EUGENE, Ore. – Although the Oregon women’s soccer team is without its incoming freshmen and 2013 senior class during the spring exhibition season, head coach Kat Mertz expects UO’s spring lineup to be the team’s core force in the 2014 season.

Today, Coach Mertz will get her first look at that core group in the spring, as the Ducks return to the pitch to kick off their exhibition season.

Oregon will meet Portland today at 2 p.m. (PST) in Beaverton, Ore. The exhibition will be held on the Ronaldo Field at the Nike Campus Headquarters.

“We have a lot of newcomers coming in this fall, but the core that’s going to push this team forward, we’re working with right now,” said Mertz, who enters her second season at UO. “We’ll see a lot of these faces in the starting lineup this fall.”

The Ducks finished with a 4-12-3 record last season. More importantly, the team laid a foundation for a rebuilding process under Mertz as Oregon sets its sights on bigger things to come.

The spring season will allow Oregon to continue that process, with an exhibition schedule consisting of six matches. The first three will be played away from home, while the final three will be at Papè Field. Coach Mertz said that the emphasis this spring will be to come together as a team while continuing to improve individually.

“We don’t put weight into wins and losses in the spring because our team will look very different next fall,” said Mertz. “The emphasis isn’t on results – it’s on how we grow on the field as a team. If we can do that, we’ll consider it a successful spring season.”

The spring season will also provide a return for players injured during the fall. Junior forward Brooke Strawn will be back in action after suffering a season-ending injury prior to Pac-12 play in the fall. Strawn scored two goals in UO’s first three matches last season. Redshirt freshman Caitlyn Wong is healthy as Mertz expects the Sunnyvale, Calf., native to see a lot of time this spring. Redshirt junior Kelsey Foo will likely return from injury at the midway point of the spring season after missing all of UO’s fall campaign.

Another objective for the spring season will be to begin grooming suitors to replace its senior starters. UO will graduate starting outside back Achijah Berry and starting center back Gabbie Lindeman. The Ducks can begin that replacement process this spring, as players like Ashlee Schulz and Allie Rodriguez look to fill their spots.

The Ducks made strides over winter training, and after two weeks off during finals week and spring break, UO looks to continue those strides through spring training.

“We had a really good winter, breaking things down both technically and tactically by position,” said Mertz. “They trained really hard in the weight room as well. They’ve shown some commitment.”

Portland will provide a great challenge for UO as they open the exhibition slate. The Pilots went 17-3-1 last season and reached the second round of the NCAA Championships. The Ducks will also meet rivals Oregon State, Portland State, Seattle Pacific and Western Oregon.

Coach Mertz and the Ducks are ready to dive right back into work, already progressing towards the fall season. Oregon will return 18 letter winners and potentially nine of 11 starters for next season.

“We’re back in the thick of things after a couple weeks off from spring break, and we’re dusting off the cobwebs a little,” said Mertz. “Playing Portland will definitely refocus us. We have so many weeks of training left – eight – so we can really dive into some work. It will be a fun time for us.”