Two spots away from the top 25 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, the Long Beach State women’s soccer team is expected to make a substantial impact in the Big West this year. Despite losses to ranked teams in non-conference play, the 49ers proved they are able to compete with the best with their non-stop effort and energy.
Long Beach heads into its first Big West conference match at 7 p.m. Thursday against its rivals Cal State Fullerton at Titan Stadium.
It was a rough start for Long Beach (5-4-1), suffering a loss in the first game of the season. The team fell 1-0 to No. 2 UCLA with a goal scored in the last seconds of the game. Learning from their mistakes, the 49ers bounced back with a three-game win streak at home.
“The team has grown with every game,” head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “We’re ready to play.”
Currently leading the team in goals scored is senior forward Ashley Gonzales with four, followed by senior forward Dana Fujikuni with three. While the offense is putting up big numbers, the defense has been the strongest point of the team thus far. Sophomore defender Sarah Pilster and junior defender Chloe Froment stand out on the defensive end, and senior goalkeeper Imani McDonald heads into conference play with 43 saves and 10 goals against.
The last time Long Beach saw the NCAA tournament was in 2016. With Gonzales back on the field after recovering from a season-ending injury last year, the 49ers may advance for the sixth time in school history.
“We are so different from past teams,” Gonzales said. “We are more of a team and more of a family. I think we’re ready.”
Long Beach had the most players selected to the Big West preseason All-Conference team including Gonzales and Froment, as well as junior forward Katie Pingel.
Defeating every unranked team on their schedule, the 49ers go into conference play with a 5-4-1 record. With the noticeable improvement over last year, the team was predicted to place second in the Big West preseason coaches poll, following the reigning conference champion UC Irvine by only two points.
Threats in the Big West include UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara. Riverside (9-0-1) falls at number 51 in the NCAA RPI rankings, just two spots behind Long Beach. Currently in second place in the Big West, Santa Barbara (7-4) held a five-game win streak at the beginning of the season.
“We are so ready. We open with Fullerton and I could not be more excited,” McDonald said.