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CLARK: LBSU will experience some growing pains this year

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It’s a common problem to have in college sports: key players graduate, leaving a multitude of holes in a starting lineup.
That problem, however, is what keeps college sports interesting. It’s what prevents schools not named Alabama from reeling off championship after championship like the New York Yankees. It’s what opens up opportunities for new players to fight their way to the top.

In the case of the Long Beach State women’s soccer team, there are a whole lot of players starting their journey to the top this season. Thirteen freshmen are on the roster, and five started in Friday’s game against Northern Arizona: two forwards, one midfielder, one defender and a goalkeeper.

For the most part, the youth didn’t seem to hurt The Beach. Sure, it would have been nice to have the creative ability of Nadia Link or the defensive leadership of Alex Balcer, both of whom graduated last year, but that’s what happens. People graduate.

LBSU head coach Mauricio Ingrassia said the biggest issue in Friday’s season opener was a lack of composure in the second half. He said the team seemed panicked, and that age likely had a lot to do with it.

Friday’s lack of efficiency on offense (the 49ers lost 1-0 despite outshooting NAU 13-4) was one of many growing pains The Beach will likely experience this year.

When nearly half of a starting lineup is seeing its first minutes of collegiate soccer, there are bound to be some cohesion issues, no matter how much talent is on the field.

Sophomore forward Elizabeth Lyons said that the 49ers just couldn’t seem to hone in on a perfect final pass during Friday’s game, limiting their opportunities to score. With two freshmen joining her at forward this year, it’s going to take a couple months before Lyons and her teammates can develop enough on-field chemistry to become a consistent source of goals.

The 2013 season could get off to a rough start for The Beach. Of the team’s first three games, Friday’s was the most winnable.
Next up for the ‘Niners is a road trip to Santa Clara and Texas Tech, both of whom made it into the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament. It’s quite possible that the

49ers won’t see their first win until they host Cincinnati on Sept. 6.
However, if an 0-3 start doesn’t prove to be too much of a setback, LBSU still has the talent to compete for a Big West Conference title.

The 49ers’ nonconference schedule is once again much more difficult than their Big West slate. They will face three ranked opponents and will travel to a few tough road environments at Georgia, Auburn and San Diego.

The philosophy that a difficult nonconference schedule will best prepare teams for Big West play seems to be embraced by all of the coaches at LBSU, and so far, it’s working. LBSU has won three consecutive Commissioner’s Cups, establishing it as the school to beat in the Big West.

There is no reason to believe that strategy won’t work again for this year’s women’s soccer team.

The obstacle of having such a young team could be tough to overcome, but it’s far from impossible.

For example, three of the five starters on Kentucky’s 2011-12 national championship basketball team were freshmen. The other two were sophomores.

The difference between LBSU women’s soccer and Kentucky basketball is that the 49ers don’t have top-five recruits coming in every year. But they also don’t have top-five draft picks leaving every year.

While the initial stages of the 2013 season could be rough, this freshman class is building a foundation that is intended to lead The Beach to much more success in coming years. And when they all graduate, this process will start all over again.

It’s what keeps college sports interesting.

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