By Vince Girimonte, Union Weekly
Coach Mauricio Ingrassia remembers four years ago, when the eight seniors he recruited on this year’s team came to Long Beach on their official visit, and subsequently toilet-papered his house.
“It seems like yesterday,” he said two weekends ago, a day after his team pounded Harvard 3-0 to remain undefeated on the young season. They have come a long way since their high school antics, the eight of them, highlighted with a conference title in 2005. But more importantly, Ingrassia and his seniors have taken a program from relative anonymity to a perennial contender out West. Nobody likes to throw around the word “powerhouse,” and LBSU is not there yet. But if things continue to go as planned, it won’t be long before we put Women’s Soccer on the same echelon as our Volleyball and Baseball programs.
But it all comes back to the seniors and the family they have forged, and it’s a place where more and more recruits are looking to call home.
“Coach is always telling us to be out here [on the field] for your girls, and we’ve taken that off the field as well,” says defender Tiffany Vaught. “We always make sure we’re together.”
This year’s team is about the eight that have made it, in both its identity and ability out on the field. As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and the 49ers have three seniors in the back with team captain Sara Baca, Tiffany Vaught and Julie Megorden. Hayley Bolt, midfield cog and distributor, is the presence in the middle. Also in the midfield are seniors Dana Farquhar, and Kim Silos. At forward is the shifty Sahar Haghdan, who was also hampered by a leg injury in 2007. In the goal is senior Liz Ramos, LBSU’s all-time leader in shut-outs. Not bad for experience.
If a tight bond was formed back in 2004, it was likely formed out of necessity. All eight of them were thrown into the fire as freshmen, back when the season’s goal was merely to be above .500.
“I think a lot of us came here because we felt like we were going to build something,” says goalkeeper Liz Ramos. “There’s a lot of programs where you go in and you feel like you’re not going to play your freshman year and you usually don’t. But this program was new and we felt like all of us had a chance to make it better. That’s a reason why we all chose to come here.”
It’s rare to see a class so intact, and it helps that this team is void of the big egos that can submerge a team in conflict. There’s a genuine feel of family on the field, in practice, and apparently off the field.
“We have these teams called Team Dinners,” says Vaught. “We get together and eat…all the time.”
The going was tough in the beginning. All eight of the highly touted freshmen started with very minimal upper-class support in 2004. Most similar situations would yield humbling results, but the 49ers managed to exceed their expectations from the beginning, making the conference tournament but bowing out in the first round. Losing should never be palatable, but Long Beach State still had three more years to go with a solid core intact, and loftier aspirations.
The very next year saw a LBSU Women’s Soccer Big West Championship won in Fullerton, against Fullerton. For all intents and purposes, it was won on the moon: titles don’t get much sweeter in Long Beach. For such a young team it was not an aberration; it was the talent and ability to adjust to college ball of the elite eight, foreshadowing the future of a great program.
“They were the kids that we were able to bring in and kind of change the course of the program,” says Ingrassia. “They’ve been the cornerstones for the things that have happened.”
And 49er fans should be highly encouraged. As of last weekend, they were 4-1-2, with four shutouts posted and wins over some impressive opponents. As the seniors’ career at LBSU winds down, they’re cognizant of their send-off.
“We don’t ask for anything less,” says Vaught of the Big West—all of it, “we’ll win it.”