RIVERSIDE, Calif. — For UC Riverside women's soccer head coach Nat Gonzalez, this season's message is simple. It started all the way back in spring.
"The goal in spring was to stop acting like an underdog, to stop going into games hoping we'd win and to understand that one win doesn't equate to us winning the next time," said Gonzalez, who begins his seventh season with the Highlanders.
You saw a slew of old and new faces when the team kicked off its first practice at the beginning of the month. Of the 30 student athleteson the team, 12 are freshmen and seven are seniors.
Gonzalez believes the seniors, especially on defense, will have a huge impact on this season's success.
"The seniors are all in the right spots," he said. "They know the intensity the forwards will be coming at, they know how to organize and know how to talk to each other. I'm excited that the amount of experience these players have and it should pay dividends for us this season."
Senior Kyra Taylor echoed that sentiment.
"We have a really strong, good presence of seniors to set the tone and lead by example," Taylor said. "We know what we want everything to look like, which really helps our freshmen."
Last season, the Highlanders finished tied for the most wins in Big West Conference play, going 5-3, and reached the tournament semifinals for the third time in five years.
After an exhibition with Cal Baptist on Aug. 11, the season officially starts for the team on Aug. 17 against St. Mary's at UCR Soccer Stadium. It's one of 12 home games during the regular season.
"Sleeping in your own bed and really being at home is so helpful," Gonzalez said. "Our benches are across the way and you can see the stands filled all the time. I feel like we have a true home field advantage."
A four-game stretch from Aug. 31 to Sept. 9 against Fresno State, Houston, Seattle and Idaho is what Gonzalez believes will tell a lot about the team and if his student-athletes are fully prepared for the season.
Conference play starts Sept. 30 against Cal State Fullerton on the road, which will likely be the biggest conference away game of the season.
"How much I demand out of them is changing," Gonzalez said. "I asked more from them in the spring. I believe we are as talented as last season, but with more experience."