The BSC tournament is scheduled for Nov. 5-7, with the location determined on the standings of the regular-season.