By MICHAEL MORRIS
The University of Mary Washington women’s soccer team started the 2011 season by mowing over its first four opponents while allowing only a single goal through the four-game win streak. After a 2-2 tie with Randolph-Macon College on Sep. 14, the Eagles were unable to string a series of wins together for the remainder of the season. The team finished the year with a 9-7-2 record, and a 3-4-1 mark in Capital Athletic Conference play.
According to Head Coach Corey Hewson, the game that summed up the season was a 3-2 loss against Salisbury University in the CAC tournament semifinal game. Much of the year was a see-saw-type season with a lot of back and forth.
“They played really hard,” Hewson said. “It wasn’t from a lack of effort. We worked hard and things often didn’t go our way.”
Part of the reason for the up-and-down year was the large number of young players on the Eagles roster who played a prominent role. The UMW women’s soccer team will return nine starters for the 2012 season.
“We had to rely on our younger players later in the season and play just went up and down, which is what we expected,” said Hewson.
The young players may have struggled at time to be consistent at the collegiate level, but Hewson added that one thing that was never a problem was the new players’ ability to mesh well with the returning players. With the help of veterans like senior captain and Second Team All-CAC selection Karen Strat, the new players were able to feel right at home playing for the Eagles.
“No one plays well when they’re nervous,” Strat said. “My main goal was to make them feel welcome. We [the returning players] asked them how their day was, how their boyfriend was and what’s going on with them.”
Strat said that the camaraderie and strong relationships formed between the players was clear in the locker room, where they blared music before games to mentally prepare.
“At the beginning of the season, not everyone was dancing to the music,” Strat said. “A few people didn’t join in. But by the end of the season everyone was dancing and having a good time.”
On top of being a young team, the Eagles were forced to battle through numerous injuries and sicknesses through the middle of the season. Strat noted that she remembers there being only eight people who attended one practice because so many players were sidelined.
Strat, who is no stranger to battling through injury herself, stressed the importance of the team picking up its fallen players.
“It definitely helps playing for your teammates and having them pull you along,” Strat said.
This past January, Strat had surgery on her ankle and went through months of rehab and conditioning just to be able to join her fellow Eagles on the field this season. She said that she felt slower and had a hard time striking the ball with her left foot, but it was being a part of the team that let her maintain a high level of play.
This season marked the beginning of a new mental approach for Hewson’s staff and players, as in practices and games they preached for exactness.
“We put a lot of responsibility for the team’s success in the player’s hands,” Hewson said. “We wanted everyone to be exact. It takes a special type of person to buy into something as demanding as that.”
Sophomore First Team All-CAC selection Tina Rader said that this type of attitude and attention to being exact was actually beneficial despite the mid and late season losses.
“That sort of pressure really brings out the athlete and competitor in us all,” Rader said. “It worked well. The middle of the season is always harder with school, and the teams got harder, too.”
However, Strat felt like too much attention to being exact actually inhibited the offense. She explained that scoring on offense required a certain level of creativity and impromptu. With the offense trying to stick strictly to the plays, the team missed some scoring opportunities that could have been capitalized on if the players were given more freedom.
“This attitude worked well on defense, though,” Strat added. “Defensively you have to be really structured, so being exact worked really well.”
With a strong core of players returning for the 2012 season, the Eagles hope to build off the foundation that this year’s team laid and continue to mature and grow as a unit.