Resilient Tigers are a soccer success story

Women's soccer goalie Brenna Crump

Women's soccer goalie Brenna Crump has twice been named WCC Defensive Player of the Week. Photos: Tim Thymes.

University of the Pacific’s women’s soccer team—building confidence and thriving in a unique coaching situation—is becoming a storybook college athletics turnaround.

The Tigers have a record of 9 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Loyola Marymount. Pacific has won seven consecutive matches.

Compare that to Pacific’s 1-8-3 finish in a pandemic-truncated spring season or 12-68-6 record over the past five seasons.

“We are winning games we would have lost in the past,” said Jenae Packard ’22, a midfielder. “We are a close-knit team and we are making the program what we wanted it to become. We have been mentally strong and we support one another. There is a lot of season left and we are not done. It’s definitely exciting to have this success.”

That viewpoint is shared by the Tigers’ interim co-head coaches, J.J. Wozniak and Danesha Adams.

“We spent a lot of time and effort as a staff changing the culture and the identity and you can see it trending in the right direction,” Wozniak said. “We always told them you are the ones driving the bus. We put it firmly in their hands. They have an unbelievable amount of confidence and belief in themselves.”

“They trust us. Their experiences are changing and they are enjoying the moments,” Adams said. “When they make mistakes, they learn from them. They are willing to try things that they might not have tried in past years. It is rewarding to see the outcomes.”

Interim “Co”-head coaches?

The Tigers’ have a unique coaching approach. In late July, one week before preseason workouts, head coach Ed Moore, who had joined the team six months earlier, resigned to become an assistant coach at the University of Washington.

Pacific Athletics Director Janet Lucas acknowledged there was not enough time to search for a new coach. She offered the interim co-head coaching positions to assistant coaches Adams and Wozniak. They jumped at the chance.

Tigers’ interim co-head coaches Danesha Adams and J.J. Wozniak

Tigers’ interim co-head coaches Danesha Adams (left) and J.J. Wozniak.

The next day, Lucas and coaches met with the student-athletes to break the news. They erupted in cheers and applause.

Said Adams, who played college soccer at UCLA: “When they reacted the way they did, with the cheering and support, it showed that we did not have to sell ourselves. They were ready to go to work.”

“I feel like we didn’t skip a beat,” said defender Camryn Scully ’22. “Both coaches have handled this so well. They work very well together. We have kept the same structure. They feed off each other and have the same mindset.”

An important victory

A match that technically did not count has led to early-season success.

On Aug. 14, the Tigers hosted UC Davis in an exhibition match at Knoles Field. Pacific led 1-0 on a goal by Lauren Frohan ’23 before Davis scored the equalizer late in the match. In overtime, Jade Enalen ’23 scored the winner on a rebound after a Tiger shot had caromed off the post.

“That game gave us hope and belief for future games,” said goalie Brenna Crump ’23, who has seven shutouts and twice has been named WCC defensive player of the week. “We were finally having that ‘oh, we can do this’ moment.”

“Prior to the Davis match, we talked about how much it mattered, even though it was an exhibition,” said Wozniak, who played for St. Louis University and Fresno State. “And we know it mattered for Davis, too.”

The Tigers’ clutch play has enabled them to prevail in many close games, including 1-0 wins over Nevada, Fresno State, California Baptist and Southern Utah. Hunter More ’23 scored game-winning goals against California Baptist and Dixie State (2-1 in overtime). 

The win over Southern Utah was particularly meaningful, Adams said, because the Tigers only had one day of rest between matches while their opponent had been off for nine days.

“There is no question our fitness level is much greater than in the past, and it has been a deciding factor in some of our matches,” she said.

Added Packard, who scored the winning goal against Southern Utah: “Our success has been built on so many previous seasons. Although we feel like a whole new team now, we have learned so much from the past … We also have worked very hard on our conditioning, and it is paying off.”

The Tigers also had a scoreless tie against a strong UC Santa Barbara squad and had an offensive outburst in a 4-1 victory against North Dakota State. The lone loss was to Boise State, 1-0 in overtime.

All told, the Tigers have allowed only three goals in 11 matches—the sort of statistic that will produce wins.

“In many of our games, I have not faced that many shots,” Crump said. “The shutouts are due to many factors, including our ball control. We have been doing a very good job of possessing the ball.”

Focused on the present

Ultimately, decisions will be made about the future leadership of the program. But players and coaches agree: those calls can wait.

“We have raised our standards and we are looking to build something,” Scully said. “We have established an identity and we have a lot more that we can accomplish this season.”

“This experience has been so amazing in my life, and in my family’s life,” Wozniak said. “Danesha and I don’t get caught up with what happens next. We support each other and we are here for the student-athletes. At the end of a day, we have a real good thing going.”