As freshman defender Katie Wong stepped onto the field for her first practice as a member of the UC Riverside women's soccer team earlier this month, she noticed some familiar faces.
A local student-athlete from Corona, Wong played with forward Leigh Polson, midfielder Jen Barroso and forward Liz Chua on her club team.
"I came into UCR feeling so comfortable because of all the people I know," Wong said. "I got even more excited when the time came to start practicing."
She's one of 10 incoming freshmen who are hoping to have an impact on this year's team. The Highlanders also have two transfers.
Expect Wong to be a solid addition to the team's back line, while Barroso will be able to create good opportunities for forwards to score. Polson can make her mark with assists when she gets the ball in specific areas of the field.
”I wanted all of them to come and play with me," Wong said. "The chemistry is so important in soccer, so it is good to come into a team and know people that you've played with for two or three years and know their style of play."
Plenty of other freshmen will look to make their mark on the program this season.
Expect defender Kaitlyn Fujimori to develop into a leader in the backline, while fellow defender Kieren Ritter should cause problems for opponents with her size, strength, and athleticism.
Defender/midfielder Natza Marin, who is one of the most versatile players on the team, can help elevate the team and become a steady force. Midfielder Akari Shimizu has the natural talent to succeed and take her game to the next level.
"Sometimes you have a group of freshmen that come in a little nervous, and you can tell," senior midfielder Kyra Taylor said. "I don't think you see that from the freshmen that we have brought in."
Forwards Eryn Peterson and Brianna Saldana have both shown steady growth since the beginning of camp and should continue to progress as the season goes on.
"We have a great group of freshmen," head coach Nat Gonzalez said. "Each one brings a unique set of skills and has the chance to help out the squad this season. I'm excited to see the affect they have on the team this season."
Goalkeeper Presley Moreno, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Cal Baptist, will compete for playing time right away and help the team shore up the position for years to come. Forward Maria Gallardo, a sophomore transfer from Cal State San Bernardino, will provide instant depth.
It's not just student-athletes who are new to the program. Assistant coach Kerry Smith, who joined the staff in March, coached at Division III Washington College from 2014-17.
One of the biggest things Smith focuses on and has stressed to players is communication.
"She brings a really positive presence to the team," junior defender Amanda Roy said. "What I like about her is that she likes to be very personal with each player. She doesn't coach everyone the same way. She tries to see what works best for you. She also gives us a chance to talk to each other and see what we can improve on."
UCR starts Big West play on Sept. 30 vs. Cal State Fullerton.