New coach means fresh start for 'Cats
Only the smallest dent has been made in the 2013 UNH Women's Soccer team's season, but the girls are already feeling a sense of confidence and unity under their new coach, Sam Lopes. Kicking off the season with a 1-0 preseason win against Central Connecticut, the team's hopes are high for 2013 after a disappointing season in 2012 under Coach Michael Jackson.
Formerly the top assistant coach at Providence College, Lopes has brought one much needed element to the team this season that was lacking in 2012 - clarity. From the minute Lopes walked onto the field at the first day of practice, the team understood what Lopes' goals were and what was expected of them.
After going 5-12-2 in 2012, the players have found Lopes' style of coaching quite refreshing.
"I'm excited to come out and play, rather than dreading to come out to play every day," sophomore forward Missy Gloekler said, referring to last season's struggles."
"Not dreading, but it was exhausting [last year], mentally and physically," Gloekler said. "I didn't understand a lot of what coaching style was last year. Now I do understand."
This lack of comprehension in the game plan last year was not exclusively Gloekler's problem, sophomore back Kellie McGoldrick vouched. Many players were left scratching their heads.
"Even a lot of upperclassmen didn't know [the game plan]," McGoldrick said, "So, it was confusing last year, but I think it will be much better this year."
Lopes' strength as a communicator is allowing him to get his team to play a more sophisticated brand of soccer. Last season, the team was playing a lot of what McGoldrick called "kick and run" soccer, a simple form of play that involves kicking the ball forward to lock the opposing team in their own end.
This year, the team has a much more playful style.
Rather than insisting on playing deep in the other team's end, Lopes would prefer to play keep away and maintain ball control, even if it's at mid field, and pass it around until a play can be made to bring the ball to the goal.
This style calls for players to make plays on the fly and encourages them to be creative. Lopes wants there to be a balance between going out on a limb and sticking to assignments, but if there is an opportunity to take a risk and come out with a big reward, Lopes wants them to take that risk.
This style of play is made possible for the team thanks in part to Lopes' experience, but also his well-organized practices and strong communication skills.
"[Lopes'] organization and knowledge of the game is very up to date with high level soccer," senior forward Chelsea Kuss said, "We can compete with other programs at a higher level. He brings good experience in from Providence, and it shows that he's been around the game for quite a few years.
"He's brought his drills and he's got his set ways and how he wants us to warm up and continue. Everything's fresh and well organized."
Lopes has also introduced a unique leadership format for the players. Instead of having one captain, a leadership council has been implemented. One player will be elected from each grade level to represent their class. This way, every age group gets the opportunity to speak out.
"I think it will be a great way to get a voice out from each class," Kuss said. "Everyone's saying a freshman's voice is the same as a senior's voice and a different view from every class. I think it's a great to have leadership."
"He wants to know," McGoldrick said. "He wants to know how we feel. If we feel tired, then we can tell him, and it's coming from the freshmen, they're not being left out. He made a point to make us part of the team."
Lopes also said that playing time will be earned in practice and on the field and not determined by experience. For instance, returning goalkeeper Erica Correa will still have to compete for the starting job with new freshmen goalies Danielle Tidd and Mimi Borkan, both of whom are showing strong ability in this current preseason.
Joining the coaching staff will also be UNH alumni Jordyn Krall and Monique Lamotte, two former Wildcats who graduated in '12 and '13 respectively. This adds familiarity to the team's new coaching staff and may make the transition for Lopes even easier.
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