By Brady Johnson
UO Athletic Communications
EUGENE, Ore. – Following a hard-fought loss to the second ranked team in the nation on Nov. 3, the UO women’s soccer team shared a bittersweet moment at UCLA’s Drake Stadium.
After defeating Oregon 2-0 and clinching the Pac-12 title, the No. 2 Bruins rushed the sideline to snag the conference trophy and engulf the field in celebration. On Oregon’s side, the somber team briefly watched the celebration before coming to an uplifting conclusion.
“It was bittersweet to be on UCLA’s field when they won the Pac-12 championship,” said head coach Kat Mertz.” “It’s great for UCLA to have that moment, but I think us coaches and all our players looked over and said, ‘that’s going to be us’.”
The Ducks concluded their first season of a building process under Mertz, aspiring towards unprecedented marks for the programs. The 2013 campaign consisted of instilling a team philosophy and laying the groundwork for bigger things to come, and it didn’t come without trials and tribulations.
Oregon concluded the year with a 4-12-3 overall record and a 2-8-1 mark in Pac-12 play. The season consisted of a number of highs and lows, but most importantly, began the process of building toward Mertz’s overall goals for the program.
One of the more critical aspects in the process was establishing a new team attitude and approach to every minute detail. The team had to buy into Mertz’s system and new direction for the program. In that regard, the Ducks made a positive first step in 2013.
“I thought we did well with just changing our entire approach and attitude,” said Mertz, who was named head coach on Dec. 21, 2013. “We really bought in to how we want to push this program and where we want to go. We all believe and we all know that we will be successful – it’s just a matter of handling the smallest of details.”
The Ducks had many positives on the field, too. Oregon picked up four victories at Papé Field, shutout five opponents and was only twice defeated by more than a single goal. Oregon secured one of the most notable wins in program history, upsetting No. 12 California 1-0, providing the highlight of the season. It was the second-highest ranked opponent UO defeated in program history.
The Ducks were led in attack by freshman ShayLee Miner (7 points), sophomore Kristen Parr (6), and juniors Bri Pugh (6) and Ryann Davie (6). Junior goalkeeper Abby Steele made 91 saves, the seventh best mark in program history.
“We had some highs and lows, some really great moments and some moments we’d like to have back,” said Mertz. “We had moments of lapses here and there, but we brought a lot of fight every game and I was proud to see that.”
While a stingy defense kept Oregon in every single game, a work-in-progress offense failed to score enough goals to stay even. The Ducks scored just 14 times in 2013. For the Ducks to take a big step forward next season, putting the pieces of the offensive puzzle together is critical.
“We had positives, but I think we’re all disappointed and tired of losing, and that’s a good thing,” said Mertz. “We have to go back and figure out how to score more goals, and how to give up fewer. We need to perform at a high level in this conference and we need to do that now. For us, 2014 starts right now.”
Mertz is encouraged by the amount of returning players as the Ducks are poised to keep nearly their entire starting lineup intact. Mertz is looking to fill the void left by a pair of defenders – the only two seniors on the team – who were crucial to the team’s defensive success this season.
Seniors Achijah Berry and Gabbie Lindeman each started more than 45 career matches and were important contributors during their careers. Oregon will, however, return 18 letterwinners from the 2013 campaign, including 11 players which started at least eight games.
Thirty-nine of the 40 points Oregon tallied this season came from players poised to return next season. Mertz will likely have every midfielder and forward back at her disposal next season, including leading scorers Miner (7), honorable mention All-Pac-12 honoree Pugh (6), and Parr (6).
“It’ll be nice to get so many of these players back,” said Mertz. “We graduate two seniors that did a tremendous job for us. I think our junior, sophomore and freshman classes showed a lot this season, and it will be fun to work with them all winter. We’re going to find a way to get better, and every day we step on the field is an opportunity to do so.”
After closing the season on Nov. 7 at Oregon State, the Ducks had a little time off before returning to the NCAA allotted eight hours of practice time per week. Mertz will spend some time on the recruiting trail while also working on individual technical improvements for each player.
With high aspirations in mind, the Ducks are ready to get back to work and continue striving for new heights.
“I think we’re all eager to get back at it,” said Mertz. “It’s nice to see that the girls were a little bored this week without a game. That’s awesome because we want to be playing this time next year. That’s our goal for this program – we’ve never played in the NCAA Tournament. I think our players are hungry for that. We want to get in that tournament next year.”