After barely missing the playoffs last season, the women’s soccer team is looking to prove they are a threat for 2011. Matt Kennedy reports
With a new head coach, two rookie goalkeepers and a brand new team mentality, it would be easy to label this year as a transitional season filled with growing pains for Ryerson’s women’s soccer team, but the players and coaches see things differently.
“Last year was really the transition year,” said assistant coach Ramin Mohammadi, who was last season’s interim head coach. “This year I do have high expectations. We should win, we should make the playoffs.”
The women’s squad is looking to rebound from last year’s playoff run that never came to be. While their point total suffered from a slow start which saw the Rams only win one of their first 10 games, the team fell just one point shy of a playoff berth in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East division. With a number of drastic changes heading into the 2011-12 season, there’s no precedent to predict how the women’s squad will perform this year.
New head coach and former Major League Soccer professional Kevin Souter says that over the span of the offseason, there have been a number of positive change to help put the Rams over the top.
“It’s my first-year here with an entirely new coaching system, and the girls [have] really thrived off the support,” said Souter. “They can tell we want them, and expect them to succeed.”
The team’s changes started with the coaching staff, as the objective was to build the staff around Souter, who is currently acting as the new head coach of both the women’s and men’s soccer teams. Mohammadi and Laura Gray return to the team in assistant coaching roles, along with Filip Postran, who was an assistant coach for the men’s squad last season.
“The girls always talk about having a better support system and now we’ve got four extra eyes looking at the ins-and-outs,” said Postran. “A lot of good things have been said about how well we support them.”
The coaches have spent most of the offseason focusing on the team’s defensive formation, as they are looking to improve on the 22 goals that they allowed last season. To help improve their consistency on defense, the coaching staff is asking veteran players such as fifth-year midfielder Andrea Raso to help impose a defensive mindset on the team’s seven rookies as well as their other returning players.
“We may not be known for our defense yet, but that’s what we’re working towards. Keeping our shape and avoiding backfield breakdowns is really important,” said Raso, a four-time OUA East all-star.
The coaching staff will look to rookie centre-back Sarah Slattery to embrace her role as the team’s enforcer, as her strong defensive abilities coupled with her size makes her an intimidating force on defense.
“She’s got the size and the speed to win headers on almost every cross, and the strength to be a real physical force,” said Mohammadi.
Although they have a number of veterans returning to the pitch, including midfielder Erica Huculak who by league rules was forced to sit out the entire 2010-11 season after transferring from Carleton University, the women’s squad will be carrying seven rookies this year. Along with Raso, Ryerson’s first all-Canadian female soccer player, veterans Kendra Welham and Diana Smiciklas are expected to provide leadership both on and off the pitch.
“We’ve really [made it clear] that veterans are held accountable on this team,” said Souter. “We need them to usher in the rookies.”
Among the rookies are goalkeepers Katrina Persson-Thomas and Lauren LaSalle. The current plan of action is to rotate starts between Persson-Thomas and LaSalle, and see who becomes the front-runner for the team’s starting job.
“It’s a tall task to ask first-year students to come in and be a force in the back, but we’re confident in them,” said Postran.
Souter said that the coaching staff has yet to determine who will be their long-term starting goaltender.
“The best part is that it’s a really healthy competition,” he said. “Both of them bring the best out in each other, and that can only improve our squad.”
Although the season started off with a 2-0 loss to the Carleton Ravens at Lamport Stadium, they did manage to tie the Ottawa Gee Gee’s 2-2 last Sunday. Despite not having a win, Souter says the squad’s new frame of mind has allowed them to quickly identify their problems and build upon them.
“[The loss] was disappointing, two goals a match isn’t where we want to be,” said Souter.
With a new plan, a fresh defensive mindset and a dependable veteran corps to usher in their promising rookies, spirits are high in the women’s camp. The squad doesn’t expect the playoffs to slip out of their grasp once again.
“We looked at the schedule and saw the games we should win, one we may not win, and where we can steal some points,” said Raso. “We’re looking at the playoffs this year for sure.”