Daily 49er

CLARK: Despite losses, LBSU will still compete for a Big West title

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In most cases, when a mid-major team loses an All-American forward and an NCAA All-West region defender in the same year, it earns them a one-way ticket to irrelevance.

This is not most cases.

The 49ers may have lost Nadia Link, Alex Balcer and five other seniors, but an incredible amount of depth may keep head coach Mauricio Ingrassia’s team near the top of the Big West Conference.

Last year’s squad returns a core of five starters, including All-Big West second team midfielder/forward Eileen Maes. But what will really help LBSU stay competitive this year is the depth it displayed toward the end of the 2012 season.

As the injuries piled up last year, more and more freshmen got to see the field. Then-senior Kelsey Wilson sat out a bit with a concussion, as did freshman Renee Mendiola.

Sophomore midfielder Marie MacKenzie sustained a season-ending knee injury midway through, and senior Jordan Nelson did the same a couple weeks later.

All of the injuries forced constant changes in the starting lineup and also opened up opportunities for bench players. The team still played well for the most part, but the season derailed because of three double-overtime losses in the final six regular-season games.

When the team moved on to the NCAA tournament, it competed for two halves but had a very hard time getting past a difficult Santa Clara defense en route to a 2-1 loss.

Many of the role players on last year’s team will be stepping into more important spots this year. Forward Elizabeth Lyons and midfielder Hannah Sanders have a year of experience and improvement behind them and will be expected to contribute early. Mendiola and MacKenzie will look to pick up where they left off last year.

The ‘Niners may struggle at the beginning of the year as they find their identity and cope with the inexperience of 12 freshmen. But  when Big West play rolls around, they will be in a position to compete.

Other Big West schools have been depleted by graduation as well. Of last year’s 13 All-Big West first team members, 11 were seniors. Reigning champion Cal State

Northridge had six All-Big West members, and five were seniors.

Every team in the conference has a lot to figure out, and that will allow LBSU to have a shot at a third Big West title in four years.

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