For the Oregon women’s soccer team, the 2016 season didn’t go as well as the team would have hoped. After starting the season 6-2-1 in nonconference action, the Ducks went 2-8-1 in Pac-12 play, finishing 10th in the conference.
With core players such as Kyra Fawcett, Abby Morrow and Marissa Everett returning, however, the team looks to make a move in the Pac-12 standings in 2017. Head coach Kat Mertz spoke with the Emerald about the past season, offseason training and the upcoming 2017 season.
Emerald: Are you excited to be getting to work with your players again?
Kat Mertz: Absolutely. I really enjoy the winter because it’s a time where you can work a little bit more individually with the players. When you come in during August, the focus is the team. When we talk about the winter training, it’s really about the individual needs.
E: Did you expect a better record in Pac-12 play? Perhaps things didn’t bounce your way?
KM: Soccer is a funny sport. You can outplay a team and unfortunately the ball doesn’t go your way. We had some injuries. We had some people step up. It was a good season, and if you would ask any of the players, they’d say they enjoyed it. I think that’s important when you’re going through this process. It was a gauntlet to play three of the top RPI teams [Stanford, USC, UCLA] right away.
E: A lot of this core group is staying together. Do you think that having this experience grow will help your team in some of these closer games that you’re often involved in?
KM: You don’t need the accolades behind your name. You don’t need the five-star recruits. You need the players who are going to come together and play for each other and really believe in what we’re doing. This next senior class has been through some ups and downs coming in, and we’re excited to have some youth come in.
E: What was the team’s biggest struggle last season and why will that be different this year?
KM: This past fall, we gave up the most set-piece goals that I have, probably in my whole coaching career, ever given up. That’s something that we’re definitely going to be working on. I think we can do a better job defensively in transition, and we also need to recognize when we can transition a little bit quicker. We want to keep the ball and possess and play pretty soccer, but at times you have to see if you can catch them off guard.
E: How does your coaching staff balance staying on the path that you’re on while building and trying something new?
KM: You have to tip your hat to USC [the national champions]. They were able to change within the flow of the game. As a coaching staff, we’ve talked about that. If one thing is not working, we need to be able to adjust and shake it up a little bit. Now we have to show them moments when it’s alright to play a little more direct.
E: Depending on the sport, some teams might have a goal – we want to do this well in the season or qualify for this tournament – do you have that philosophy or take it more day by day?
KM: We have one goal right now and that’s to make the NCAA Tournament. That is always there, but I don’t think we focus on that every day. We have smaller goals to help us achieve that bigger goal.
Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @ckundich.