CSUB women's soccer hopes to harness international experience

·3 min read

Aug. 5—How did Cal State Bakersfield sophomore Karen Flores spend her summer break?

Well, she went to Colombia for a couple weeks. And while she was there, she played for her home nation of Ecuador in the Copa América Femenina — the highest-level competition in South American women's soccer.

"It's always an honor to represent my country," Flores said at CSUB media day Tuesday, "and the most important thing is the experience I've gotten game by game. And now in this season I want to help my team as much as I can."

Flores isn't the only one bringing a fresh energy into preseason practice. The Roadrunners now list eight players with some form of international experience, including four who are joining the team this season: Anela Nigito and Catalina Roggerone (Argentina), Asma Merzougui (Canada) and Jette Zimmer (Germany).

It's a unique dimension that head coach Sebastian Vecchio hopes will elevate his team's performance, and one that reflects the makeup of his rebuilt coaching staff: Vecchio is from Argentina, and is joined by new assistants Jodi Grant (Canada) and Ali Hanif (England). All three can connect well with a wide array of recruits, Hanif said in an interview, building a team with players from distinct backgrounds.

"I think that's one of the kind of great things about soccer," he said. "It can literally bring anybody from any nationality together in one place, and with that philosophy at CSUB, it's going to be helping the program just have a more diverse approach to playing."

Hanif, a native of Manchester who coached at Manchester United and most recently Illinois State, added that the value of international play goes beyond simple time spent on the field. It gives the Roadrunners a chance to compete alongside and against professional players (even in the under-20 ranks), learn from experienced national team coaches and then spread their knowledge to their teammates back in Bakersfield.

"In total, the great thing is, the amount our American players will learn from the internationals is phenomenal," he said. "It just helps everybody step up their game."

Interfacing between teammates will be particularly important in preseason practice this year, as more than half the squad (15 of 29) is new this season, an increase in turnover from the previous year. The Roadrunners struggled to contend with Big West competition in 2021, finishing 3-14-1 (2-7-1 conference), though after a six-game stretch without scoring any goals, they did win their last two matches.

One key step toward increasing team chemistry entering this season: CSUB brought in five of its newcomers in the spring — the freshman Nigito, plus four transfers in Devan Furukawa, Hollee Hercik, Alani Mexia and Penny Smith — which gave them a leg up.

"(The transfers) brought experience, they brought energy and they bring new competitive edge that we were lacking," Vecchio said at media day. "They've done fantastic, and now we're looking for them to replicate that in the fall."

Through just a few training sessions, Hanif said the team is beginning to take shape.

"The camaraderie's in a great place," he said. "Everybody's already kind of getting to know each other... the high level of soccer that's been played in the last two days, we've been starting preseason, has been impressive."

CSUB women's soccer will be the first local college team to take the field for fall sports when it hosts an exhibition against The Master's University on Wednesday.

Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.