After posting back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997, the University of San Francisco women’s soccer team has officially signed eight to continue the program’s success, the Dons announced on Monday.
Head coach Jim Millinder — the first San Francisco head coach with back-to-back 10-win seasons since Jean Paul Verhess put together six straight 10-win seasons from 1992 to 1997 — received National Letters of Intent from Isabelle Esparza (Upland, Calif./Upland HS), Ana Gorlach (Portland, Ore./Lincoln HS), Kaya Pigoni (Upland, Calif./Upland HS), Jayd Sprague (Laguna Beach, Calif./Laguna Beach HS), Samantha Reyes (Chino, Calif./Ruben S. Ayala HS), Gabby Rizzo (Huntington Beach, Calif./Huntington Beach HS), Kenna Roth (Newberg, Ore./Newberg HS) and Marissa Vasquez (Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Bar HS).
“I think it is the best we have ever had from top to bottom,” said Millinder. “We have an abundance of quality players coming in 2020 that will make an impact immediately.”
Isabelle Esparza is a 5-foot-4 outside backer from Upland, Calif., who enters her senior year having already won three consecutive Baseline League Championships and been named second-team all-league twice. she’s also all-league as a pole vaulter.
“She is a very good outside defender and is tough, smart and has pace,” Millinder said. ‘She has a very good understanding of the game, she gets forward and joins the attack from deeper positions and has an outstanding shot from distance.”
In three seasons for Upland, she has six goals and two assists. Esparza also played club soccer for Legends FC with three of her future teammates — Pigoni, Reyes and Vasquez.
Ana Gorlach is a 5-foot-11 defensive midfielder from Portland, Ore., a three-time all-conference honoree, earning second-team as a freshman, and back-to-back first-team Portland Interscholastic League honors each of the last two seasons. Her height — she’s one of three players 5-foot-10 or taller in the incoming class — will play well in the midfield. One of Millinder’s areas of focus in this cycle was to get taller, with only two returners topping 5-foot-9.
“Ana is a very good decision maker as a midfield player,” Millinder said. “She will fit in to our team and how we want to play. Skillful and can shoot from distance as well.”
Kaya Pigoni is a 5-foot-10 holding midfielder from Upland, Calif., Esparza’s high school teammates. She’s won back-to-back state championships in 2017 and 2018 and is a three-time all-league honoree, earning first-team honors as a junior.
“Kaya brings a dominating presence whether in the midfield or in the back. She is tall, athletic and possesses one of the best shots I have ever seen for a youth player. Moreover, she is outstanding in the air.”
Pigoni comes from a very athletic family. One of her older sisters, McKenna, played soccer at UC Irvine, and the other — Alyssa — plays at Cal State San Marcos.
Samantha Reyes is a 5-foot-7 center back/defender from Chino, Calif., a three-time scholar-athlete honoree for the Bulldogs and a club teammate of Esparza, Pigoni and Vasquez for Legends FC. Reyes helped her club win a National Cup Championship as well as a State Cup Championship.
“She is very skillful and composed on the ball for a defender,” Millinder said. “She reads the game very well and is a good communicator. A very competitive young lady. She can play anywhere in the back.”
Gabby Rizzo, a 5-foot-5 outside back from Huntington Beach, Calif., was the Oilers’ freshman offensive player of the year in 2016-17 before moving back. She plays club for Slammers HB Elite and has travelled to Germany to play internationally.
“We have followed Gabby for a while,” Millinder said. “She is very competitive and very versatile. She can play outside back, wide in the midfield or up front. Very athletic and so competitive.”
Kenna Roth, a 5-foot-7 center back from Newberg, Ore., only played high school soccer her freshman season, preferring to play at the club level all four years for Laura Schott and the Portland Thorns Academy. The Thorns made back-to-back State Cup appearances, and took home one State Club Championship. Her competitiveness was the first thing Millinder noted about her during the process.
“Many kids play the game,” Millinder said. “She plays to win everything.”
Jayd Sprague is a 5-foot-10 holding midfielder from Laguna Beach, Calif. A three-time letter winner for Laguna Beach High School where she was twice awarded the Players Award, voted on by her teammates and given annually to the hardest worker and team player.
“She brings a toughness and an outstanding aerial presence with her,” Millinder said. “She is improving every time I see her. Jayd has the ability to make plays and dominate games in the midfield.”
Sprague also earned first-team All-Sunset League honors last season, and playing club soccer, she won an ECNL national championship in 2016.
Marissa Vasquez is a 5-foot-3 forward from Diamond Bar, Calif. Named the captain of her prep team as a sophomore, she’s a three-time all-league honoree and was named the Mt. Baldy League MVP following a junior season in which she scored 15 goals and added 13 assists. In three years, she’s accumulated 68 points, scoring 25 goals with 18 assists.
“She has the ability to be outstanding for us up front,” said Millinder, who loses his top two scorers from this year’s team in Miciah Madison and Samantha Jehnings. “She has lots of skill and craft around the penalty box and possesses an outstanding shot right or left-footed and whips in a great cross! A goal scorer is something that every team needs.”