By Rob Moseley
EUGENE, Ore. -- Suddenly, there’s a little more weight behind the words of Kat Mertz.
Truth be told, “suddenly” might not be entirely accurate. Oregon’s first-year women’s soccer coach has been on the job for nearly nine months. She’s been reshaping the roster, installing a new system, trying to build up the Ducks’ confidence after four straight losing seasons.
But until this past weekend, Mertz only had her message. Now she has results to back it up.
Oregon’s debut weekend was a revelation. The Ducks opened with a 3-0 win over Portland State, quieting any doubts that may have arisen after a 1-0 exhibition loss to UC Davis. On Sunday, Oregon followed that up by taking No. 15 Portland to overtime, before dropping a 2-1 decision.
The victory over Portland State, Mertz said, was “a great way to start. Gives us some confidence moving forward here. And getting a goal on Portland here? I’ll take it. I’ll take it going into a big weekend coming up.”
The Ducks will host a tournament this weekend, and play both Wisconsin and Texas. The Badgers are 2-0, and beat nationally ranked Marquette in an exhibition; the Longhorns are 1-0-1.
Yes, Oregon opens with nine home games, which has been perceived as a gift to Mertz in her debut season. But she was also handed one of the nation’s toughest schedules.
Moral victories like Sunday’s late tying goal could easily have been the expectation. But not after Friday’s victory over PSU, or the way the Ducks fought to force overtime Sunday after the late equalizer.
“We have a much more positive attitude this year,” said junior Ryann Davie, who scored in the second half Sunday. “We realize how great of a team we are, especially when we play together and as a team. We’re just ready to beat Wisconsin and Texas next week. We’re moving past this game.”
That sort of confidence and resiliency doesn’t come easy. Instilling it has been one of Mertz’s top priorities.
Nothing could drive it home better than some success on the first weekend.
“When a new coach comes in, the girls are questioning the new philosophy a little bit,” Mertz acknowledged. “To get three goals (Friday), I think we’ve got a lot more people bought in completely. A lot more heads were going, ‘We can do this.’ And that’s the thing we need to understand with our girls – we’re pretty good. We have to believe in ourselves, that we can step on the field and compete every minute of the game.”
There was a breakdown in that regard Sunday, as Portland scored a golden goal less than three minutes into overtime. It had been a strong weekend for Oregon’s back line until that point. The Ducks were also encouraged by the infusion of offense their bench provided Friday, and the impact of their freshmen.
So while there were teaching points for Mertz to take from her debut weekend, there was also a lot to like. And a lot that showed the Ducks what kind of team that could be under their new coach.