By Rob Moseley
Bri Pugh knew right when to turn it on.
Having played all 100 minutes of regulation and the first overtime against San Francisco last week, Pugh made the most of the break between overtime periods. While the rest of the Oregon soccer team stood and huddled, the Ducks’ junior forward sat on the field with her legs in front of her, resting and stretching.
Then, with the second overtime about to begin, the UO sparkplug peeled herself off the ground for 10 more minutes of play. A hip-hop song came over the PA, and Pugh summoned the will to start bouncing to the music, infusing herself and her teammates with a jolt of energy.
Ultimately, the Ducks settled for another scoreless overtime period, and a tie with San Francisco. But it wasn’t for lack of effort from Pugh, who joined Oregon’s four defenders in playing all 110 minutes, a remarkable feat for a forward.
“She’s fit, and we’re going to play her,” UO coach Kat Mertz said. “There were a couple times I thought about giving her a blow, and I talked to her: ‘Hey Bri, you OK?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’
“There’s no reason to take her off. She’s dangerous.”
Entering the start of Pac-12 play against visiting Washington State on Thursday at 7 p.m., the Ducks (2-4-2) are mired in a stretch of four games in which they’ve scored just two goals. But again, that hasn’t been due to a lack of effort from Pugh.
Just like the overtime against San Francisco, she’s known right when to turn it on. Of the 65 shots Oregon has attempted in the last four games, Pugh has taken more than one-third, 22. For a team desperate for goal-scoring, Pugh is showing she wants to be the answer.
“She’s leading us that way,” Mertz said. “She doesn’t need a captain’s arm band to provide that leadership ability.”
Pugh is arguably the fastest player in the Pac-12. Part of her development as a junior has been knowing when to use that speed and when to stay within the offense, getting teammates involved. Recognizing her own potential has been “a huge thing for me,” she said.
“Now, having found my own self-confidence, I can help the team,” said Pugh, a native of Colorado who scored four goals as a freshman, two as a sophomore and two in the nonconference season this fall.
Mertz has helped Pugh realize her potential, though it hasn’t been easy. Pugh admits to being a guarded person, but Mertz said that two have “come a long way since January” when Mertz was hired.
“I thank her so much for everything she’s done for me,” Pugh said. “She just kept repeatedly telling me that I could do it. I’ve always kind of been told that, but never got it from a person I could see believed it. She believed it.”
Pugh repaid that faith with her willingness to go the distance in the San Francisco match, which was particularly important given the recent injury to forward Brooke Strawn, who also has two goals this season. Strawn suffered a knee injury a week earlier and is being evaluated on a week-to-week basis, Mertz said.
The injury to a goal-scorer could have only further frustrated the Ducks as they search for offense at the moment. But Pugh says their attitude remains positive.
“Obviously it’s a let-down not getting the goals, but it just makes us want to work harder,” Pugh said. “And once we get a couple, we’re going to be working even harder to get more and more.
“We’re coming from a place where (creating scoring chances) wasn’t even happening. Now that it is, our eyes are opening. We can see we can actually do this.”
The challenge, of course, is that Oregon not only needs to start finishing those chances, but needs to do so against Pac-12 competition, beginning tonight.
“We’re disappointed that we’re letting some of these games get away from us,” Mertz said. “But at the end of the day, our nonconference season is over. … Now the season starts over.”
Based on her play the last two weeks, Pugh will be right there leading the charge.