For the women’s soccer team, trip to China was “really eye-opening”
During the 2016 season, it was clear that Oregon women’s soccer was a team on the way up. The squad finished with its best record (8-10-2) since 2012, and came tantalizingly close to an NCAA Tournament berth, which the program has never gotten.
A recent summer trip to China may have provided the push the Ducks need to put all the pieces together this season. Summer trips are fairly common for NCAA soccer teams, though the Ducks’ destination broke the typical mold.
“Everyone goes to Spain and Portugal,” head coach Kat Mertz said. “This was a little different. Two days before the trip, I said to Katie (Hultin) — my assistant — ‘Oh my god, we’re going to China with the team.’ It really hit me.”
While the unique destination might have been mildly overwhelming, Mertz was thrilled with the trip.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Mertz said. “I really got to see a different side of the players, and I really enjoyed watching them experience something new.”
The Ducks played two matches, winning one and drawing the other. The team’s first match saw them defeat the Beijing All-Star University team 1-0, with the goal coming from veteran Sofia Chambers off a cross from recent-transfer Jazmin Jackson. The Ducks dominated on offense, posting 17 shots to Beijing’s five.
The second match against the Beijing Youth Women’s team ended in a 1-1 draw. The Ducks fought back from an early 1-0 deficit to knot things up. The equalizer came when defender Mia Costa sent a cross to midfielder Jayne Lydiatt, who found the net with a header. Once again the Ducks led in shot attempts, this time to a tune of 19-12. The match concluded with a friendly penalty shoot-out, which Beijing won 4-1.
Strong play in goal was key in both games, with veteran goalkeeper Halla Hinriksdottir notching a total of eight saves.
“I think it was really, really eye-opening for a lot of us,” Hinriksdottir said. “Getting to play teams that are way different from what we’re used to is very refreshing.”
Mertz agreed, and adds that the game has a unique power to connect people across cultures.
“It’s the same thing across the world,” Mertz said. “I think that’s one thing that makes soccer, or football as it’s known across the world, a really beautiful sport.”
Though the trip was certainly fun, Mertz and Hinriksdottir both believe it could also play a key role in the Ducks’ success this upcoming season.
“I think it really pushed us in the right direction,” Mertz said. “We were a team teetering on the next step of our development.”
The chemistry will be on display when the Ducks open their season on August 12 against the Portland Pilots, and it has Mertz feeling good about the coming year.
“We’re at this point where this team has really bought into what we’re doing,” Mertz said. “We want to do something special that hasn’t been done in this new era since the ’96 program was born, and that’s to take this program into the NCAA Tournament.”
Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95