April 16, 2012
Q: Give us your overall thoughts about the spring season.
A: I think we made more progress this spring than in any prior year. We really worked on team attacking. We scored more goals this spring than in any other. On the flip side, I think we gave up more goals than in any other spring, but we weren't concerned about that. The idea was to come out with a very good understanding of our team attacking concepts, and we made tremendous strides in that area. The defending and the set pieces will get sorted out in the fall, but it takes a really long time to develop that attacking team chemistry in soccer, and that was our focus this spring.
We had some unique challenges with people being out. Haley [Kopmeyer] had a concussion. Holly [Hein] and some others had small injuries here and there. The biggest change was losing Christina Murillo for the whole spring, and Shelina [Zadorsky] and Nkem [Ezurike] for a good part of it. That was good and bad. Good from the standpoint that it requires others to step up, but bad because we're losing three of our more consistent players. It was hard not having three of our best players here training with us. Saying that, the most interesting challenge next year will be the U-20 World Cup, which falls during the first part of our season. At minimum, they'll miss four games. If their teams get out of the group stage, they could miss the entire non-conference slate. They're such good players. With them not here, others have to step up, and they'll be given that opportunity.
Q: Who caught your eye this spring, in terms of overall improvement?
A: It starts with Clare Stachel. This fall, she'll be a fifth-year senior, and has steadily improved over her time here. She's a goal scorer, but more than that, she's a terrific leader. With Nkem not being here at the start of the season, we needed another player to play up top, and Clare answered the call. I thought Holly did well in the midfield. We also got Meghan Toohey back this spring, but she was only able to play the last three games. She's not nearly 100 percent yet, but just having her back was a big boost. Tori McCombs had a great spring and really developed a lot. Emily Jaffe, who we were fortunate to get midway through last season, had a great spring. Shelina and Nkem, when they were here, were exceptionally impactful players for us. Overall, it was a good effort by all the players.
Q: In talking about Shelina and Nkem, could you tell a difference in the way they played after they got back from the CONCACAF U-20 Championships?
A: I think there was an added focus when they returned. Initially, they were fatigued, but we gave them some time off to rest. When they re-joined us, there was a really high level of focus and technical accuracy. That comes from being in training twice a day, and meetings, which they had for a month. I think that when they come back from the U-20 World Cup, we'll see something similar, and they'll play at a totally different level than before.
Q: Talk about the fitness level. That's something that you are very high on, and you mentioned that the team's overall fitness level was the best you've ever seen it at.
A: Since I got here, our fitness level has gone up pretty linearly. We do a lot of playing in our training sessions, which will help you get fit, but we also do supplemental fitness training on their own time. The number of sessions they do per week is based on their fitness level. If you need to raise you fitness level, you do multiple sessions. One of our players was doing two sessions per day, six days a week. I felt that 90 percent of our players made tremendous strides this spring.
Q: Where does the team stand health-wise coming out of the spring?
A: Holly is doing great. She's come back so strong. Her fitness is good, and will only get better. Meghan only played in three games, but she was training with us before that. That's just a process for her. Her injury was a really bad one, and the fact that she's come back as strong as she has is just because she's so tough. What's amazing is, when we did our fitness testing, she was towards the top of the group after sitting out five months. It's a credit for Meghan to how hard she's worked to get herself back. Emily and Olivia [Buechler] are both back healthy, but our main concerns were Holly and Meghan, and they're both looking really good. I don't think Meghan will be back at 100 percent until the fall.
Q: You've mentioned before that you are very excited about the incoming freshman class. With the voids you'll have to fill in the early part of the season, is there any more pressure on the newcomers to succeed right away?
A: I think there's going to be more opportunity. Hopefully as freshmen, they don't feel pressure, and they are just happy to be out there. We can't put a ton of pressure on them to step in and be go-to players from the start. They are capable of it, so they may be able to do that. We have to try and keep the pressure off them, make them feel comfortable and confident, and from the whole team standpoint, understand that everyone is going to need to step up. We need to do that individually and as a team, and hopefully we will.
Q: What's the focus going into the offseason?
A: The number one thing between now and August is maintaining the fitness level. We're at a high level now, but we're three-and-a-half months from camp. Over the past three years, our teams have done a great job coming in and not having fitness issues. That's critical. Our freshmen need to embrace the fitness training, and make sure they are coming in very fit. From there, it's how quickly can we gel? Once they come in, it's just a matter of getting down to business, hammering out every aspect of what we're doing, and seeing which players have the best chemistry together. Next year, even without the people we'll miss, we're going to have a ton of good players. It's just sorting out who plays and where. We've got a lot of scenarios that we're looking at.
Q: Are you excited about the season?
A: I am. I am going to be more excited if we can come out of the first six-to-eight games with a good record. That's going to be the key to next season. If we can start strong without having three of our better players available to us, we'll be in good shape.