The only problem with that theory?
Time’s up. The summer has come and gone, now it’s time for Oregon to take the field and put everything that the team has worked on and changed from a year ago into play. The previous seasons were filled with sub-par finishes despite stellar goal-keeping, and last season the Ducks won only three matches paired against six losses.
The soccer program actually plays two separate seasons–a small schedule in the spring and a larger schedule in the fall. The 2012 spring showed a lot of positives for the growing squad. In fact, Spring soccer is much like spring football, a time for athletes to hone their skills and scrimmage often, preparing for the fall season to arrive.
Oregon won only three matches last season, but went 6-2-1 in the spring. It all began with the team traveling to Costa Rica for a week. In addition to their scheduled matches, the players got an opportunity to work on numerous team building exercises, such as zip-lining, dance competitions in a Costa Rican disco hall, and traveling to hot springs. The UO team was also exposed to culturally-diverse food and customs on their trip, an opportunity to get outside their comfort zones and gain a larger view of how the world functions.
The positive results from the spring sessions overcoming the disappointments of 2011’s fall season though extend beyond simply a tropical vacation, as the program added new assistant coach Paul Karver. All Pac-12 selection Bri Pugh led all scorers with seven goals, while Scout Libke added three of her own and eight other Ducks combined to tally 11 goals.
Libke was honored by three separate entities after an outstanding junior campaign. The Portland, Ore. native was named NSCAA All-Region as well as second team All-Pacific Region. She was also named to the Pac-12 All-Conference First team, the second Pac-12 appointment of her career, and the conference’s all-academic squad. Pugh was also honored by the Pac-12 and was named to the All-Freshman team.
Fast forward to present day.
Fall Futbol season is just beginning, and already the Pac-12 Conference is doubting the Ducks, despite returning 20 players from last year and adding nine new members.
Oregon women’s soccer team has been chosen to finish tenth in the Pac-12 Conference pre-season coaches poll. The Ducks, who return 17 letter-winners and ten starters, received 36 total points, putting them ahead of only Colorado and Arizona.
However, as UO showed with a six-win pre-season, their mission in 2012 is to improve in skill and wins from years past, AND to prove the skeptics, including the Pac-12 coaches, completely wrong.
The Ducks open 2012 with a fresh start in more than one way. They get to put last year in the past, where it belongs. They also get to open the fall campaign in a shiny new venue just east of Autzen Stadium, the new Pape’ Field. Sunday at 1 pm the first game was held to open the year, hosting the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the first ever match between the two schools.
The Ducks came into the match against UAB at a bit of a disadvantage. UAB having already begun their season, playing a match earlier at Portland State.
For the third season in a row the Ducks were victorious in their season opener. They shut out a very good Alabama team 2-0, both goals scored by freshman Kristen Parr. Senior leader Scout Libke didn’t have to carry the team to victory, nor did sophomore star Bri Pugh. It was one of the new, talented freshman that delivered for Oregon. Is it a sign that the down years that have plagued this Ducks program are over? It’s still too early to tell. But if it is, the team is off to a good start.
The most obvious sign that the Ducks are improving? It took Parr only four minutes into the match to give Oregon the lead. Parr’s goal came off of a double assist by sophomore Bri Pugh and freshman Mariah Powers. Powers passed the ball down the right side of the field to Pugh who dribbled it along the goal line before passing it to a wide open Parr, who sank the point blank shot into the goal. The Ducks shot ten times in the first half, compared to the Blazers’ five.
The second half saw Parr’s encore in the second half in the 60th minute, off an assist from fellow freshman Maryn Beutler. Beutler gave Parr a long pass down the right side and Parr beat the goalie from about seven yards out.
The Ducks, despite their down record, last year had an instant star in sophomore goalkeeper Abby Steele, who finished her third season in a row playing for the USA National Team. Now with Steele’s presence in the net and an offense showing signs of life, things could be on the up for the Oregon program. On Sunday Steele recorded all five of her saves in the first half, as the defense tightened up in the second not allowing a single shot on goal.
Outside the net, the Ducks were defensively weak a year ago. Coach Erickson made defense a priority in 2012, and an immense improvement in defensive intensity showed on Sunday. The Ducks defensive effort frustrated the Blazers so much that in the second half, UAB was whistled for three yellow cards. For the game, the Blazers committed 18 fouls compared to just 13 for the Ducks.
The 2012 soccer recruiting class was arguably the best in program history, and the Oregon coaches showed off the results of their hard work on the recruiting trail on Sunday as 21 total players saw the field, including seven newcomers, as Oregon’s depth was truly on display overmatching UAB.
758 students and fans came out to support the Ducks in “Pape’ 2.0″ commemorative t-shirts. The team also stuck around for a post-match autograph session.
The Ducks have been given a fresh start, a new season and more importantly, a new home. UO now has a new, incredible soccer stadium on the UO campus, doubling for both soccer and lacrosse, a premium facility to match the top-of-the-line motif that represents all UO facilities today.
More than anything it should give the team confidence in knowing that the athletic department and Eugene community recognize that the program is working towards that next level, and in order to get there just like football or baseball, soccer too needs a solid investment behind it to prove consistently successful. The team finally has a grand stage, now it just needs grand performances to match. Sunday was a good start.
Again, Oregon’s mission this season is to have better team chemistry on the field–but more than that, it’s to prove the Pac-12 Conference wrong. Time will tell if the Ducks are better than 10th in a 12 team conference, but if Sunday’s shutout over UAB is any indication of the season ahead, then the athletics department, coaches, and players have accomplished what they have set out to do thus far.
Oregon next hits the road traveling to Portland for matches against Portland on Friday Aug. 24th and Portland State on Sunday Aug. 26th. The Ducks then return to Eugene for a home match against first-time opponent UC-Irvine on Friday Aug. 31st.
The Ducks have NEVER beaten UP in the fall schedule, though the two teams play every season. Oregon shut out Portland State back in 2009-2010 by a score of 2-0 and has not lost a match against PSU since the 2004-2005 season, also playing every year. Time will tell if this team decides to end those streaks as well.