Bulls making mark in professional ranks

Playing against top competition isn’t easy, but several members of the USF women’s soccer team are making an impact in the United Soccer League W-League this summer.

Eight Bulls are currently playing on three different teams in North America. Five Bulls – juniors Chelsea Klotz, Valorie O’Brien, Nicole McClure, Molly Stack and senior Angelique Waller – compete for the local Tampa Bay Hellenic, who play their home matches at the Ed Radice Sports Complex in North Tampa.

Sophomore Taylor Patterson plays for the Colorado Force, while juniors Gina Pacheco and Bahar Sansar, natives of Canada, suit up for the Ottawa Fury.

“The competition in the W-League is very high, as most of the girls who play are currently on very high-level college teams,” Klotz said. “We have played against many girls who have been to the NCAA tournament, and understanding their strengths and skills has really helped me and the rest of the girls on the team become better players. I’m looking forward to the next season, and the W-League has really helped me progress as a player.”

The W-League, which was founded in 1995, is the second highest level of professional women’s soccer in North America, providing college players an opportunity to compete against top talent while allowing them to maintain NCAA eligibility.

“The entire coaching staff is excited about the girls’ decision to commit to playing in a highly competitive summer league,” said USF coach Denise Schilte-Brown. “Our players have the choice of whether or not they want to play this summer, and seeing so many girls make an impact on their respective teams is great for them as well as our program.”

Klotz, the Bulls’ top scorer last season with nine goals, is off to a fast start with the Hellenic (3-3-1), leading the team in scoring. Her five goals – including a league-high four in one game – are the seventh most in the league.

“With all the high-skilled players in the league, I am honored to be one of the top goal scorers,” Klotz said. “I have great teammates who know my strengths and trust me with the ball. They try to find me as much as possible, and without them, I couldn’t score all of the goals I do.”

Also making an impact for the Hellenic, who have been in existence since 2008, are defenders Stack and Waller, who have each logged more than 400 minutes of action this season. Goalkeeper Nicole McClure has contributed on defense as well, allowing just two goals in 135 minutes.

McClure will take the place of graduated senior Mallori Lofton-Malachi, who started the last 52 matches for USF and graduated as the program’s all-time leader with 18 shutouts and a 1.12 goals against average.

“(Lofton-Malachi) taught me a lot about how to be successful at this level,” McClure said. “Looking ahead to the (2010 NCAA women’s soccer season), I feel confident, anxious and ready to go because I want to make my own mark on this program. Having the exposure of playing against girls from all over the country this summer has also been really helpful.”

Sansar, a defender, has contributed to Ottawa’s fast start to the 2010 season, scoring one goal in 263 minutes for the Fury, who lead the Central Conference with a 6-1-1 record and 19 points.

“Seeing the girls contribute in this league shows the growth of our program,” Schilte-Brown said. “USF is really making an impact out there, which is very exciting.”

The Bulls will attempt to build on a 2009 season in which they finished with a 9-8-3 record and lost to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

USF’s regular season begins Aug. 20, when the Bulls host North Florida.

“Our girls are growing and becoming better players,” Schilte-Brown said. “These girls will be much sharper on the field because of all the extra touches they are getting this summer.”