In her second year as a starting defender for the UC San Diego Women’s Soccer team, sophomore Sara Spaventa is one of the mainstays for Coach Brian McManus’s defending conference champions. The Santa Barbara native has been a big contributor to the 14th-ranked Tritons’ 10-2 start, which has included five shutouts in the last seven games. "Sara’s always been a solid player, but now she’s playing a lot smarter, showing more patience, and making the right decisions at the right times,” says McManus. “She rarely gets beat and is starting to get forward more often when the situation allows for it.” At the midpoint of the regular season, Spaventa took time to talk about her soccer career and her club’s outlook for the remainder of the year.
Q: As a sophomore,
you’re already the “veteran” on UCSD’s defensive back line. What do you see as
your role with that unit?
SPAVENTA: It’s funny to be referred to as a “veteran” when I am only a sophomore, especially because when I look at the two freshmen who help compose our defensive back line, I don’t consider them to be freshmen at all. They both play with such composure and confidence that they come across as much older and much more experienced than they really are. Last year I was lucky enough to be able to play with Amanda Esquivel in the back, a player who I really admire and looked up to as a freshman. It definitely hurt us to lose her on the right side, and therefore I just hope I can fill that loss as best as I can and lead our defensive back line as she did for me last year.
Q: Talk about the
individual and team responsibilities of your position?
SPAVENTA: As a right defender I have the responsibility of helping to attack through the outside, man-marking one of the opposing team’s forwards, sending long balls in from the wing to help us gain an advantage, as well as helping to coach and instruct the players in front of me. Our defensive line can see much more than the midfielders and forwards on the field, and therefore Brian has been instilling in us that we need to talk more from the back so that our formation is organized. Since our back line is composed of all underclassmen, we are much quieter than we probably should be at times, but Brian is working with us to help us gain the confidence to have strong voices and really act as leaders on the field despite our age and class.
Q: What factors are
you processing when an opposing team is mounting an attack on the Triton goal?
SPAVENTA: The first thing I do as a defender is make sure I am close enough to the forward I am marking and that she is not behind me. I also have to make sure that I am a couple steps behind her so that if a midfielder sends in a long ball I have enough space to get to the ball behind me first. Other than that the defenders usually make sure no one on the opposing team is free and that our defense is organized so that if one player gets beat either the sweeper or other outside defender can pressure the ball while the other drops behind her to cover.
Q: How important is
verbal communication between the defenders and goalkeeper?
SPAVENTA: Verbal communication is extremely important between the defenders and goalkeeper, especially on crosses and corners. We are fortunate enough to have an amazing goalkeeper behind us who isn’t afraid to speak up and instruct our defensive line on when to step up and when to back off from balls.
As far as our defensive line is with talking, we have definitely become much more confident on and off the ball as we have progressed into the season and the more we play with each other the more comfortable we have become with coaching one another and talking with our goalkeeper. Without communication between the defenders and the goalkeeper it is hard to stay organized and it becomes very easy to make simple mistakes such as not going for a ball when we should.
Q: Your team is very
young as a whole. What do you think it’s capable of this year and what do you
see as the keys to reaching that potential?
SPAVENTA: Although our team is young, we don’t play young by any means. All of our new freshmen play as if they are much older than they are and all of the returning sophomores have worked to act as leaders on and off the field despite our age. One advantage of all being young and of similar age is that we have become extremely close as a team and this has helped us gain team chemistry on the field.
In addition, we have four years to play together so by the time we are all juniors and seniors our team will know each other inside and out. As far as this year goes, I feel like our team can accomplish anything we set our minds to. We continue to become stronger each game we play, and I truly feel we have the caliber of player to accomplish great things and possibly even win a championship. Of course we still have many more games we have to win and think about before we can even consider regionals, but I definitely don’t think our age will be a factor in whether or not we are capable of winning.
I believe the key to reaching our potential is merely confidence, continuing to work together and feed off one another, continuing to communicate on the field, and maintaining the enthusiasm and love we have for the game and competing.
Q: You started 21 of
23 games as a freshman last fall.
Did you expect to have that big of an impact your first year?
SPAVENTA: I came in last year not knowing what to expect. Of course I prayed I would get playing time, but I definitely did not expect to become a starting defender and have as big of an impact as I did my first year. I actually came in as a sweeper, and then Brian moved me to the outside left defensive position which I had never played before. It took me some time to learn how to play there, but thankfully I had Amanda Esquivel on defense with me and our goalkeeper Jessica McGovern, who both had great faith in me and really coached me on and off the field. I am also thankful that Brian had the confidence in me that he had to start me as a freshman and to never give up on me at a new position.
Q: Where do you think
you’ve improved the most between freshman and sophomore seasons?
SPAVENTA: Between freshman and sophomore year I have become much more confident attacking up the line. I have also become less timid and shy on the field and not afraid to go in hard on tackles.
Q: What, if anything,
scares you on the soccer field?
SPAVENTA: To be honest, I am always nervous before games. I’d say the one thing that scares me the most is having the feeling that I can’t keep up with the forward that I’m marking or that I am letting my team down. However, it really helps to have teammates who are so supportive and who build me up before every game because confidence is one thing that I use to struggle with as a player.
Q: Your brother, Drew,
played basketball at UCSD. Did that have any influence on your decision to come
to La Jolla? Why?
SPAVENTA: Yes, that definitely had a huge influence on my decision to come to UCSD. My brother loved playing basketball here and had nothing but good things to say about the school. I always had the intention of playing soccer in college but originally thought I wanted to attend college back east. However, after I came on my recruiting trip and met Brian and the soccer team, I fell in love with the program and was sold on coming here.
Q: You have a twin
sister, Juli, who now goes to UCLA. After playing with her for years, did it
seem strange not to be on the same team?
SPAVENTA: It was so strange last year not only playing on a team without my sister, but more so not going to school with her. I was use to having my sister to build me up and have my back on the field. In club and high school whenever a player tackled me hard in a game I would look to my sister and she would always be like “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her for you.” When we decided to go to different schools it was a very weird feeling. However, it has forced me to become stronger as a player and really look to myself and my teammates for the support she use to give me.
Q: How would you
describe the relationship among the players on this year’s UCSD squad?
SPAVENTA: I am absolutely in love with the team! Everyone is so supportive, enthusiastic about playing and practicing, and we really build off one another. We are together 24/7 on and off the field, and since we are all about the same age we have become very close, very fast. I can look to my teammates for just about anything and I am just so thankful to be surrounded by such amazing people.
Q: Which teammate
would best fit each of these four descriptions---brain, personality, organizer,
SPAVENTA: Enforcer: Anne Wethe… Brain: don’t really know… Organizer: Lisa Bradley… Personality: Everyone.
Q: What type of
standard team activities take place on UCSD Women’s Soccer road trips?
SPAVENTA: Other than practicing, going out to eat as a team, and sleeping, I really couldn’t say how we occupy our time, although we tend to find the most random and hilarious things to do.
We usually get together as a team and play a “traditional UCSD Women’s Soccer road trip game” and sometimes Brian will take us to a random field where we’ll have some type of competition between the freshmen and the upperclassmen.
Q: What has kept you
playing soccer over the years?
SPAVENTA: I would say the friends you make and the competitive nature of playing a sport.
Q: What makes head coach Brian McManus different from other coaches you’ve played under?
SPAVENTA: There is way too much to say about Brian as a coach. He is definitely the best coach I’ve ever had and I couldn’t imagine playing for anyone else. The way he pumps you up for games and really just cares about the players is unbelievable.
Q: What do you do to
relax when you’re not playing soccer?
SPAVENTA: I listen to music, go to the beach, and just spend time with friends.
Q: You’re a psychology
major. What type of long range plans, if any, do you have at this point?
SPAVENTA: I am probably the most undecided and indecisive person you’ll ever meet, so I’m just going to have to say my long range plans are a huge question mark. I just hope to be completely happy with wherever my life takes me.
Q: What would make the
2009 season a success in your eyes?
SPAVENTA: The 2009 season is already a success in my eyes, but a national championship wouldn’t hurt at all!
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