Organization Man : Wiesner's Task: Get Women's Soccer a Foothold at CSUN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is a monumental task. Maybe that's why Brian Wiesner finds it so appealing.

Wiesner, 36, recently hired women's soccer coach at Cal State Northridge, will hold his first practice Aug. 1--just as long as a few minor details can be ironed out in the next few months.

Presumably first up on Wiesner's to-do list is the task of recruiting a requisite number of players. About 20 will do. Next, he must finalize an independent schedule that will challenge but not batter those players.

Finally, Wiesner must continue to familiarize himself with the campus, the region's youth and high school coaches, and with the myriad NCAA rules and regulations governing a Division I program.

Wiesner is new to Northridge but not to the exhaustive work of building a program from scratch.

After playing soccer and graduating from Arcadia High in 1977, Wiesner played at Humboldt State, where he also coached the women's club soccer team from 1978-82. In 1983 he started the women's varsity program at Cal Poly Pomona and, despite minimal funding, eventually turned the Broncos into a Top-20 Division II team.

Wiesner also coached the Pomona men's team starting in 1990, rising at 5 each morning to prepare for work as a substitute high school teacher in the Pomona and Claremont areas.

"All for the love of a stupid ball with spots on it," he said.

That love has propelled Wiesner to the sport's top collegiate level and, with a typical gung-ho approach, he has developed an organized lesson plan.

"Players, schedule, community awareness," Wiesner said, ticking off priorities on his fingers.

The latter may provide Wiesner's biggest hurdle. Players and coaches at the high school and club levels remain relatively unaware that Northridge has a women's soccer program.

In the five weeks since he was hired, Wiesner has attended team practices from Moorpark to Diamond Bar. On his desk sit notebooks filled with player biographies, reference letters and club and junior college team rosters.

And he has been burning up the phone lines.

"The phone has been attached to my head," Wiesner said, wearily. "I'm looking for prospects, players interested in taking a visit here and having an open mind on the potential of this program."

Among the players who fit the description is Grant High's Marrica Pichaikul. A senior sweeper who was the backbone of the Lancers' 1995 City Section 4-A Division championship team, Pichaikul considered Toledo and San Diego State but has narrowed her choices to Cal State Fullerton and Northridge.

"I didn't even know [Northridge] had a team until [Wiesner] called me; it opened another door," Pichaikul said. "I didn't mind the idea of going away to school but it would be cheaper to go to Northridge and my mom could come see my games."

The team's total budget for 1995 is slightly more than $65,000, including $26,400 for scholarships. Wiesner plans to slice and dice those funds in whichever way allows him to entice the greatest number of talented players to Northridge.

So far, Wiesner's recruiting efforts have focused on players from Southern California, though next year he hopes to scour other parts of the nation.

This week, Wiesner secured his first two players, Wendy Nakashima, a senior forward who is transferring from California Collegiate Athletic Assn. champion Cal State Dominguez Hills, and Amy Gill, a freshman from Alta Loma High.

Among the talent pool Wiesner is studying are non-scholarship players who have committed to walk on at other schools.

"Established programs have 15 players coming back and 10 new ones coming in," he said. "Here, I have a roster of zero. If you want to play as a freshman, there's no other game in town."

Ken Dale, recently hired as women's soccer coach at Pepperdine, isn't sure he agrees with Wiesner's tactics.

"That's one way of doing things," said Dale, who last season coached both the Simi Valley High boys' and the Moorpark College women's teams. "I have worked with guys in the past who have been sharks . . . if that's his stand he'll have to live with it."

Wiesner must already live with Northridge's recent past, which includes widespread campus damage from the January, 1994, earthquake and uncertainty over the future of Matador athletics that was only resolved March 10 when students agreed to support teams through an increase in fees.

"People ask, 'What's up with the quake and the school?' " Wiesner said. "But whenever you have strengths and weaknesses in what you're selling you [accentuate] the strengths.

"I ask them, 'If there was an earthquake at Stanford, would that make it a lousy school?' "

Debby De Angelis, Northridge's associate athletic director for business affairs, said that although women's soccer is the most recent sport to be added at Northridge, it would "definitely not" be the first program cut should the athletic department encounter further financial woes because of declining enrollment at the university.

De Angelis said the women's soccer team would be shielded in such a situation because the addition of its funds and players brings Northridge closer to compliance with the terms of the Cal State system's settlement with the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

That settlement dictates that men's and women's intercollegiate athletic programs at state universities must be within five of each other in both scholarship funds and participants, and within 10% of each other in operational spending.

Northridge's inaugural team faces a schedule that tentatively includes 19 matches against opponents at varying levels, from NCAA Division I to NAIA. Included are eight home games to be played under the lights at North Campus Stadium, and Wiesner is looking for a few more.

He should have no problem booking opponents in future years, because western universities have followed a national trend that has seen the number of NCAA-sanctioned Division I women's soccer programs almost double from 83 in 1990-91 to 154 in 1994-95.

The West Coast and Pacific 10 conferences each will field eight women's soccer teams in 1995. In the evolving Western Athletic Conference, 13 of 16 member schools in 1996 will have women's soccer.

Local high school and club girls' soccer coaches are ecstatic about the growth of their sport at a higher level and about Northridge's fledgling program.

"Within an hour and a half we'll have five or six Division I schools [with women's soccer]," said Mark Johnson with mild exaggeration. "And there's more than enough high school talent to go around," added Johnson, who has been Simi Valley High's coach for 14 years.

"Maybe we'll get the California kids to stick around instead of going out of state. A lot of girls can't make it to the higher-priced universities and [Northridge] is a school that's close enough and in their price range."

Northridge has fielded a men's program since 1978 and Coach Marwan Ass'ad is excited about the addition of the women's team.

"There were so many high schools and universities offering [women's soccer] that it was just a matter of time before we added it," Ass'ad said.

"Brian is a very good choice. He's been at the forefront of women's soccer, he's a student of the game and he's very organized.

"In 1996, we'll coordinate [the men's and women's teams] for doubleheaders. And the fans, instead of being here for two hours, they'll be here for four."

Wiesner is also looking forward to those days, but he must concentrate on the present. There are many details to be worked out before his team takes the field for its first match, at Azusa Pacific on Sept. 2.

Nonetheless, his confidence is high.

"As far as women's soccer in Southern California goes, we're not behind," Wiesner said. "The schools down here are fairly new, just like us. I'm confident I can get done what I need to get done."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
59°