Last week, the Gonzaga women’s soccer team received a vote in the national Top 25 poll for the first time since 2005.
The Bulldogs are in the midst of their third consecutive 10-win season, only the seventh double-digit win season in the program’s 29th season.
Coming into the season, the Zags were selected fifth in the West Coast Conference preseason poll, voted on by fellow head coaches, their best placing since 2006.
“Well, it’s been a great year. I think that’s our highest RPI in program history that we have going right now,” Gonzaga coach Chris Watkins said. “So things are going well. Certainly can wish things were a little bit better, but the team has developed nicely and we’ve gotten some good wins.”
The schedule featured seven teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year, which has helped the Zags get ready for a tough conference slate.
“I would say we started off the season pretty well, just playing harder teams than we had in the past,” GU redshirt senior India Jencks said. “And I think that really got our season going and prepared us well for all the rest of our games.”
Watkins has tried to schedule difficult matches in his three seasons at the helm, but even with the increased competition, he became the fastest coach in program history to 30 wins.
Watkins coached for nearly three decades at WCC rival BYU. He has brought a sense of identity for a Bulldogs team that struggled to secure a foothold in the competitive WCC under the previous regime.
“I’d say (the coaching staff) has done a really good job of making sure it’s a competitive environment, but maintaining the unity at the same time,” Jencks said. “So we’re all playing together and not necessarily as individuals. And I’d say that’s pretty helpful.”
On top of continuing to foster a unified team, Watkins has a specific play style he wants and expects the Bulldogs to play.
“We’re a blue-collar team,” Watkins said. “We fight hard for 50-50 balls. We run hard, we cover a ton of ground, and the attack and we all recover on defense. So we just spend energy.”
On Saturday, GU (10-4-1, 3-1-1 WCC) hosts the Santa Clara Broncos (9-5-2, 3-0-2) at 7 p.m. at Luger Field. Santa Clara, with 11 points, is two points behind first-place BYU and one ahead of GU and San Francisco.
“Santa Clara does a great job of keeping the ball. It’s like kind of a unique system,” Watkins said. “That makes it kind of hard to mark and keep track of them. But mostly, they’re skillful players that keep the ball really well and worth noting they attack among the very best in the country.”
The Broncos were ranked as high as No. 20 in the country before dropping out of the Top 25 earlier this week after a draw with Pepperdine.
“Every time I’ve played them, they’ve been great competitors,” Jencks said. “And we’ve gotten closer to beating them every single year and we have them at home (this time). So I think we should go into it pretty confident and knowing that they may have the fancier name and more accolades, but what we really bring to the table is hard work and effort.”
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