|Vandals Display Improvements|
MOSCOW, Idaho—With a new head coach leading the way, the University of Idaho saw its spring soccer season come to a close last weekend. One look at the Vandals this spring and the 2013 Vandals season seems so distant.
Under the direction of new head coach Derek Pittman, the Vandals finished the spring with a 2-1-4 record. Idaho trailed in three of the matches and were forced to come from behind to win or force a tie. Last season the Vandals scored a total of 17 goals in 20 matches. This spring the Silver and Gold totaled 14 goals in just seven matches.
The Vandals said goodbye to six graduating players at the end of last season, including their leading scorer Katie Baran. Baran led the team with nine points, scoring three goals and notching three assists. Entering the 2014 season the Vandals have two six-point scorers in sophomore’s Alyssa Pease and Elexis Schlossarek. The two combined for five goals, or 30 percent of Idaho’s scoring. Last season 10 players found the back of the net, this spring six players got on the board in 13 fewer games.
“I am very pleased with the level of talent that is here,” Pittman noted. “There are definitely some players in place and some pieces in place for us to be successful moving forward. There are certain individuals that have definitely risen to the top. As a whole the team has been great. They have really embraced our new philosophy and a new style of play. I feel they have done a great job putting their best effort forward, and that is all I ask of them.”
One thing that Pittman has really stressed since taking over in February has been the team’s identity. He has pushed his team to be faster on the pitch and more aggressive in their pursuit of the ball. All that requires more work on and off the field.
“My expectations and standards are definitely different and high in my opinion as far as how we want to play,” Pittman stated. “We want to be fast and furious and work our tails off to win the ball back on the defensive side. We want to attack as fast as possible, before teams have a chance to set up. That has taken some adjustment. We are asking them to transition faster, asking them to work harder, put in more time in the weight room and on the fitness side of the ball. They have done a really good job and I think they have reaped the benefits from it."
The Vandals opened the spring with matches against the alumni and Washington State. They faced the likes of Gonzaga, Central Washington, North Idaho College and Concordia. The turning point of the spring came against Montana and Boise State. Idaho trailed 3-0 to Montana with under 15 minutes to play and scored four-unanswered goals to earn the hard fought victory. Idaho tied Boise State 1-1 in its second game, with another come from behind performance in the final minutes.
“That week leading up to Montana and Boise State I thought our mentality was good and the training was good,” Pittman said. “Honestly, we [the coaching staff] talk with the players that our training is harder than games and more intense than games at times. That is what we want. We want our training sessions to be high tempo, high paced, where you have to make quick and fast decisions. You have to play physical. You have to play furious in some regards, but also be composed and be able to execute technique.
“That week leading up to Montana and Boise State was very good. For our team to fight back from being down 3-0, to winning that game against Montana. Then to also come back and get a draw against a very good Boise State team, it just gave our team a tremendous amount of confidence moving forward. I think that was a light bulb moment for them. Things clicked and got them very excited for the future of Vandals soccer.”
Much of the spring has been focused on winning the ball back on defense. Players have shifted positions, showing major improvements in this new system. The Vandals allowed a Western Athletic Conference worst 48 goals last season (2.36 per game). This spring Idaho only had nine goals scored against them and earned one shutout. Sophomore Torell Stewart and freshman Kimberly Gerken split time in net in the spring. Both keepers will be neck and neck as they enter the fall.
“A lot of what we focused on in the spring was developing our identity, core values and who we are going to be,” Pittman commented. “A lot of that starts on the defensive side of the ball. Moving forward we will have to put more time into the attack, but overall I was happy.”
The 2014 Vandals will largely be made up of underclassmen. 19 players will be freshmen or sophomores when Idaho opens fall camp on August 6. Pittman hopes this spring season will help the team transition into the fall, allowing the current players to help the incoming freshmen make the adjustment to what is going to be expected of them.
“This is going to be a first for the entire team,” Pittman said. “This will be their first preseason with me and the first fall season with me. It is definitely going to be new to all of them to a certain extent. The upperclassmen's leadership will be vital for the entire group.”
Idaho will return to the Big Sky Conference after spending the last nine season playing in the WAC. The Vandals have made the postseason the last four years and look to continue the trend against their new conference foes.