Young Team Energizes Oregon Soccer
By Allison Siebenmann
Twelve new freshmen on Oregon's women's soccer team seem to be the missing pieces. With such a large incoming class, the Ducks are excited about the new young players, who have sparked a new energy throughout the entire team.
While there are obvious differences in the team this season, namely the large number of young players, many returning players believe that this year's team is different in many other ways. Most noticeably, the team has started off with four consecutive wins and one draw.
"It's completely different from last season. We didn't have this great of a start," said Nicole Bakke, a junior midfielder.
And winning is just the result from the hard work and desire that comes from this season's team.
"You can tell that the whole game, 90 minutes long, we're fighting to get that win," continued Bakke. "That's a lot different than last year. Last year we had a lot of ups and downs during the season and during the games, as well."
Lindsay Parlee, senior goalkeeper, agrees. "I think we all just have a common mindset and goal, and we don't let each other forget it. Ever," she said.
That goal is clear to everyone on the team: make it to the NCAA tournament this year. Since the team's inception in 1980, they have never qualified to participate in the NCAA tournament.
"I think this is going to be the year that we make the playoffs," said Taylor Jones, a senior defender. "We've missed it by one goal, one game, and I think this is the year."
"Our end goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament because we never have. I think that's something we keep in mind every day as we practice," said Bakke. "We want to look to the next game, that's our main focus, but our end goal is to get to the NCAA tournament."
Their chances of achieving that goal are looking good, even though the season is still young. The chemistry between the new and the old, the fresh and the experienced, seems to be working. The older members of the team have taken the younger girls under their wings and upperclassmen are stepping up as leaders to make sure the freshmen are prepared for competing against more difficult opponents like UCLA, USC, and Stanford.
"All of the seniors have been giving the freshmen as much information as we can because with such a young team, we have to get them playing and acting like sophomores and juniors faster. We can't let them think that they're freshmen," said Parlee.
The freshmen are reacting well to the encouragement from their older teammates.
"The older girls are very competitive but they are also very encouraging, so that makes us practice a lot harder and is making everyone a better player," said Shanelle Simien, a freshman forward from Lakewood, Calif.
Head coach Tara Erickson has enjoyed seeing the older members take on more of a leadership role with this young team.
"I think it's been fun to watch those new players jelling with the older players and seeing the older players taking new kinds under their wings," she said. "Everyone is making a lot about our new comers, which is awesome, but I think that if you didn't have those 14 returners of those new kids and stepping their games up it could be a bad recipe, but it really has proven to be a good recipe for us."
With the absence of recently graduated star player Jen Stoltenberg, other members of the team have stepped up in their roles to fill the void. While Stoltenberg's teammates respect and value her contributions, they realize the need to take more responsibility now that she has graduated.
"With [Stoltenberg], we kind of hid behind her. We gave her the reins to do all of the work and put a lot of responsibility on her," said Parlee. "This year we share a lot more of the responsibility and more people have been forced to step up."
While Stoltenberg, who scored 33 goals in her collegiate career, led the team offensively, her absence has also forced this year's young team to have more depth and become more reliant on a variety of players.
"We are so much more diverse attacking [this year]," said Erickson. "Last year we were fortunate enough to have Jen Stoltenberg who was one of the top forwards in the conference but we were very one dimensional in that area. I would say that became a little bit of a crutch for us. I see a lot more contribution from a variety of players in the attack."
The energy and strength of the incoming freshmen have also pushed the upperclassmen to a higher level of play.
"Because we have these new players we kind of have this new dynamic dimension to our team, and it's also created a new personality within the upperclassmen," said Bakke. "[We] have started to work harder and everyone is fighting for their position daily."
Though the first four games were strong wins, Parlee still thinks that there are times during each game that weren't played to the best of the team's ability.
"We're still yet to put together a whole 90-minute game. There are still stretches of time where we catch ourselves out of the rhythm of the game and on our heels reacting," she said. "I think we just need to work on putting together a full 90 minutes and keep building on what we've been doing."
Many might argue that such a young freshman class could be somewhat of a hindrance in the team's campaign for a winning season and a berth in the NCAA tournament, but Erickson believes that the youth of the team will be a strength rather than a weakness.
"There is a little bit of naïveté of those new players and I think that's refreshing in some ways because they have no preconceived notions because they haven't played anyone before," she says. "It's a fresh and very excited group of kids."
Simien echoes Erickson's thoughts, saying she was nervous before the first few games and was unsure about what to anticipate. "I didn't really know what to expect…I was really nervous but I learned a lot from my first few games," she said.
The freshman can agree, though, that playing in college is much different than high school or club soccer.
"The speed of play and the physicality of the game here is a lot different," said Kelsey Foo, a midfielder from San Jose, Calif. "Everyone here is a lot stronger on the ball and the speed of play is a lot quicker."
It seems as though the combination of the experienced upperclassmen and the fresh and talented freshmen class is a recipe for success for the University of Oregon women's soccer team. The team has high hopes for the rest of the season, and is looking forward to showing their opponents that they are a team to be reckoned with.
"I think we have a really good chance of winning a lot more games and really proving to everyone that Oregon soccer is someone that you should look out for," said Libke.