A recent offensive explosion has changed the entire tone of the Oregon Ducks’ soccer season. The team won two neutral-site games in Corvallis, beating San Diego State 2-1 for head coach Tara Erickson’s program-record 50th win Sept. 17.

In the second game on Sept. 19, the team defeated Butler 6-1, on the strength of senior midfielder Kirstie Kuhns’ school-record-tying four goals. The Ducks improved to 4-3-2 on the season with the wins.

Earlier in the season, despite a high quantity of shots, the Oregon Ducks soccer team had been stymied in its attempts to score. The team had only scored in three of its first seven matches, and was 2-3-2 before last weekend. But despite their record, the Ducks outshot every opponent except Oklahoma State and lead the Pac-10 Conference in both shots and corner kicks.

The team, which experienced an undefeated 6-0-1 record in September 2009, thinks wins and losses do not tell the whole story.

“We’re learning a lot more now than we did last year in the preseason,” sophomore forward Kelsey Hones said. “Last year, we did so well that we didn’t think we needed to learn anything.”

Late losses against Oklahoma State, UNLV and Kansas have only bolstered the Ducks’ will to win.

Senior forward Jen Stoltenberg’s contribution has been immense. She leads all scorers with six goals and four assists. Stoltenberg also accounts for 55 of Oregon’s 158 shots this season.

Elsewhere on the pitch, juniors Cody Miles and Lindsay Parlee have split time at goalkeeper. The tandem has held opponents to less than one goal per contest and combined for 38 total saves.

Midfielder Kuhns controls an Oregon midfield that has a different mindset this season.

“We’re looking to possess the ball more,” Erickson said. “We keep the ball and control it rather than just sending through balls to Stoltenberg.”

Though Stoltenberg leads the team, sophomore midfielder Tahne Apo may play a big part in helping the Ducks establish their offensive rhythm in the coming weeks.

Leader of the sophomore guard, Apo surged into the picture with one goal and two assists already in the young season.

Stoltenberg recognized the contributions of more than just her fellow seniors in praising the 2010 team.

“I don’t have to rely on myself because of players who take the pressure off me, like Apo,” Stoltenberg said.

In practice, Oregon looks to achieve fluidity and increase tempo of play as conference play approaches.

“We’re playing much quicker than we did last year, we’re more organized and we play possession,” Hones said. “It’s more exciting to watch this year, too.”

Oregon returns to Pape Field against Oregon State on Oct. 8 to open the Pac-10 schedule.

The conference is headlined by No. 2 Stanford, last year’s second place finisher in the NCAA tournament. Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and USC all also hold spots in the Top 25.

The Ducks failed to make the NCAA tournament in 2009 after losing eight of their last nine matches. This season, the objective is clear.

“If we have a successful Pac-10 season, we will make the tournament,” Hones said. “That’s the goal.”

At 4-3-2, the goal may appear lofty, but a quick glance at the numbers renders the Ducks’ record a statistical improbability. Erickson reflected on the variance within individual matches.

“In terms of wins and losses, we’re not in the same place,” Erickson said. “But in terms of soccer, we’re in a better place than we were at this time last season.”

In practice, the Ducks have worked extensively on finishing at the net, one area where they had struggled.

Oregon has two games remaining in the non-conference schedule to iron out inconsistencies before the Pac-10 opener.

The players have taken the losses in stride, and see the defeats as vehicles for success in the future.

“This year, if we go one goal down, we work harder and we don’t give up,” Hones said.

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