After significant revamps to its program, women’s club soccer has resumed play this fall with new coaches, new players and a new goal — to win nationals.
“After participating in regionals last year, we felt we had an elite program ready to compete at the national level,” senior midfielder Christine De Martini said.
To prepare for this opportunity, the program has gone through several major changes over the last few seasons in order to become a more respected and competitive unit.
The first major change the team made was hiring outsiders to coach instead of following the traditional player-coach system that most club sports employ. Both at Oregon and across the country, most teams are overseen by player-coaches who are assigned the dual role of being both a manager of the team and an active participant.
While this system works for some teams, the women at Oregon felt a coach was needed to give the team legitimate strategy and conditioning.
“Imagining coaching your best friends and trying to get good results,” De Martini said. “It just didn’t work for us. We needed coaches to facilitate the players.”
It seems the change in management has paid off. Last season, coaches shifted defender Rachel Micklas to forward, while also ratcheting up the intensity of team conditioning. As a result, the team had one of its best showings in years. The Ducks were eliminated in a penalty shoot-out in the finals of regionals after completing an undefeated regular season. The team first started hiring coaches at the beginning of last season, and they have two new leaders to begin this year coaches Dave Peterson and Rick Virgin.
“They’ve definitely brought more intensity to the team,” Micklas said of the coaches. “Having that shadow hanging over you always makes you try harder.”
This season the team has also put extra emphasis on team bonding and camaraderie. As part of a new tradition created by Micklas, the team social coordinator, every week of the season a senior player is assigned a freshman “buddy” to hang out with. Typical activities include watching movies, cooking dinner and carving pumpkins.
“It’s brought us together as a team,” Micklas said. “It’s made freshmen and sophomores more comfortable talking to the upperclassmen on and off the field.”
As team coordinator for the last two seasons, De Martini also understands the importance of knowing your teammates off the pitch.
“Unity is important to us because as a player, you’re not just working for yourself,” De Martini said. “When you personally know your teammates, you don’t want to let them down. Team chemistry is a very important part of that.”
And if one of the girls isn’t giving 100 percent during their twice weekly 6 a.m. practices, don’t think a teammate isn’t on her butt right away (in the kindest way possible). The women at Oregon are serious about their soccer – most of the team fielded offers to play Division I elsewhere, and their love for the game shows.
“As a whole, our team is one of the most competitive clubs in the Northwest,” Micklas said.
The team is led on offense this season by De Martini, Micklas and junior midfielder Alice Peterson, an energetic player whose enthusiasm and experience are major assets to the team.
“I’ve had experience playing with a lot of the girls, and I have strong understanding of how to play with them,” Peterson said.
As part of a new initiative created by the club sports executive committee, the Nov. 8 contest at 10 a.m. against Oregon State has been designated as a “spirit game,” meaning that other club sports participants as well as students are encouraged to attend as part of a competition between club sports.
The sport with the most attendance wins a prize, but all teams benefit by having a more unified effort to rally support for club sports.
If the high level, competitive soccer isn’t enough of a draw, free donuts will be offered to those brave enough to weather the chill and come out to support the team on Sunday morning.
“It’s a really cool thing, and we’re excited to see fans out supporting us,” De Martini said. “We’re going to be a competitive team, and you don’t want to miss out on the action.”