EUGENE, Ore. – With the season-opener looming on Friday, head women’s soccer coach Kat Mertz noticed a little extra pep in her players’ steps Monday morning at a training session before media day at Papè Field.
The Ducks have survived two busy weeks of preseason training and now find themselves five days away from the start of the regular season. With that in mind, the Ducks are poised for an intense week of practice and improvement before Friday’s contest with Portland State.
“We’re finally in a game week, and I think everybody could tell that the girls were really focused and intense in today’s session,” said Mertz, speaking with members of the press during media day. “They were ready to train today. It’s fun to see everyone realize that it’s go time.”
Mertz, entering her first season at the helm of the program, feels positive about her team’s response to preseason training. Oregon’s camp opened with significant time spent on teaching, getting on the same page and getting organized defensively. In recent sessions, Mertz has worked rigorously with midfield possession and the attacking front three.
All throughout camp, the Ducks have shown Mertz an eagerness to learn and willingness to train hard.
“The preseason training has been great,” said Mertz. “The girls came back with a refocused mentality. They wanted to come in here fit and ready for the fall season.”
Mertz and the Ducks hope that their collective positive mindset and hard work put in during preseason training will go a long ways toward one of the team’s top goals; building a championship program.
Oregon went 8-10-2 in 2012 with a 3-7-1 mark in Pac-12 play. While the Ducks have been competitive in arguably the country's top soccer conference, Oregon hasn’t posted a winning record since 2006. The 2013 season will be all about taking steps to change that.
“I think we all believe in the mission and goal, which is to build a championship program,” said Mertz. “We know that winning isn’t easy. It doesn’t just happen overnight because we say words like these or because they come out and train hard in the first two weeks of preseason. It happens with experience, trial and error and being in games late and making the right decisions.
“It’s not easy changing culture. We’re competitive, and the players that we have here form a great core. They are willing to work and willing to put the effort into it, and they’re making the changes that we’ve asked of them.”
Mertz told members of the media that she believes her 2013 team has the makeup of a squad that can begin to accomplish that culture change.
“I think we have athletes, there’s no questions about that,” said Mertz. “We’re a fast and athletic team. Now, we just need to be able to put the ball down and pick teams apart.”
From a micro level, the Ducks will simply be working on lessons learned from Friday’s exhibition against UC Davis. Oregon held an advantage in all statistical categories in the first half and kept the Aggies off of the score sheet for 85 minutes. UC Davis broke through with five minutes remaining, handing Oregon a 1-0 setback in a hard-fought exhibition.
“We talked about being more aggressive and winning the 50/50 balls off punts, headers or set pieces,” said Mertz. “We talked about making more runs from underneath, and we talked about having fun around goal; taking chances, being creative and taking shots.”
The Ducks return 19 players with at least one letter and welcome back five of their six leading scorers in 2012. Oregon also welcomes six newcomers into the fold; five freshmen and one transfer.
Oregon’s schedule, the 16th most difficult in the nation, opens with a nine-game home stand. The Ducks will meet seven opponents that are ranked or receiving votes in the NSCAA/Continental Tire Poll.
First touch between Oregon and in-state foe Portland State, a team chosen to contend for a Big Sky title by preseason publications, is set for 5 p.m. (PT) Friday at Papè Field.