After a relatively quiet redshirt freshman campaign in 2011, junior Izzy Pozurama exploded offensively midway through the 2012 season, ended up with nine goals and one assist to leave her tied for second in both goal scoring and points, and earned second-team all-conference selection. With her playing a central role, the UC San Diego women’s soccer team captured the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship and went all the way to the NCAA Division II title game before settling for second place. The 5-foot-7 Lake Forest native figures prominently in head coach Brian McManus’ plans for the coming season. “Last year, Izzy was a completely different player at the end of the season than she was at the beginning,” says seven-time NCAA title-winner McManus. “Confidence is so important for a forward, and after she scored a couple of goals, she really went after it. That’s great for next year, and I expect she and (redshirt freshman) Kiera Bocchino are going to give us good balance up front.”
With just over a month remaining before the start of fall camp, Pozurama spent time talking about last season, changes she anticipates for 2013 and how she got started on the road to collegiate soccer.
Q: The women’s soccer team graduated 10 seniors following the 2012 season. That’s a lot of leadership leaving the roster. Is that a concern heading into next season? How do you see that void being filled?
POZURAMA: At first, I was a bit worried about such a big presence leaving the team. As the off-season has progressed, many of the returners have stepped up and shown their leadership abilities. Now that we have been practicing and playing off-season games without the graduating seniors, I feel confident that we are capable of reaching a similar level as this past year. We are also adding a few transfers to the team who already have some collegiate experience.
Q: What role do you see yourself playing in that area? Is it something you’re comfortable with?
POZURAMA: I have done my best to mentor the younger players and prepare myself to incorporate the new players that will join the team in August. It's something I'm comfortable with because I have been on the squad for three years now and I have seen great players come and go. I have learned a tremendous amount from these players and from my coaches that I plan to use to help in the rebuilding of our team.
Q: How was spring practice with the new squad? What, if anything, do you feel will be different about the 2013 team?
POZURAMA: Spring practices were a bit difficult because of the small number of players we had each day. It was obvious how big a presence the seniors had on our team but we did our best to deal with the circumstances. The older players stepped up and the younger players improved their ability. The difference in 2013 will be how we incorporate the new players during preseason. Our focus will be to teach them the importance of the traditions and values of the team. Becoming a single unit off the field will transfer into playing as a single unit on the field.
Q: What were your emotions immediately following last year’s NCAA championship game in Georgia? Is it something you’ve played over in your mind since?
POZURAMA: My initial emotions included disappointment in myself and fear for the following year. I kept thinking about how 10 amazing leaders were going to leave a hole in our team and I wondered how it would be possible to recover from that. I felt that it would be nearly impossible to reach the same point in the future.
After talking to teammates, coaches and parents, I realized that I needed to throw out that mentality and understand that it was my turn to step up and reach for the same goal, because it is definitely possible. It was an amazing experience to make it to the NCAA championship game, and I will do everything I can to reach that goal again and surpass it with the help of my current teammates and the ones to come.
The disappointment in myself came from constantly thinking of my missed opportunities to score during that championship game. These plays continue to run through my mind to this day, but now I feel motivation rather than disappointment. I feel motivation to work on my ability in order to finish every chance I get, because it could make the difference in the most important game of my life.
Q: After some time to let it settle, what was your overall evaluation of last year?
POZURAMA: Last year was an incredible experience with a great group of soccer players. We fought through every game as a team and we were able to make it to where we wanted to be. Although we fell one game short of our goal, I am still extremely proud of where we finished. We played well together as a team and even did everything together off the field. We made so many memories and this gives me motivation to create the same atmosphere in 2013.
Q: It was a breakthrough year for you (nine goals). You went on an eight-goal tear over one seven-game stretch to end the regular season. What was the key to that rise in offensive production?
POZURAMA: I think it was that first goal (at Humboldt State) that was so crucial. I was getting so frustrated with myself for not being able to score in the first part of the season, that I kept putting more and more pressure on myself. Once that first goal came, I gained the confidence to put myself in goal-scoring opportunities.
Q: There are different kinds of goal scorers. How would you describe your style? What allows you to score as much as you do?
POZURAMA: I am not a very quick player and so I don't really find myself taking people on and getting into a breakaway. I'm more of a distributor than a dribbler so most of my goals come from within the six-yard box from crosses or passes into the box. This is why my teammates allow me to score as much as I did this past season. My goal for 2013 is to take more shots from outside the box to create more goal-scoring opportunities.
Q: Who are some of your favorite soccer players? Is there anyone you’ve modeled your game after?
POZURAMA: Obviously, Lionel Messi (Barcelona FC and Argentina) is my favorite soccer player to watch. His touch on the ball is so controlled and he has such great soccer knowledge. I haven't modeled my game after any players, but I would say that I play similarly to Carlos Tevez (Juventus FC and Argentina) because he always puts pressure on the defense. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time in order to score and that is how many of my goals came about this past season.
Q: When did you start playing soccer? Were you a standout right away or did it take some time?
POZURAMA: I began soccer at the age of seven on a team called the Peach Rockets. Don't let the name fool you because we were a group of tough girls. My memories involve playing with girls that I am still friends with to this day. My mother was also my assistant coach, which made being on the team even more special. I was a standout to begin with because I wanted to be challenged more by moving up to the next level of soccer.
Q: What brought you to UC San Diego? What’s been your favorite part about playing on the UCSD team?
POZURAMA: I actually was not recruited to UC San Diego. My brother told me to look into UCSD because of the high level of academics. I made a last-minute decision to come here and although Brian (McManus) had not contacted me about playing here, the assistant coach at the time, Greg LaPorte, helped me to get into the school and come try out as a walk-on. I like to tell people that I was not recruited because it gives confidence to other young players who may be worried about recruitment. My favorite part about playing at UCSD is the friendships I have created. I hear about other soccer teams having problems and players not getting along and I feel so fortunate to have over 20 girls that I love to be around.
Q: Did you have any early doubts about your ability to be a factor at the collegiate level? Was there a clear moment when you felt you had “arrived” or had a new sense of confidence?
POZURAMA: I was hurt at the beginning of my freshman year, so I became a redshirt. This got me worried because I had heard rumors that many redshirts end up getting cut the next year. It took me a while to gain some confidence and incorporate myself into the team. I was very shy at first and I felt I had no place on this team because I thought I played a very small role. During my meeting with Brian the following year, he started off the conversation by saying, “Obviously, you made the team.” I thought to myself that if it was obvious to my coach that I was a good player, then it should be obvious to me and to the team. That's when I started to feel more confident about myself as a player on the UCSD soccer team.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from head coach Brian McManus? What has he done to help your game?
POZURAMA: The best advice I received was when he told me to take any pressure off myself and play my own game. I had put so much pressure on myself to score in the beginning of the season that I ended up getting frustrated with myself. Sometimes I feel that Brian knows me better than I know myself. When I play my own game, I feel more comfortable with myself and I end up playing better when there's less pressure to make amazing plays.
Q: You and fellow junior Cassie Callahan (10 goals in 2012) figure to form a solid 1-2 scoring punch in the fall. How do the two of you play together? What part of Cassie’s game do you admire?
POZURAMA: Cassie and I know each other very well on the field. She is always there for me when I need to lay the ball off and she knows where I'm going to be on the field. Many of our goals came from a cross to the far post to where she was and she would head the ball back to the middle of the goal, where I would make an easy finish. (Editor's Note: For example, the game-winner against Grand Valley State in the national semifinals.) I love that she makes my job as a forward so much easier because of her runs up the field.
Q: What is something you like to do away from soccer that would surprise most people?
POZURAMA: This isn't surprising to my teammates, but I am obsessed with California burritos, specifically the burrito called El Campeon from Rigoberto's in downtown La Jolla. It's a giant burrito with cheese, guacamole, carne asada, sour cream, french fries and salsa. I like to substitute the salsa with beans, which makes it that much better. Brian would not be happy about how often I get this massive burrito, but I need to have one at least every other week.
(Editor's Note: We're pretty sure Brian doesn't read the website, so you're good.)
Q: Is Izzy your real name? Is there a story behind it?
POZURAMA: My real name is Isabelle, and Izzy came about when I was in first grade. I had a best friend at the time named Elizabeth, and everyone thought we were twins. She chose to call herself Lizzy and since we were “twins” at the time, I decided to have people start calling me Izzy. It stuck with me because it's a lot easier to say Izzy on the field rather than yelling Isabelle all the time.
Q: You’re a psychology major. What three words best describe your personality?
POZURAMA: My psychology side has influenced one part of my personality. I have become very analytical, which is probably why Brian tells me to stop analyzing situations and just play my own game. Another word to describe myself would be motivated. As I mentioned earlier, I'm using our loss in the championship game as motivation to improve my game and incorporate the new players to reach that same goal. Finally, I would say I'm a little weird. I like to do my own thing and act silly in front of my friends.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013
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