Pepperdine women’s soccer player Bri Visalli said she has always aimed to play the game with the same “fighting spirit” her soccer idol, professional player Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona.
“My philosophy is if someone wants to take the ball from me, you are going to have to go through me,” the senior said. “He does a similar thing.”
The forward showed that spirit and racked up a handful of goals in Pepperdine’s 4-0 victory over Gonzaga on Oct. 15. Visalli battled through a tough and physical Bulldogs defense to score three goals and record one assist for 17th-ranked Pepperdine.
The win pushed the Waves to a 10-2-2 record and extended their winning streak to six games. The team will look to continue stacking Ws with two contests this week: Thursday at BYU and Saturday at San Diego.
Visalli was named the West Coast Conference Women’s Soccer Player of the Week due to her standout performance. The Pepperdine captain increased her offensive numbers to 10 goals and three assists this season. She is now eighth on Pepperdine’s career goals list with 21.
After the win, Visalli’s father, Bob Visalli, said his daughter’s scoring prowess this season reminded him of her high school career at Valley Christian High in San Jose, where she racked up 39 goals and 37 assists in four seasons. He said Bri excels on the field despite some people overlooking her due to her small stature.
“She has a competitive drive and the will to prove herself,” the elder Visalli said.
Bri said she plays in a way that makes her 5-foot-2 height a non-factor.
“I’ve never played small,” she said. “I will go into tackles.”
Visalli was tackled during a scoring attempt against the Bulldogs in the game’s 57th minute. The Pepperdine captain was operating in the Gonzaga box when she was taken down by a defender. Her goal on the ensuing penalty kick gave Pepperdine a 3-0 lead.
Visalli attempted Pepperdine’s first shot of inside the game’s seventh minute, but the ball bounced off the crossbar. However, forward Brie Welch corralled the ball and kicked it past Gonzaga’s goal keeper. Visalli was given an assist.
Pepperdine coach Tim Ward said Visalli’s desire and “soccer speed” make her a potent scorer.
“In a 50/50 moment, she finds another speed,” he said. “That comes from her heart and desire to find a way to get to the ball first.”
The coach said Visalli is part of a Pepperdine offense that can get scoring from various of players. Eight different Waves have goals this season besides Visalli. Joelle Anderson and Devyn Gilfoy each have four and Calista Reyes has three. Welch has two goals, and Christina Settles, Jamie Van Horn, Tara Morris and Danielle Thomas each have one.
Ward said early scoring, game management and great defense allowed Pepperdine to defeat Gonzaga.
The win over the Bulldogs was the fifth straight game Pepperdine’s defense had held an opponent scoreless. In 14 games, opposing teams have only tallied five goals against the Waves’ defense.
Visalli said her team’s defense is awesome.
“When you have a solid backline, it allows us to be fun and be creative on offense, so I’m thankful for them,” she said.
Pepperdine’s defense is anchored by goal keeper Brielle Preece. The junior had three saves against Gonzaga, including one where she slid between a teammate and a Gonzaga player to snatch the ball.
Ward said Preece is shining at protecting the net after spending the last few seasons as a reserve.
“She always believed her time was going to come,” he said. “She is doing a really good job. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Preece has 51 saves in 14 games this season. Ward said Preece played great in Pepperdine’s 1-1 tie with No. 1 ranked UCLA on Sept. 15. He also highlighted Preece’s performance in Pepperdine’s 5-0 victory over Santa Clara on Oct. 1.
“There was a 10-minute period where Santa Clara was trying to get back into the game, and she made two of the best saves I have ever seen a Pepperdine goalie make—and we have had some good ones here,” Ward said.
Pepperdine’s 2017 season began with a 1-0 loss to Texas A&M in overtime on Aug. 18 and a 1-1 overtime tie with Virginia Tech two days later. Pepperdine’s first win of the season was a 3-0 triumph over Texas Tech on Aug. 25.
Pepperdine defeated Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and San Francisco by a combined score of 12-1 in September. The Waves lost to DePaul, 1-0, and tied UCLA in overtime.
Between beating Santa Clara and Gonzaga this month, the Waves defeated Loyola Marymount, 1-0.
Pepperdine, the 2016 WCC champion, is undefeated in the conference this season thanks to the wins this month and the victory over San Francisco. Ward said if his team wins the WCC again, it will be the first time Pepperdine has won the championship back-to-back.
“We are trying to make that a reality,” he said. “We know they don’t give those things out at the door, so that’s why we take it one game at a time.”