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Zags Looking For Strong 2007 Campaign

Aug. 24, 2007

SPOKANE, Wash. - - When the Gonzaga University women's soccer team opens the 2007 season it will be looking to extend it's recent successes, as the Bulldogs have strung together four seasons with winning records, along with 10 or more wins. Last season, the Zags posted a 10-9-1 record, including 3-4-0 in West Coast Conference play.

This season's squad features a multitude of talent as the Zags return six seniors who saw action in every match last season. Leading the brigade will be All-West Coast Conference second team honoree Lauren Zuckerman. Returning All-WCC selections also include seniors Christine Soma and Nanda McCormick, and sophomores Taylor Hall and Jessie Thalman. Soma and McCormick both garnered honorable mention accolades, while Hall and Thalman were named to the league's All-Freshman team.

"We have a core of returning letterwinners that have proven to be warriors," said ninth year head coach Shannon Stiles. "In terms of leadership, desire and ability to grind out and win games, this group of upperclassmen are top notch."

Jamie Blanche will headline as a forward this season after spending the majority of her career as an attacking midfielder. Soma will return to the attack for Gonzaga after scoring two goals and adding three assists for seven points in 2006.

"I have high expectations for Jamie this season," said Stiles. "She possesses the ability to not only set up, but to score goals. She is technical and has the confidence of the rest of the team behind her.

"Christine is just sheer get up and go speed. She has an exceptionally fast first step and is always a threat to get behind the defense."

Adding to the forward line will be juniors Lacey Castleberry and Lauren Dascenzo. Castleberry joins the frontline after playing primarily as a midfielder in her past two seasons.

"Lacey can score goals," commented Stiles. "She can strike a great ball equally well with both feet. Lauren has an uncanny ability to get in the right place at the right time to score goals when we need them most."

The Zags will also regain the services of Heather Horn, who redshirted last season due to a knee injury.

"We are excited to see if we can get Heather's pace and tenacity back in our lineup," added Stiles.

Captain Lauren Zuckerman will move this season into the midfield. Joining her will be junior Kelcey Goddard, who Stiles credits for being the heart and soul of the midfield.

"Lauren will take on a key role on the team," added Stiles. "She has moved into more of an attacking, playmaker role, which is very natural for her. Instead of blazing out of the backline, she'll have a chance to make plays and do what she does best out of our midfield.

"Kelcey has a tremendous work rate. She has the ability to cover a lot of ground, has strong tackling skills, and will challenge anyone and win battles for us."

Senior Sarah Hall tallied four total points as a defender in 2006, including a match winning goal.

"I expect Sarah Hall to combine her work ethic and attacking creativity to our midfield," said Stiles. "She loves to play and will do whatever it takes to find a way to win."

Rounding out the Zags returning midfielders are sophomores Jessie Sorenson and Taylor Hall. In her rookie campaign, Taylor Hall recorded three goals on 15 shots.

"It turns out that Taylor is brilliant in front of the goal," commented Stiles. "She battles to get on the end of crosses and is a tenacious defender."

The Bulldogs' backline is looking to continue its solid defensive efforts from last season. In 2006, the Gonzaga defense helped the Zags to post an 1.06 goals against average, as well as eight shutouts. McCormick will join the defense this season, returning as the Zags leading scorer in the 2005 and 2006 campaigns. Last year, she tallied seven goals and two assists for 16 total points.

"Nanda finds herself playing in a flank position," said Stiles. "I think she will love the chance to be involved in initiating our attack from the backline."

The Zags defense will also include senior Cristin Leverson, junior Jackie Einerson, and sophomores Christi D'Agostino and Lori Conrad. Conrad, a 2005 All-WCC selection, will make her return to the squad after redshirting the 2006 season with an injury.

"Lori will take on a big role this season," commented Stiles. "I think she is going to be a big weapon for us, thanks to her mobility, speed and sheer will power. I expect her to step up and lead our defense this year. Overall, our defense is going to be very solid again this year."

Leverson will add a new dimension to the backline as well.

"Leverson is a flank player," added Stiles. "She has found freedom in having mobility up and down the field and is playing the best soccer of her career. She's going to have a great season."

Thalman returns in goal for the Zags this season. Last year, Thalman posted an impressive rookie year in which she started all 20 matches, posted six shutouts and combined for two others, while holding opponents to 21 goals and making 70 saves. Her six shutouts tied her for second on the all-time single season list and places her second in the career ranks, while her 21 goals allowed is the third lowest amount in program history. For her efforts last season, Thalman was named to the Soccer Buzz All-West Region Freshman team.

In addition to Gonzaga's core group of returnees, the Zags have lined up a great recruiting class. Catherine Cullen is one of the focal points of the incoming freshman, as well as Ashley Riley, Sheridan Jones, Lauren Ames and Elle Sweeney. Cullen and Sweeney are expected to make an instant impact in the defense, while Riley and Jones will add to the attack. Ames will be an outstanding addition to the already strong goalkeeping position.

"Catherine is a seasoned player out of Canada," said Stiles. "She has had exposure to high level soccer and is a skilled defender. I think she will be a strong point for us as she makes the transition to college soccer.

"Elle is quick and versatile, which will help us sort out a role for her defensively.

"I am also really excited about the New Mexico connection of Ashley and Lauren. Lauren has great size and could very easily end up seeing some time as goalkeeper, while Ashley possesses the type of attacking personality our team needs. With her fluid dribbling style, and ability to finish, Ashley has the makings of a standout WCC forward.

"Sheridan rounds out the recruiting class. She has attacking savvy, she likes to shoot, and she has great vision."

Also new to the Bulldogs this season are reserve goalkeeper Kayla Jerde, and a pair of freshmen, Gwenna Carie and Katie Spangenberg.

This season the Bulldogs are looking to return to the NCAA postseason for the second time in program history as they face a tough 2007 schedule. Gonzaga will play six matches against teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season, including three in WCC action.

Gonzaga opens 2007 by hosting regional foe University of Idaho on August 31st before playing regional matches against University of Montana in Missoula September 2nd, hosting Washington State University September 7th, and at Eastern Washington University September 9th.

The Bulldogs then head east to participate in the Vanderbilt tournament. The Zags will face Vanderbilt and the University of Alabama-Birmingham in Nashville, Tenn. Gonzaga returns home for four consecutive home matches before two final non-conference tune-ups on the road. The Zags host Utah State University (Sept. 21), Idaho State University (Sept. 28), UC Santa Barbara (Sept. 30) and Boise State University (Oct. 2) before traveling to Oregon State University (Oct. 5) and the University of Oregon (Oct. 7).

During WCC play, the Bulldogs will welcome Santa Clara University, University of San Diego and Pepperdine University to Martin Field. Last season, the Broncos garnered their ninth WCC title and earned a No. 1 seed into the NCAA tournament, while the Waves and Toreros finished third and fifth, respectively.

"We have a strong mix of local rivalry games and a big out of region tournament this season," said Stiles. "We are going to have a chance to play teams that we haven't played or seen and will be able to challenge ourselves in that capacity, which is great for our program. As for our conference schedule, it's as good as ever."

While Stiles has put together a strong team, she is equally as excited about her new assistant coaches, John Cossaboon and Tiera Como.

Cossaboon joins the Bulldogs from Southern Methodist University where he served as head coach the last four years. During his tenure, the Mustangs won four conference titles. In addition to SMU, Cossaboon has been the head coach at San Diego and at UC Santa Barbara. With the Toreros, Cossaboon led USD to four consecutive NCAA appearances from 1999-2002.

"John has spent his entire career furthering his knowledge and promoting the game of soccer," states Stiles. "It's an honor to have him as a member of my staff. He can bring things to the table that not many other coaches in the country are able to. He has guided teams deep into the playoffs and understands the training regimen necessary for long seasons, which will greatly benefit our team. He is certainly a great addition to our program."

Tiera Como joins the staff after capping an outstanding career as goalkeeper at Eastern Washington where she was twice named the All-Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.

"Tiera is a local product who joins our staff as the goalkeeper coach," commented Stiles. "She understands the keeper mentality and will help us prepare our keepers to win the big games. We look forward to adding her to the staff."