Clarksville, Ark.-A revamped roster that includes one of the largest freshmen classes in program history has given the U of O women?s soccer team a renewed energy and excitement heading into the 2011 season.
Head coach Bryan Drotar hauled in twelve freshmen ranging from Texas to Tennessee as he begins his fourth year at Ozarks. The talented incoming class, combined with a group of hard-working returning players, is fostering a new sense of enthusiasm.
“There is a sense of passion and excitement heading into this season,” said Drotar. “After what happened last year, the returners have worked hard with the hope of what could be accomplished this season. They can now see the talent and the passion of the freshmen. I think the combination of the freshmen and the work and the toil from the upperclassmen has been a good blend.”
It was a difficult road for Ozarks last season as the program did not win a game. The Lady Eagles finished 0-17-2 overall and were shutout fifteen times. The team’s mindset could be fragile early on, according to Drotar.
“There is a concern that the players might get discouraged before we have entirely put our team together and figured out where everyone should be on the field,” he said. “There will be some rough moments because there are so many new players.”
But the positives far outweigh the negatives for the upcoming season. Six starters return and increased competition has bred a new level of work rate on the pitch.
“The players are starting to measure each other and that is causing them to work at a pretty good pace,” said Drotar. “The freshmen have responded to how hard the upperclassmen have worked and the upperclassmen are seeing how they must get better if they want a position on this team.”
Ozarks overall improvement hinges on finding ways to increase its goal scoring. The Lady Eagles scored just five goals in 2010, but Drotar believes his team will vastly improve in that area.
“One of the strengths of the team is that we have more speed,” he said. “And, we have players who can finish goals.”
Midfielder Abby Kern buried a pair of goals as a freshman. Senior Kaitlyn Williams creates a number of scoring opportunities for her teammates. Junior Seanan Heaney and sophomore Monica Seiler also posted shots in 2010. Rebecca Groff returns for her senior years as a defender and junior Morgan
O’Neil will see time in the midfield.
The forward position is likely to be secured by freshmen, according to Drotar.
“We will have some freshmen vying for playing time there,” he said. “Alex Cannon, Lauren Gilby and Stephanie Hiatt can play up front. We hope those three along with MaKenna Piha will add to the ability to score goals. The other option we have is to use Abby in the midfield. She didn’t have that role last season, but has the skill to score goals.”
Some of the midfield and defender positions haven’t been solidified. Drotar expects the competition for those spots to be fierce.
“The midfield and defense haven’t been sorted out yet,” he said. “Our style of play will involve a lot of movement. We have options to go direct. We also have the passing ability to slow play down.”
In goal, Drotar will rely on a pair of freshmen. Even though neither player has seen action at the college level, this position could be a strength of the team. Mary Eoff and Codie Freeman have solid goalkeeper backgrounds and will battle for playing time.
“Codie and Mary have good goalkeeping technique,” said Drotar. “They have been coached well. They are both aggressive players. They can provide shot stopping ability. Our goalkeeper situation is good.”
Leadership is expected to come from the seven returning players while the freshmen class brings a new level of play on the pitch.
“The attitude of the upperclassmen has been phenomenal,” said Drotar. “They are excited. They are all exuding leadership in different ways. They are using their individual gifts. The freshmen class has added more talent than we have had in several years. They bring more speed than we’ve had. They bring game experience and have played at solid programs.”
While the 2011 team has displayed an eagerness to win, Drotar believes his team is building for even a better future.
“This year we are putting the pieces of a puzzle together and in the future years we will add new players to that puzzle,” said Drotar. “With the amount of new players, this year is just a big unknown for us. I am more concerned about how hard the girls have worked each practice. The end result is to see how much have they improved.”
The Lady Eagles open the season September 1 at home against Central Baptist College.
See video preview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF8apSN42gY