She hit town barely six weeks ago and since then, new UC Davis women’s soccer coach Twila Kaufman hasn’t come up for air.
Priority No. 1 was to get to know her new players.
She needed to get her staff in place.
There were conditioning sessions to oversee.
And all the while, the former Pepperdine assistant was busy on the phone, on the road and on campus introducing recruits to Aggie Nation — a world to which she herself was just being introduced.
Oh, between the raindrops, she found a place to live, too.
“Yes, it’s been very busy,” Kaufman said during an unusual open window in her schedule this week. “But I’ve been just blown away by the quality of people and education that is offered (at UCD). And then around town, everywhere I go, when I meet people they are just so friendly and so nice.”
Kaufman added that she’s looking forward to getting to know her new hometown — but right now there’s work to be done … a lot of work.
The former University of Arizona player has been impressed by her new family of Aggie players.
“We’re going to play a style that highlights the strengths that we have and let people be who they are to fullness within a system that’s moving toward (a style that attacks), is possession-oriented, maybe a little cheeky,” Kaufman explains with a grin.
“We have some players here who have some really unique giftings: one-on-one ability; ability to defend; ability to get in line and finish crosses … All of those are good things.”
Kaufman says it’s too early to talk about recruits headed to town and believes it wouldn’t be fair to single out current players after just six weeks together, but she lights up when she talks in generalities about her Aggies.
“One of the great surprises I’ve had is I really like our forward line,” says the 34-year-old. “It’s not that I didn’t think I wasn’t going to like them, but I’ve been watching every time we play 11-v-11 … I sort of look around and go ‘I think we’re pretty good.’”
UCD went 6-9-3 a year ago, struggled through the Big West at 3-4-1 and scored only 14 goals.
Leading scorer Ashley Edwards (four goals for 9 points) has graduated, leaving forwards Lexi Poppoff of Tracy High and West Torrance’s Ashley Kawasaki as the top returning attackers. Last year, the pair combined for 11 points.
Kaufman spent 10 seasons as Waves coach Tim Ward’s top assistant. During that time, Pepperdine went 108-63-29 (.613) and made four trips to the NCAA postseason.
“I am incredibly grateful to Twila for everything she has done and given to the Pepperdine soccer family,” Ward said of his former right hand. “She has been a blessing to me personally and to every one of our players in that time. And having said that, I couldn’t be more excited for her and the new chapter she is about to write for UC Davis.”
Kaufman replaces Maryclare Robinson, who retired after 22 years at the Aggie helm.
The new UCD coach praised Robinson for her efforts and noted that the veteran always “did a great job recruiting exceptional human beings.
“I am honoring commitments to some of the same people to which Maryclaire and (former assistant coach Rosie DeWeese) committed,” Kaufman adds. “I’m looking forward to working with them. I am really fortunate that I knew most of them … and I have good relationships with them already. I’m excited about that.”
Kaufman has her eye on other 2014 recruits, too, and will make an announcement about who’s signed, sealed and delivered deeper into the spring.
The West Coast Conference, in which Pepperdine plays, has a heady list of past powerhouses (think Portland and Santa Clara), but Kaufman believes the Big West should be considered one of the better leagues in the nation.
“I always had a great appreciation for the Big West coaches — Nat Gonzalez, I was really excited for him when he took over at UC Riverside and, in his first year, they went to the tournament. Demian Brown at Fullerton. Scott Juniper (UC Irvine), Mauricio Ingrassia at Long Beach. These guys do a real good job.”
So what will Aggie fans likely see come the fall?
“A high-attacking system with a lot of player involvement,” Kaufman explains. “Combination play. But I always believed a good coach — and I wanted this as a player — would take people’s strengths and let them run with it.”
After just six weeks, Kaufman is encouraged: “We’re looking more and more like the team I envisioned. It’s OK to let your strengths be out there … and it’s OK to let your personality be out on the field. There’s some talent here and I want them to run with it a little bit.”
Kaufman, who lived in Woodland Hills, is a paddle-board enthusiast who spent much time pursuing her hobby in the Pacific Ocean off the storied beaches of Southern California (Pepperdine is located in Malibu).
Will she miss the Southland?
“I don’t think so,” Kaufman says. “I love this location. It’s close to Lake Tahoe, trails, biking … it’s (near) the best of all things. Sure, I’m losing the ability to paddle in the ocean every day, but I’m gaining the ability to do a lot of diverse things — and with no traffic.”
About the future of her team?
“I’d like to give the town something to be proud of,” Kaufman explains, pausing to think further about the question. “I want to give our girls the opportunity to know what it feels like to not just represent the team, and not just the athletic department, and not just the university — but to represent a whole city.
“When we understand that, they’ll walk differently.
“Our girls are intelligent, beautiful women — and they also happen to be really good at soccer.
“I can’t imagine that there’s not a parent out there in the community that wouldn’t want one of their children spending time with our players and modeling themselves after them.”
Notes: Kaufman’s staff includes former Air Force assistant Robin Grossman and ex-Stanford and Florida State standout Katie Riley. “Robin is a very talented coach and recruiter who possesses a great mix of confidence, humility and a desire to help young women become leaders with great character,” Kaufman says. About Riley, the coach says: “She is a very intelligent woman who earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology. We view her time spent playing at the elite level, and the knowledge she gained while earning her master’s degree in sport psychology as huge advantages to our program.” … The Aggie fall schedule has not been finalized, but this spring will see San Jose State (April 19) and Cal Poly (May 3) at UCD. Times for those free-admission games are yet to be announced. … Kaufman is a 2003 graduate of Arizona. As a midfielder and defender, she set the school record for most games played. … In 2013, UCD played five teams that wound up in the NCAA Big Dance — Iowa, Texas Tech, Utah, California and Cal State Fullerton. The Aggies went 0-4-1 (tying Utah) against those squads.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.