With the start of the 2014 season just a few days away, the Oregon Women’s Soccer team is ready to continue improving in head coach Kat Mertz’s second season.
“Last year, we didn’t get the results that we wanted to on the field, as far as the win-loss column,” said Mertz, “but we accomplished a lot off the field. We changed the culture and set foundations for our future success. We really put in play how we want Duck Soccer to be known – a hardworking team, a team that doesn’t give up.”
Oregon finished 12th in the Pac-12 last season with a 2-8-1 conference record. In conference play, the Ducks earned a 1-0 contest over Arizona on Oct. 13, 2013 before defeating then-No. 12 California on Oct. 28.
Mertz is joined by assistant coaches Christie Welsh, in her second season, and newcomer Manny Martins. In the offseason, Kelsey Foo, Ryann Davie and Abby Steele were chosen as captains.
Since the end of last season, the Ducks have continually taken steps in rebuilding. In the spring season, the team went 3-0-1 and outscored opponents 11-2. Three of the games were shutouts for UO. Additionally, the Ducks welcome 12 newcomers to the program this year.
“This fall – we’re excited about it,” said Mertz. “We lost just about two returning players. We have 12 newcomers, so we have some depth. We’re really just going to piggyback off our spring. We scored a lot of goals in the spring and we didn’t give too many up. We’ll just try to continue with that success.”
The Ducks begin the season Wednesday in an exhibition against Trinity Western at 5 p.m. at Papé Field.
Oregon will try and build off the scoring prowess it found in the spring with a number of returning players from last season.
“We found our scoring in the spring,” said Mertz. “We need to finish more than we did last year, and I think our group of forwards is up to the challenge.
Junior Kristin Parr tied for the team’s lead in goals (3) last year for the second straight season and will be the center of the Ducks’ attack this year. Senior Bri Pugh started all 18 games and recorded six points (2G, 2A) last season, and will look to set up teammates from the flank. In the offseason, Pugh was called up for two U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team training camps.
Junior Brooke Strawn returns after suffering an injury last season and will use her height to win balls for the Ducks. Senior Shanelle Simien played in 19 matches last season and brings a high soccer IQ to the front line.
Freshman Zoe Higgins is the only newcomer to the forward core. Higgins trained with the Ducks in the spring, using the time to sharpen her skills for the collegiate level.
The Ducks will compete without sophomore ShayLee Miner, who led Oregon in points (7) last season. Miner, who played in all 19 games last season, suffered a knee injury in the spring. Junior Kira Wagoner will join the Ducks late after having surgery in the spring.
Mertz likes to run plays through the midfield and will take advantage of having a deep set of players who are able to take control both offensively and defensively.
“Last year we really wanted to get the ball going through the midfield,” said Mertz. “We’re looking forward to seeing the team’s hard work pay off this season, especially since we have more depth.”
Seniors Ryann Davie and Lilly Archer will center the unit after developing chemistry in the spring. Davie started in 11 games last season while recording five points, and will assist the defense. Archer made 12 starts last season and will transition the ball to the offense.
Senior Kiyomi Cook, who started all 19 matches last season, will provide an offensive spark for the midfield. Cook recorded two assists last season while logging the second-most minutes of all field players (1,594). Junior Mia Gunter played in 16 matches last season, while junior Kira Wagoner played in 18 games last season, and both juniors bring experience and leadership to the field.
Sophomore transfer Marlo Sweatman brings international experience to the Ducks as a member of the Jamaican National team. In her rookie season with Florida State, Sweatman appeared in six matches as the Seminoles reached the Women’s College Cup finals.
Junior Maryn Beutler, who started all 19 matches last season, will not be available immediately for the Ducks after having surgery in the spring.
Freshmen Abby Morrow, Miranda Schulz and Brooke Tasker are also in the mix for playing time this season.
The defense will look to move on after graduating senior starters and captains Achijah Berry and Gabbie Lindeman. Despite the loss, the Ducks still carry a base of defenders looking to continue last season’s success, when the team recorded five shutouts.
Senior Riley Smith started in 18 matches last season and will look to continue her relentless attitude on the flank. Fellow senior Reilley Moore will see time at center back or out wide after starting all 16 matches she appeared in last year. Moore ranked seventh on the team last year in points (7), which was the most for a defender.
Senior Allie Rodriguez stepped up in the spring while challenging for a starting role on the flank.
Redshirt junior Kelsey Foo and redshirt freshman Caitlyn Wong will return to the field at center back after missing last season with injuries. Sophomore Ashlee Schulz played the most minutes of any freshman last year (876) with seven starts and will use her technical skills on either the flank or at center back.
Five freshmen will compete for playing time in the fall. Madison Wiegand-Brown and Abby King both bring speed and the ability to set pace to the defense. Jordan Fleming is a natural left-sided player and helps start the attack. Kerri Cook worked with the Ducks in the spring, giving her a leg up on adjusting to the college level. Michelle Rockey could see time at center back as a natural leader who can set pace.
Senior Abby Steele returns for her final season with Oregon after being the backbone of the defense for the past three years. Steele holds the lowest all-time goals against average (1.19) in Oregon history and is also second in career shutouts (13). The Santa Rosa, Calif., native has started 51 of 57 matches she’s appeared with a career .792 save percentage.
Even though Steele is a lock for the starting spot, the competition for her backup is fierce. Sophomore Lauren Holden, junior transfer Katie McCormick and freshman Halla Hinriksdóttir are all competing for the slot.
“You want a natural, healthy, competitive goalkeeping group so they can push each other in training,” said Mertz. “It’ll be nice to see how Abby responds. She hasn’t really been challenged in the past.”
Holden played 45 minutes last season, allowing one goal and making three saves. McCormick comes to the Ducks from North Dakota State. In two seasons with the Bison, McCormick played in five matches with one start and held a 2-2 record.
Hinriksdóttir provides international experience to the Ducks as a product of the Icelandic Youth Women’s National Team. Hinriksdóttir has started in each of Iceland’s UEFA Women’s U19 matches for the past two years. She also played for semipro club Breiðablik.
After the team’s exhibition against Trinity Western, the 2014 season takes off at the Wisconsin Tournament from Aug. 22-24. Oregon returns to Eugene to take on Saint Mary’s and Loyola Marymount on Aug. 29 and 31, respectively.
The following weekend, the Ducks play host to Eastern Michigan and Cal State Fullerton in the Oregon State Tournament. On Sept. 12, Oregon travels north to Portland to take on in-state rival Portland State. The team travels to BYU on Sept. 18 for the final nonconference game of the fall.
Washington travels to Eugene on Sept. 25 for the beginning of the Pac-12 slate. The Ducks then fly to the Grand Canyon State to face Arizona State on Oct. 3 and Arizona on Oct. 5.
Oregon hosts Utah on Oct. 10 and Colorado on Oct. 12, and makes a quick trip to Washington State on Oct. 19.
The Ducks take on USC and defending National Champion UCLA on Oct. 24 and 26, respectively, in Eugene. In its final road trip of the year, Oregon travels to Stanford and California on Oct. 30 and Nov. 2.
Oregon State makes its way to Eugene for the Ducks’ season finale in the Civil War match on Nov. 7.