Editor’s note: In honor of the 50th year of Toro Athletics, the Bulletin will commemorate the greatest achievements and moments in sports history at CSUDH through this column, where we will recount one notable sports achievement or moment every issue.
By Jeremy Gonzalez
Assistant Sports Editor
No one can argue that when it comes to soccer, the Los Angeles Galaxy and its four Major League Soccer championships since moving to Carson in 2003 put the South Bay on the soccer map.
Actually, you can argue with it. For 14 years before the Galaxy’s first championship in Carson—and three years before the team even existed, a plucky, over-achieving, incredibly determined and intense group of Toro athletes claimed the South Bay’s first national soccer championship: the 1990-91 CSUDH women’s soccer team.
As the first CSUDH team to be crowned national champion, it was a
Cano, who returned to the school in 2018 to coach women’s soccer after a 26-year hiatus, recalled that at the beginning of the 1991 season, he held a meeting with the team in the gym. He took one long look around the room and, he said, he thought they were all in for a long year.
Some girls had worked out and stayed in shape; others hadn’t
However, though small in number, they were huge in terms of intensity. The way they practiced was the first indicator, Cano said. Whether practicing or scrimmaging, he had to physically restrain many of the girls because they were so intense that they would anger each other, and emotions would flare.
Sometimes, even Cano was on the receiving end of that intensity.
“If I made a bad call during
Jennifer (Womack) Michelson was one of two captains that year. Cano described Michelson as a fierce competitor who was skillful with a ball at her feet and possessed an unbelievable amount of stamina. The leadership of Michelson and co-captain Jennifer Grasso was the key to the title run, and they set the standard, Cano said, the moment they stepped on the practice field.
Michelson always wanted to be first in the exercises, Grasso and Michelson would try and out-work each other during training. Cano said he was glad to have them on the same team.
“When they finally got to play with each other in the games, they were phenomenal,” said Cano.
One of the key games for the Toros that season was against UC San Diego at home. UCSD entered the match as one of the top teams in Southern California, but the Toros dispatched them handily, 3-0. That made a believer out of one of their toughest skeptics. Cano said that after his team dismantled one of the top teams in the state, he knew they had a chance to go all the way.
The Toros qualified for the Final Four, and in the semifinal defeated
“Sonoma State had a throw-in by our goal in the final 10 seconds of the match,” said Cano. “The crowd in attendance had stormed the field three seconds before the final whistle. Everyone was celebrating except me, I thought the ref was going to make us replay the last seconds.”
When the referee signaled game over, the real celebrations happened, and the women made history by becoming the first team in CSUDH history bring home an NCAA Division II national championship.
Cano said that team will always be special in his coaching heart.
“They will be the only team I ever coached that will understand my method of why I play this system,” said Cano. “They did it perfectly. Those kids played their style of soccer in my system, and they were all very good players.”