Kat Mertz has yet to take the sideline for a regular season game, but she has already begun making her mark on the Oregon soccer program. Replacing Tara Erickson as head coach in December, Mertz claims to have already instilled a new culture on the program.
“There have been a lot of changes,” Mertz said. “Just the emphasis on the style of play, the emphasis on creating a team culture and a team respect. I think any time a new coach comes in there’s obviously some transition and growing pains.”
Mertz has six new players coming in, five of them freshmen, and has seen a few leave as well. Brynne Konkel has medically retired and will remain with the team as an undergraduate assistant coach, Ally Aschbacher has forgone soccer and committed to the Oregon track team, Kelsey Foo will sit out the season with a knee injury and four other players are currently seeking to transfer to other schools.
“We’ve had some people decide that Duck soccer isn’t really what they wanted to do,” Mertz said. “The make-up of our team is going to be a little bit different from last year, which is great. We needed to make some changes.”
Mertz feels that, with some of the women leaving and some just coming in, it has given her a unique opportunity to make the changes she felt necessary. Sophomore Mia Gunter is possibly the gem of the incoming group. Gunter transferred from West Virginia, where she was a contributing part of a Big 12 championship team.
Mertz said she will likely place Gunter in the midfield. With stand-out mid-fielders Mo Fitzgerald and Scout Libke graduating, there is a lack of depth at the position and Gunter will have the opportunity to contribute right away. However, Mertz was apprehensive about naming her a starter due to the impressive work during the spring by mid-fielders Maryn Beutler, Kira Wagoner, Ryann Davie and Lilly Archer.
However, Gunter has an edge to in the competition to start: post-season experience.
“None of these players have played in the post-season,” Mertz said. “Obviously that’s our goal, to get into the post-season. It will be nice to have some leadership and guidance from a player that’s been in the post-season and understands the pressure.”
The importance of that experience is not lost on Mertz, who is fully aware that she was hired with the expectation of taking the Ducks to the post-season. She also knows what a tough task that might be given the talent in the Pac-12, but feels that the team is improving steadily.
“I think we are focused and playing with a little more passion,” Mertz said.
While she has already impressed with her recruiting and discipline, Mertz still has a long road ahead of her. Taking a team that was a Pac-12 bottom-feeder and turning them into a conference champion is a lot to ask. She’s optimistic, though, and looks forward to seeing what her girls can do when it counts.