SportsWomen's Soccer

Takeaways and top quotes from women’s soccer media day

Oregon’s women’s soccer team ended the 2016 season one game short of an NCAA tournament berth. With returning veterans and new freshmen talent, the Ducks are hoping to rebound and make their first tournament. Head coach Kat Mertz and senior defender Caitlyn Wong spoke about the team’s upcoming season on Monday as part of media day.

Here are the major takeaways:

The seniors have been instrumental in changing the team’s culture for the better

Kat Mertz: “We’ve got four great captains. We have Miranda Schulz, Sofia Chambers, Caitlyn Wong, and Halla Hinriksdottir. I think there’s a really great balance with our leadership. They know how to play, and they know what the expectations are. It’s been really fun for me to see how the upperclassmen have helped create this really safe environment for the freshmen and newcomers to be themselves. When you see a team that’s welcoming and not judgmental, and that’s playing for each other, I think you see some special things on the field.”

Caitlyn Wong: “We’ve been working for four years to change the culture and build a program that’s going to be successful. A lot of it is behind the scenes and off the field. Becoming a family, having each other’s backs. … It’s really rewarding now to see in my fifth year that we’ve made so many strides in terms of team culture.”

The Pac-12 is as tough as ever

Mertz: “We always say that the Pac-12 is a conference of championships. Every game is a championship game. We don’t have a Pac-12 tournament at the end, so every game matters. We open on the road down at Arizona, and that’s a tough place to play in. Then we’re on the road again against USC and UCLA. But as far as the Pac-12, there’s very little that separates the top from the bottom, and that’s what makes this special.”

Wong: “Coach always says that if you’re competing for a Pac-12 championship, you’re competing for a national championship. We send at least six teams to the tournament every year, so you’re really playing against the best. USC won a national championship, UCLA won a national championship. …You’re playing against teams in the regular season that are going to go that far, so why not challenge yourself now?”

Controlling the end of the game and minimizing set pieces are priorities

Mertz: “We need to win the last ten minutes of the game. We talk about one goal differences, and unfortunately, those one goal differences happen a lot at the end of the game. So we need to be fitter, we need to be mentally tougher, and we need to be focused. We gave up too many of those goals on set pieces last year. If we can cut that down, we’re in the top half of the Pac-12.”

Wong: “There are a lot of things you can do in terms of decision making in the last minute. Things like trying to get a throw-in as opposed to a corner and eliminating silly fouls, we just have to try and eliminate the number of chances they’re going to have. You’re going to give up set pieces, so when it comes down to it we’ve just been working to have a relentless mentality; to get the ball out of the box and really take pride this being our house.”

Depth off the bench is crucial

Mertz: “We’ve got 31 players on the team, and only 11 play. So we need to win off the bench. When you look at the sideline, you need to see them being supportive. It’s going to take all of us to be successful.”

Staying focused on the goal

Mertz: “In the Pac-12, you just need to put your blinders on. You focus on yourself. You can’t worry about what’s going on outside, you can’t worry about what team’s doing what. …We all know it comes down to the final weekend. If we’re in the hunt, that’s all we can ask for.”

The Ducks will play the first game of the season Friday at 5 p.m. against N.C. State in Pape Field.

Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95

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Aaron Alter

Aaron Alter