By Rob Moseley
Of all the Ducks who took the field in the Oregon soccer team’s 2-1 win Sunday over Texas, none played fewer minutes than ShayLee Miner’s 33.
No matter. Miner’s second goal of the season, a blast past the keeper at short range and from a tough angle, proved to be the game-winner. It was the second tally in four games so far this season for the freshman from nearby Junction City, and it illustrated the weighty contributions Oregon is getting from a big rotation of forwards.
First-year coach Kat Mertz is rotating six players on her front line, including Bri Pugh, the team’s top returning scorer. Pugh scored the Ducks’ initial goal against Texas, her first of the season. But it’s been two subs, Miner and sophomore Brooke Strawn, who lead Oregon in scoring with two goals apiece through their 2-2 start to the season, entering Friday’s 4 p.m. home match against Hawaii.
Also in the rotation up front are junior Shanelle Simien and sophomores Kristen Parr and Kira Wagoner. Mertz has been tinkering with how she groups the forwards together, and has seen buy-in from the group collectively.
“They’ve all embraced the fact that, it doesn’t matter who starts at the end of the day, as long as we get results,” Mertz said. “And it’s been awesome to see the intensity level not drop when we make substitutions. They want it just as bad.”
Miner has proven to be quite the optimistic freshman so far. Her scoring touch was apparent in high school, when she set a local league record with 110 goals. Then, she scored the first goal of the Mertz era, to open Oregon’s 3-0 win over Portland State on Aug. 23.
The goal against Portland State was a sliding effort on which Miner reached to get a toe on the ball, and her blast against Texas didn’t feature much finesse either, though it did follow a speedy run to beat a defender for position.
“What I’ve encouraged with her is, she’s scrappy around the goal,” Mertz said. “She makes things happen.”
That’s the idea, Miner said.
“I just try to always look for my opportunities, and take every opportunity I can get,” Miner said. “I’m always looking for that open spot in the goal.”
While Miner is a fast, diminutive presence off the bench, Strawn provides the Ducks with some much-needed size. She’s the only player on the roster listed about 6 feet, at 6-foot-1, and she’s starting to get comfortable using that size to her advantage.
Work with UO assistant Christie Welsh and with Parr, who is a strong player with her back to a defender, has been paying off. Strawn has focused on balance, shifting her weight to hold position while an opponent is at her back.
“I definitely see it,” Strawn said. “I can hold the ball more with pressure on my back, and even defending I can mark big players.”
“Any time we have a set piece, to have Brooke around the goal, if I was a keeper I’d be nervous, just from her size alone,” Mertz said. “And then given the fact we’ve been working with her on her timing and hre heading, and it’s been paying off.”
To keep them fresh and healthy, Mertz said she’ll continue to rotate her group of six forwards. And she’ll continue to seek a determined effort from those attackers she summons from the bench.
“Forward life is up and down,” Mertz said. “Sometimes they’re hot, and sometimes they’re not. When one’s feeling it, we’ll give that one a little bit longer time. If they’re making an impact, we’re not going to throw them off their rhythm.”