LA JOLLA — At the start of the soccer season, UC San Diego defender Susan Kramer and forward Heather Mauro made a friendly bet. It seemed to be weighted in Mauro's favor, because part of it had to do with scoring goals and forwards are in position to score more goals than defenders.
Mauro, in fact, has a team-high 14 goals, but Kramer surprisingly has six. As a concession to her position, her goals count triple. Obviously, she is holding her own.
However, another part of this friendly wager had to do with shutouts. Kramer, being the defender, would cash in on shutouts. This is where she is really doing well.
UCSD has 10 shutouts, including a remarkable eight straight earlier this season. Sophomore goalkeeper Julie Freiss has credit for all the shutouts and has a 0.77 goals per game average. The team has allowed only 12 goals in 16 games.
"We have an awesome defense," Mauro said.
A stingy defense and potent offense have led the Tritons to an 12-3-1 record and No. 2 ranking in Division III. UCSD, which plays host to Chapman at 1 today at UCSD, starts eight sophomores.
This has been quite a rebuilding year. Last season, the Tritons shut out 16 opponents, but have since lost their coach, three key offensive players and their goalkeeper.
UCSD's record this season is particularly impressive because it is 4-3 against schools playing Division I competition. UC San Diego defeated Chapman, 2-0, UC Irvine, 2-0, United States International University, 1-0, and Cal Poly Pomona, 2-1. UCSD lost 3-0 to CSU Dominguez Hills in the season opener, 2-0 in overtime to UC Santa Barbara (ranked in the Top 10 in Division I) and 4-0 to Cal in the All-Cal Tournament held at UC Davis earlier this month. Because there is no Division II women's soccer, schools that offer scholarships and would ordinarily play in Division II must play Division I.
"We play a stiff program," said first-year Coach Brian McManus, who was the men's assistant coach at UCSD last season.
"Playing Division III all the time would be no fun," McManus said. "You know you'd win, 4-0. It's pointless."
Against Division III schools, which do not offer athletic scholarships, the Tritons are 7-0-1. In those games, they have outscored opponents, 31-1, and have shutouts in all seven victories. The Tritons also have a 2-1 victory over Westmont, an NAIA school.
McManus said the Tritons have to play about half of their games against Division III opponents in order to qualify for the NCAA Division III postseason tournament. This season, the Tritons will play nine of their 20 games against Division III teams.
"Everyone on Division I and II teams are really good players," Mauro said. "A lot of these girls are going to these schools to play soccer. We're going to school here, and we play soccer."
Like the rest of her teammates, Kramer played high school soccer, but she said her goal wasn't to play soccer for a Division I or II college.
"I wasn't really looking for that," said Kramer, who attended Gunn High in Los Altos Hills. "I have no idea if I could have gotten one (a scholarship). I'd be interested to know, but I guess it's too late."
Sophomore forward Felicia Faro of University High, one of five Tritons from San Diego high schools, said she could have gone to UC Santa Barbara and probably would have made the team as a walk-on, but she would not have had the opportunity to play as much or as quickly.
"Here, everyone is pretty even," Faro said. "It's not like there are superstars. A lot of girls came together as one unit."
When McManus greeted his team in mid-August, it was the first time the former Scottish and English first division player had coached women.
"It's different with a capital D," said McManus, who played and coached with the Nomads of the Western Alliance League the past two summers. "They take criticism, but it depends how you put it to them."
The Tritons held two-a-day practices for a month starting in mid-August, but since school started, the team has practiced whenever possible. Also, they run on the beach at La Jolla Shores at night.
"Whenever we can get together, we get together," McManus said. "Whether it be five, six or seven players . . . We try not to take it too serious. We play for fun."
And also for a chance to win a championship. Former UCSD Coach John Leaney, now at Macalester College in Minnesota, led the Tritons to a 15-5-4 record and a third-place finish in the Division III tournament last season. In the semifinals, the Tritons lost to champion Rochester University, 2-0, in ice and rain at Cortland State in New York last spring.
"We're not used to playing in that weather," Mauro said. "The two goals they scored were scored in the first 15 minutes of the game when we couldn't even stand up. It was like playing in tennis shoes on an ice skating rink."
After that experience, Mauro said the Tritons think they have something to prove against Eastern schools. Earlier this season, they tied Cortland State, 1-1, at UCSD.
"Teams from back East don't think we can do anything," Mauro said. "We can win the national championship this year."