Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer returns after canceled 2020 season – Orange County Register

Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer returns after canceled 2020 season – Orange County Register

It was the winter of 2019 and Demian Brown had everything right where he wanted it. The Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer coach had built himself a pretty good team of versatile, adaptable players who went all-in on Brown’s on-field system of total team soccer and off-field emphasis on total team camaraderie.

Yes, winter set in. But Brown and the Titans basked in the warm glow of the program’s third Big West title in four seasons.

He had a redshirt freshman goalkeeper, Noa Schumacher, who made matrix-like saves off some of the best forwards in the country. She allowed only four goals in eight conference games, posting nine shutouts and compiling an 0.80 goals-against-average that was fifth-best in program history.

In front of Schumacher, Brown trusted matters to two freshman center backs: Megan Day and Meghan Schroh, who played with the poise and maturity of professionals. Day was the Big West Freshman of the Year, and she and Schroh combined to not allow a goal in two Big West Tournament games.

And in front of that precocious duo, Brown had do-everything/be-everywhere midfielder Haley Brown, the Titans’ Swiss army knife who racked up 23 points (seven goals, nine assists). That included the game-winning goal against Cal State Northridge that gave Cal State Fullerton the Big West regular-season title. Brown’s nine assists were the fifth-best total in school history.

Brown’s fertile recruiting pipeline already produced 2020 signees like forward/midfielders Graci Raymond and Hailey Gough, with 2021’s Karla Rodriguez not far behind. He presided over the conference’s preeminent program, proudly wearing the target on his back.

Then, COVID-19 stopped the world. For Brown and the Titans, it didn’t start up again in the fall of 2020. The Big West canceled all fall sports last year, wiping out the 2020 season and slamming Brown’s momentum into the proverbial wall.

Recruiting went on the shelf, and Brown literally had nothing to do outside of making sure he kept up on his players and they kept up on their workouts. They didn’t pick up as a team again until the spring of 2021.

“We did a lot of Zoom calls,” Brown said. “We did a really good job of keeping the women engaged through Zoom with weekly and bi-weekly calls. That gave everyone the opportunity to see each other and see how everything was going in their COVID lives.

“I was really impressed with how the women did a good job keeping themselves up with their daily routine and managing their bodies. But even now, we’re in an airport, traveling and getting used to being in hotels and living out of backpacks, having to compete and play well. That’s a routine we’ve been out of. We’re hoping to get back into that and reassimilate ourselves into being Division I athletes.”

Toward that end, Brown took the Titans to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista at the beginning of August training camp. Not only did he want to rebuild the camaraderie he and his staff took so long to build, but he wanted to minimize distractions and maximize focus. Getting everyone assimilated – including 13 freshmen from two recruiting classes – required an escape hatch.

“The idea was to get everyone together without distractions, focus on us and focus on soccer,” Brown said. “We wanted to do some goal-setting and familiarity things … The camaraderie is part of our program. It’s not taking long at all for the women to get back into being good friends and good teammates. I’ve been really impressed with how well the team has gotten along with each other.”

That took care of off-field matters. On-field matters are taking a bit longer to fall into place. Even when he had talents like two-time Big West Offensive Player of the Year Rebecca Wilson and 2019 Midfielder of the Year Atlanta Primus, Brown always stressed a total team concept, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

It’s harder to get to that whole when you haven’t put the sum of the parts together for two years. That timing, the meshing, the understanding where your teammate is going to be at a given moment, the familiarity necessary to play seamless soccer isn’t there yet.

There’s meshing in all those freshmen, along with transfers like junior midfielder Maddie Kline and junior forward Kaytlin Brinkman. Offensive soccer demands timing. Timing comes with repetition. Sitting out a year kind of precludes repetition. Not to mention familiarity.

The Titans got off to an 0-5 start, scoring only three times in those five games. Granted, the schedule didn’t do them any favors. One of those setbacks was a 3-0 loss to No. 5-ranked UCLA. Another was a 1-0 loss to No. 10 Santa Clara. A third was a 2-1 defeat to Texas Tech in Lubbock.

“We’ve played the hardest competition in the country and because of that competition, we haven’t been given the opportunity to get away with making mistakes,” Brown said. “Because when you play quality competition and quality players, when you make mistakes against those teams, those mistakes get exposed.

“This group is extremely resilient. We’re getting better every day and it’s getting more and more common that we’re doing the right things every day. We’re sharpening ourselves against that competition. By the time we’ll get to Big West play, we’ll be extremely sharp in what it is we’re doing.”

That can’t be good for the rest of the conference to hear: that Brown expects the Titans to be back where they left off two years ago.

Did you know …? The Titans’ home attendance of 7,832 fans for their Aug. 22 match against UCLA destroyed the program’s previous record for single-game attendance (1,617). Excluding NCAA Tournament games, that is the seventh-highest single-game attendance mark in NCAA women’s soccer history.

He said it: Cal State Fullerton women’s soccer coach Demian Brown, about the two-year layoff from competition: “We found out we weren’t playing on March 20, 2020, and that was really hard on a lot of the women, and it was rough on the program not to be on the field. We got back last spring and we were happy to have the opportunity to play again. But not playing and competing like everyone else in the country set us back. This summer was really good to get back together and it’s really nice to get back into playing again.”

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