Aug. 13, 2009
With eight starters and 13 letterwinners overall returning to the Hilltop, the San Francisco Dons hope that the adversity of 2008 translates into success in 2009. Last season, the Dons played in several tight matches as 11 of their 20 contests were decided by one goal or less. With the season a little over a week away, WCCsports.com sat down with third-year Head Coach Mark Carr to get his
1. You are starting Year Three, what are your expectations for you, your coaching staff, and your team?
I think the expectation from me and my staff and for this program never changes. We are all super competitive people and we want to win and be the best in everything we do. I look for improvement and we want to take every play to the maximum human potential through soccer. Same as each year, we want to try and position ourselves as far up the WCC as possible and get a crack at the NCAA's. As I enter my third season, all of our returners know the expectation. They have been with me from the beginning and they know what the expectation of USF soccer is about. I want my players to be committed to being the best they can be, that's all I ask. I want to help them get there and if everyone gives their best, day in day out, week to week and month to month over the course of the season, we should have a really successful and rewarding year.
2. Now that you've worked with both your assistant coaches for at least one full season, do you feel they've adapted to your style and work well with the girls?
My assistants, Maite and Mike have been phenomenal from the beginning. Maite has really great ideas and is evolving into one of the top female coaches out there. She is ultra competitive, hungry, wants to win and is prepared to do what it takes. She has already developed a sound fitness plan for this program. I am going to give her more responsibility with the defending aspects of our team.
Mike is relentless in his work ethic and he is so energetic and passionate about the game which is really a breath of fresh air for us all. I will demand much more out of him as he looks to build on our goals against average from last season. Although his main responsibility is goalkeepers, he does a lot of valuable work with video, scouting and technical work for the players.
3. What can we expect from your new recruits this season?
I am really excited about this class of nine. It is a well balanced class and it gives us depth in nearly every position. We have athleticism, speed, competitiveness, technical players, smart decision makers, creative soccer players- it's really a great group of talent. All of these players can make an impact on the starting line-up right from the start.
4. You have Ashley O'Brien coming in from Connecticut. How will her experience on a top Big East team help the Dons?
Having Ashley on our team is really exciting for us. She brings a whole new level of experience. She has been part of a huge soccer program at UCONN and her experience will help our team and the young players around her as we go through the season. She is a gifted athlete who can play outside back or wide midfielder on either side. She has an engine that will allow her to get up and down the flank all day long. She is tough, good 1v1 and has a will to win.
5. The senior class is small with just three girls, but they've been here a long time and have been big assets to the team. How will their leadership and experience affect the other women on the team?
Kelly, Sam and Kristina are all special players and great people. They have been with me since they beginning and we have been through a lot together. Not only are they all super talented individuals, the way they have all matured over the last couple of years is a credit to themselves and their families. I know they are huge pieces of the puzzle to this team and everyone will look to them to guide us through the fall. Each one of these young women has done a fantastic job of representing USF on the field and in the classroom. I am excited for all of them in their final collegiate season. They all have opportunities to go on playing at a higher level after college and I am excited to see them perform in their final college season.
6. How is team chemistry? Have you gone on any fun team bonding outings?
Chemistry is going to be one of the most important factors for our team. It will be our twelfth man on the field. We have to accept, respect and work for one another and be unselfish. I am looking to our returners to be inclusive and take the freshman under their wings from day one. The quicker we decide to come together, the more successful our team will be in their results. We have some fun things planned for preseason...all a secret of course.
7. After two tough seasons, do you feel the team is now primed to make a jump in the West Coast Conference?
Absolutely. We have spent the past two seasons assembling a new team, outlining expectations, talking about areas and ways we could improve. Everyone has been amazing and bought into this new regime. In order to improve, you have to make mistakes. Now, we are ready to take the next step and we have to prove ourselves and produce. It is really about leaving everything on the field and approaching one game at a time, not looking by anybody.
8. What are your goals heading into 2009?
Obviously, we want to move forward from last year. In my first season here, we picked up two wins; last year was five, so we are looking to go beyond that once again. We want to be better defensively and keep games much tighter. On the road, we want to get more results. At this level, if you want to win games, you cannot afford to let one goal in, as you then need to score two. We want to compete for a WCC Championship, but see if we can edge out from the bottom two of the WCC. At home, we want to be passionate and proud of our stadium and want our team to get after opponents and put them on their back foot. I want the players to develop and become better students, soccer players and people. With a strong group of returners and a relatively large incoming freshman group, we need to come together.
9. Talk about the players, position-by-position: Forwards, Midfielders, Defenders, and Goalkeepers.
I am really excited about the whole squad for this fall. I feel we have great athleticism, great leadership, some experience and a little bit of youth which will bode well for us.
In goal, we have three solid options to pick from. Kelly Pohle has been solid for us in previous years is a real important part to our backline. She is loud, commands the back four and makes the important saves. She is entering into her final year and I know she is excited to go out with a bang. Behind her, we have Sarah Garland. She has come on really strong this past spring and I have seen huge improvements, notably in her kicking game. Noe Salter will add great competition too. She is athletic, competitive and wants to play.
In the back, I feel we have all the ingredients we need to be successful. We have pace, grittiness, technical ability, hardness and a pride to protect our goal. Sam Brand has been moved back there and she has changed our whole team dynamic. She is fast and is very hard to beat 1v1. She still has all her natural attacking tendencies and I am asking her to get forward as much as she can and to be as dangerous as possible. On the other flank, we will look to Ashley O'Brien. Ashley brings much needed experience, athleticism and work rate. I will demand a lot from her and I know she will respond. We also have Barret Bestard and Kelly Farrell who will provide solid cover back there. Both are comfortable anywhere along the back and I am looking closely to see how they adjust to the college game. Unfortunately, we will be redshirting Jane Shook who will not be able to play this Fall. We wish her speedy recovery back to full fitness and know she will be ready to go in the spring 2010.
Centrally, we have a few very good options to choose from. Afiya Roberts, Abbey Kaufman, Kelli Woodard and Ashyln Mazur. All these players are unique with their skill and ability and I will be looking to get the right balance and mix as we move through our season. We will throw Ashlyn right into the mix from the start.
In the midfield, we have some good options. We have passers, ball winners, competitors, players who can go box to box and players who are very creative. Centrally, competition for places will be tough with Kristina Hall, Jamie DeAraujo, Joanie Piasta, Kallie Caldwell and Meritt Peterson all battling for spots. Jamie has developed solidly through the spring and Kallie is coming off a very productive Spring. I am really excited to get Joanie in the mix. She made her Don's debut towards the end of last Spring and brings a lot to the game. She is a winner, works hard, and understands the game and I am interested to see how she will do. Merrit is returning from an injury and I am looking to add her to the mix as well. She is a naturally fit kid and will compete for playing time in the middle. We want to get the chemistry right in there.
On the attacking side, we have multiple options for players who can play wide. Lauren Maris, Aly Drake, Keonna Robinson, Megan Bucci, Camille Cholger and Lauren Phillips. Lauren is coming off a great summer with her WPSL team after re-establishing the attack side of her game. She will give you everything and is a natural competitor. Aly is a versatile player who can play centrally or out wide. She can get up and down, pass, beat players off the dribble and will probably be one of our fittest players. Scooby will add the dribbling dimension for us and she lives and breathes the game. Camille is one of the most athletic prospects I have seen and she will provide power, pace and desire to score. Kiki is returning from an injury and we missed her presence last spring. She is so naturally athletic and we will play her wide or up front. Megan will be a sophomore for us and she ended last spring being our top goal scorer. I am looking for her to repeat that this fall. Her development through the spring was phenomenal and she really embraced the fitness component of her game. This allowed her to be up and down, a bundle of energy and all over the pitch. She is a goal scorer.
Up front we have competition for places with Molly Hall, Megan Connor, and Laura Gordon. Molly is like a diamond in the rough. She is so quick, very tricky on the ball and is dangerous in front of the goal. She comes out with the ball when you think she is going to lose it- real amazing. Megan is in the same mold. She combines well with players around, can finish and does really well when she drops into the space between the backs and midfielders. Laura will give us a completely different dimension. She is the most competitive, hard and aggressive young player I have seen through the years. She also can hit a shot from distance. I am looking to see who takes hold of the position from the start.
10. How did the team fare in spring ball?
This past spring was a very productive experience for all involved. We worked on a new system of play and on our creativity in the attack. Our student athletes not only performed in the classroom but produced off the field with some very good results. I think we were the fittest this program has ever been and this definitely contributed to the quality of our performances. We won games against San Jose State and Chico, but had some very good performances against the California Storm and Cal. We really focused in on attacking and scored eight goals in eight games. I felt that we were able to play teams with less fear and that was apparent when we played Cal.
The biggest result for us was tying last years Final Four opponent and Pac-10 powerhouse, Stanford. We defended really well, got numbers behind the ball and made it difficult for them to get in on goal. We had a couple of great opportunities ourselves. All in all, spring was a huge success. We were able to teach a new system, experiment with players in different positions, and give our players lots of confidence going in to the fall 2009 season.
11. What kind of teams can we expect in the non-conference schedule?
We have a real balanced schedule this year. We open up with two exhibitions (UC Davis and SF State) where we will take a look at all our players and get a chance to make decisions on player personnel, system, style and all that. We are playing some very good east coast teams in Marist, Long Island and Fairfield. All these teams are very good within their respective conferences and all will be tough opponents.
We follow up those games with a road trip to UC Riverside and Fullerton, both from the Big West Conference. They are both solid top 100 opponents and will provide us with challenges down in Southern California.
We then play UNLV and Pacific, before heading to the Northwest to take on Seattle U and Eastern Washington. We lost to Seattle U last year, so we will be looking to reverse that result. The only other non-conference games we have scheduled are at Bakersfield and a local derby at USF with the Academy of Art. It is so important that we take one game at a time and not look by anybody!!!
12. What are your thoughts on the WCC this season?
Our conference is going to be super competitive, hard and challenging once again. Last year, both Portland and San Diego made the tournament and they will be a huge challenge. LMU and Pepperdine are always very good. I know Santa Clara will be looking to bounce back after their down year and I am really excited about playing them here this year at USF.
Gonzaga and St. Mary's both have new coaches and they will be looking to have good starts under new leadership. All in all, it makes for another exciting season. I am thrilled that we have four out of our seven games at home. Also, most of our kids, including me, will get to experience Portland for the first time and I am excited to play in front of a passionate crowd.
13. Final thoughts...?
I can't wait to get started. Behind the scenes, our staff has been working very hard in the off season to prepare for this season and to be as detailed as possible in terms of our preparation. This is a special group of young women. They are all hungry for the season to start. Just talking to them all over the summer, I have heard the majority of our players are training and playing with teams. Preseason training commences the 7th August. I am excited to see everyone again and start preparing for the season. We just need to recognize that we control how we do. Nothing else.