by Brady Johnson
UO Athletic Communications
EUGENE, Ore. -- When Kat Mertz was appointed head coach of the women’s soccer team last December, a quick scan of the roster revealed just two seniors. The duo would be required to shoulder significant responsibilities under the new régime, helping the Ducks transition to a new coaching staff.
Fortunately for Mertz and the Ducks, those two senior are Achijah Berry and Gabbie Lindeman. Berry, a native of Seattle, Wash., has started all 14 matches as an outside back. Lindeman, a native of Lake Oswego, Ore., has started at center back in the past 11 matches.
While they’ve been critical to the team’s success on the field, they’ve been just as valuable – if not more – off the field. Berry and Lindeman were named team captains and have forged Oregon’s never-say-die mindset this season with their positive attitudes and tireless work ethic.
“The seniors have meant a lot to us obviously with a new coaching staff coming in,” said Mertz. “I’ve leaned on them quite a bit for guidance. Not only have we counted on them for consistent efforts in games, but also to provide leadership in everything we do. I challenged them off the field on how they should lead this team and help move us forward.”
As soon as Mertz arrived in Eugene, Berry made trips to her office to ask questions and make sure the team understood the new philosophy and direction of the program. The action spoke volumes and set the tone for what Mertz could expect from her seniors in 2013.
After finishing 8-10-2 last season, the Ducks have looked to lay the building blocks this season for a program that can contend for conference titles in the future. While transitioning into a new direction and settling long-term goals can often be challenging, Berry and Lindeman have provided the right attitude to keep the team focused and on track.
“It’s a lot of hard work to change a team and move forward, and it’s a lot of hard work to win,” said Mertz. “That’s something a lot of people take for granted. Even when it gets tough, the captains have really been there with the girls to motivate them, hold them accountable and keep our work rate up.”
With its two captains on the back line, the Ducks have turned out quality defensive performances match after match. Berry and Lindeman have started in each of the past 11 matches together, allowing just 10 goals in that span. Both have logged over 1,000 minutes this season, providing a reliable force in defense.
Oregon has kept its goals against average below 1.00, conceding just 14 goals on the year. The consistent defensive efforts, fueled by the team’s seniors, have kept Oregon in every match as the team hasn’t lost by more than a single goal all year. The Ducks have shutout four opponents.
“All of us have the same mindset that we need to give up as few goals as possible and protect Abby (Steele) behind us,” said Lindeman. “She’s a great keeper, but we want to do all that we can to prevent the ball from getting to her. We’re all on the same page and are working very hard.”
Berry and Lindeman will play their final home games this week at Papé Field, as the Ducks host No. 8 Stanford on Friday and No. 12 California on Monday. Lindeman, Berry and team manager Brynne Konkel will be recognized before Friday’s 4 p.m. clash with the Cardinal for senior day.
For Berry, a four-year letterwinner, Friday’s senior day recognition and Monday’s final home game promise to be special occasions, highlighting an impressive collegiate career. She has played in over 13 games every season with 49 career starts, and has played almost every position on the field.
The first name Mertz penciled into a starting position was Berry’s, knowing she wanted a speedy outside back to help get forward in attack while also being capable defensively. Berry has filled that role admirably and is one of six field players to start in all 14 fixtures.
“It’s gone by really fast and I still almost feel like I’ve just arrived as a freshman,” said Berry. “The season isn’t over yet, though. Some teams at this point might be tired and have a bad attitude, but we’re looking to finish strong and get positive results.”
After transferring to Oregon following two seasons at the University of Arizona, Lindeman is appreciative to be playing her last home game at Papé Field. She’s been a steady force in the center of UO’s defense and is one of the team’s most vocal players.
Lindeman has only gotten better as the season has progressed, playing every minute of the past 11 matches at center back.
“My past two years have been great here and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” said Lindeman. “My experience here at Oregon has been exactly what I wanted from the beginning. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to end my college career as a Duck.”
Oregon will also recognize Konkel, who served in a team management role after injuries forced her to medically retire from the team. The Elk Grove, Calif., native played in 30 career matches before injuries cut her career short last season.
“I thought we might have three healthy seniors, but unfortunately, Brynne had to medically retire,” said Mertz. “It was disappointing because we saw talent in her. When a player is told they can’t play anymore, there is a lot of stress that goes into it. I’m sure she’s disappointed not to be playing, but we’ve been happy to have her around.”
Both of Oregon’s remaining home matches can be seen live on the Pac-12 Networks. After hosting Stanford and California, the Ducks will close the season on a three-game road trip, traveling to USC (Nov. 1), No. 2 UCLA (Nov. 3) and to Oregon State (Nov. 7).