by Rob Moseley
After a season in which UO athletics finished 15th in the Director's Cup standings, the Ducks begin their quest for an encore Saturday when the Oregon soccer squad plays an exhibition at UC Davis, the first event of the 2013-14 year on the UO athletics calendar.
The 5 p.m. exhibition is also the competitive debut for new Ducks soccer coach Kat Mertz. The squad opened training camp just over a week ago, and has held two scrimmages in the past week to prepare for Saturday's match.
"We're coming together and hitting some of our goals, as far as being more defensively organized and getting a little more creativity from the midfield," Mertz said. "Now it'll be fun to see how we do against an opponent that's not ourselves."
The Ducks and Aggies also scrimmaged during the spring, playing to a 2-2 tie. A victory Saturday could validate the hard work Oregon has put in since, though Mertz said she won't put too much stock in the outcome.
"Obviously you want to be able to set the tone, and go into the regular season with a positive," Mertz said. "But at the end of the day, the result is the result, and you can learn from it and move on.
"You'd love to see a lot of goals and zero against, but the reality is there's gonna be something we have to fix. And it will be a good test for us, to see what we need to tweak and how to do it."
The Ducks held a scrimmage last Friday, early in training camp, that ended 3-1, with Bri Pugh finding the back of the net twice. They scrimmaged again Monday, a 40-minute, scoreless affair in which the rigors of training might have contributed to the lack of scoring.
Mertz will test her team again in that regard, as the Ducks didn't taper their training on account of Saturday's exhibition. As was the case for Monday's scrimmage, they held tough workouts up to and including the day before an exhibition.
"I explained to them, this could be a Sunday game (in the regular season)," Mertz said. "Not every Sunday you feel fresh, if you played on Friday. In-season you're not going to feel fresh. We have to find a way collectively to step up to the challenge."
As far as the roster is concerned, Mertz is still experimenting with her defenders, after the Ducks suffered losses to graduation and injury on the back line. She said Pugh and Shanelle Simien helped set the tone with their fitness levels at the opening of camp.
"There's some people we definitely need to continue to push, but as a whole we're happy with where we are," Mertz said. "But we can't be complacent. There's a whole other level we have to get to."
Oregon-UC Davis LIVE STATS