UC San Diego women’s soccer coach Brian McManus has coached a ton of really good players in his 30 years at the helm. He’s taken teams as far as they could go more than just about anybody else. He’s been around a lot of success.
So he might know whether this UCSD team will be the one to give him a shot at a third NCAA D2 Women’s Soccer national championship (and a remarkable title eighth overall, counting the five the Tritons won when they were a D3 program).
But as UCSD enters a second-straight week as the top team in the D2 women’s soccer rankings, McManus (pictured left) isn’t thinking about that – or if he is, he isn’t letting on.
“The goal is the same as it is every year, it’s to reach the playoffs,” McManus told HERO Sports. “To be one, or two, in the conference.”
So far so good on both counts. UCSD earned a fifth-consecutive win on Sunday to stay perfect in California Collegiate Athletic Association play, and, even if McManus won’t say it, the Tritons are starting to look like one of very few teams who could unseat three-time defending national champion Grand Valley State.
While McManus’ high-profile program could go far and wide to find players, most of this year’s success is driven by talent from their own backyard.
Junior forward Katie O’Laughlin, from nearby Carlsbad, leads the CCAA in goals scored with nine in ten games. Senior midfielder Kiera Bocchino is second in the conference with six goals. And the conference’s assists leaderboard also has two UCSD players at the top: junior MF Jordyn McNutt of San Diego holds the lead with eight, followed by last year’s CCAA Freshman of the Year – forward Mary Reilly from Chula Vista with seven.
Up top, Reilly and O’Laughlin give teams fits. While teams might be able to key on one, it’s almost impossible to shut both down.
“They’re two very different players, so it’s hard for teams to defend us,” said UCSD Assistant Coach Kristin Jones. “It’s hard to defend both of them.”
O’Laughlin is a more physical player, who is constantly looking to shoot. Reilly, while a willing goal-scorer, has this year become a critical playmaker.
And sometimes, opponents are victimized by both.
“If both of them are on, I don’t think there’s a team in the country that can defend us,” said Jones.
Mary Reilly has four goals and seven assists for the Tritons. (Andy Wilhelm Photo)
And of course, you can look at the stat sheet and see that if both of them aren’t on, opponents could also give up a goal to Bocchino, set up by McNutt. And, as with so many good teams, the attack actually is enabled by a strong defense.
The Triton goal-scorers know they don’t have to worry about pushing too much and leaving defensive gaps, because the midfield and defensive responsibilities will be taken care of.
McManus told HERO Sports his defenders, “give the players in front so much confidence, (attacking players) know they can go and play.”
The Tritons can also catch teams off guard by attacking from the back. McManus says right back Makenzie Brito is good going forward, noting that she had four shots against Chico State last week, second only to Reilly. In fact, the Tritons can attack from just about anywhere on the field. In their most recent match, a 4-0 win over Humboldt State, every starting field player recorded at least one shot.
“A lot of our attack starts in the back … so a team playing us can’t just worry about our two players up front,” Jones said.
The Humboldt State win wasn’t even the highlight of last week for UCSD. The Tritons’ big step forward last week was an impressive 2-0 win over BR-9 Sonoma State in a crucial match in terms of CCAA standings. It kept UCSD at 4-0 in league play. Sonoma is 5-1 in the conference — three points ahead of the Tritons, but with two more games played. The Seawolves came into that game unbeaten in 17 regular season league matches. Bocchino and McNutt scored in that one.
But if things have gone well for the Tritons in the CCAA so far, the team has been tested in non-conference play. The Tritons have two losses so far, both to tough Top 30 teams: a 3-2 road loss to now BR-11 Western Washington, a Final Four team last season, and a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to BR-30 Colorado Mines.
McManus, who finished last year with the most career wins in D2 women’s soccer, acknowledges the loss to Western Washington was deserved, but liked the way his team continued to battle even after getting down 2-0.
“They were incredible in the first half,” McManus said of WWU. “But I thought the way we came back was a big plus.” Reilly scored in the second half of that game to pull UCSD to within a goal, but they were unable to get the equalizer and lost 3-2.
McManus felt the Tritons’ 1-0 loss to Colorado Mines was a bit unlucky, considering his side out-shot the Orediggers 15-4 – and the only shot Mines put on frame the whole day was the one that went in.
“It was one of those games where Lady Luck just turned her back on you,” said McManus.
With the balanced scoring attack and unselfish midfield play that has UCSD players topping the CCAA goals and assists leaderboards, the Tritons may just make their own Lady Luck.