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WCC Coaches Tab Pilots Preseason Favorite

Aug. 1, 2006

SAN BRUNO, CA - The University of Portland, the defending national champions, were selected as the favorite to take home the 2006 West Coast Conference women's soccer regular season title, as voted on by the conference's head coaches. The Pilots, who return eight starters from last year's championship squad, received five first place votes to tally 47 overall points. Santa Clara, which welcomes back 10 starters from last season's team that advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals, was selected second with 45 total points and received three first place vote. The Pilots and Broncos have either won or had a share of every WCC title since the league began sponsoring women's soccer in 1992.

The Broncos are followed in the poll by a pair of 2005 NCAA Tournament participants in Gonzaga (34) and Pepperdine (31). Selected fifth was San Diego with 23 points, Loyola Marymount was tabbed sixth with 21 points, while Saint Mary's (15) and San Francisco (7) round out this year's preseason poll in seventh and eighth place, respectively.

Portland, which captured its second national championship in the last four years, returns a talented nucleus, led by a trio of U.S. National Team stars and a strong six-person senior class. The Pilots also boast the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation, according to Soccer Buzz. Sophomore Megan Rapinoe, who recently made her first appearance with the full U.S. Women's National Team, scored 15 goals and added 13 assists as a freshman in 2005. All-American junior defender Stephanie Lopez is also a U.S. WNT member and captains the U.S. Under-20 squad, while junior midfielder Angie Woznuk is a capped U.S. National Team player and U.S. Under-21 starter.

The Pilots will miss national player of the year Christine Sinclair and three-time All-American Lindsey Huie, but UP returns four of its top six goal scorers from a year ago, and five other veteran starters. Senior captain Kari Evans anchors the defense and has started all three years on The Bluff along with fellow senior Lisa Sari as a holding midfielder. Junior Emily Michaelson is also a two-year starting defender, while senior goalkeeper Cori Alexander, the 2005 College Cup defensive MVP, posted a 0.36 goals-against average in 2005. Junior forward Natalie Budge (7g, 11a) is a two-year starter and dynamic score, while Michele Scifo (3g, 3a) has also logged significant minutes in the midfield.

Santa Clara, which has advanced to at least the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament the last 11 seasons, the longest streak in the nation, returns 22 letterwinners and nine of its top 10 goal scorers from last year's team. The Broncos also welcome in the fourth best recruiting class in the country, according to Soccer Buzz.

Gonzaga, selected third, enjoyed a historic season last year, advancing to its first-ever NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs earned their highest finish ever in the WCC with a 3-1-3 record for a third place showing. The Pepperdine Waves, who return 21 letterwinners and seven starters from last season's NCAA Sweet Sixteen squad, will be looking for their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. San Diego, picked fifth, looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2005 campaign. With 17 letterwinners returning, including seven starters, the Toreros should be poised for their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight seasons. Loyola Marymount returns seven starters and 15 letterwinners, while Saint Mary's, led by first-year Head Coach Kelly Lindsey, welcomes back 11 letterwinners, including six starters from last season's team. San Francisco, led by one of the top players in the conference in senior Chelsea Hunt, looks to return to its 2004 form, which saw the Dons post 10 wins.

2006 WCC Women's Soccer Preseason Poll

1. Portland - 47 (5)
2. Santa Clara - 45 (3)
3. Gonzaga - 34
4. Pepperdine - 31
5. San Diego - 23
6. Loyola Marymount - 21
7. Saint Mary's - 15
8. San Francisco - 7
(First place votes)