Redbird Soccer Officially Begins 2012 Preparations
Aug. 1, 2012
NORMAL, Ill. - The Illinois State soccer team held its first official practices of the 2012 season, Tuesday, as it prepares to defend the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Redbirds' first exhibition game is Aug. 8 at Murray State, with the official season-opener coming on Aug. 17 at Southeast Missouri State.
"It's very exciting and probably my favorite time of year," head coach Drew Roff said. "The expectations are high, but a lot of hard work has to go in to these next couple of weeks to lay the foundation. It's the start of a new journey."
The Redbirds went 13-6-0 last season and reached the NCAA tournament for the third time in program history. While nine letterwinners are departed from last year's squad, Roff believes there is plenty of returning and new talent to give the Redbirds a chance to take the next step.
Coach Roff: "We definitely lost a senior class that did a great job of getting our program where it is today. They worked very hard and they really made sure that the standards were high and our younger players definitely bought in to that. It's going to be tough to fill some of those shoes, but that's the nature of college athletics. Players graduate and new players have to step in to those roles. I'm pretty confident that we have some talented players that are ready to leave their mark on the program. Some of them are going to come from players that are already in the program and I think at least two or three of the freshmen we have coming in are going to have to make an impact in order for us to be the type of team that can get to where we want to go."
Key Returners: Rachel Tejada - 21 G, 9 A, 83 SH Kyla Cross - 8 G, 6 A, 2 GWG
Coach Roff: "Rachel Tejada had a tremendous freshman year. She is going to continue to be a dangerous weapon for us. She's a true finisher and other teams are going to be forced to pay a lot of attention to her. Besides her finishing ability, the other thing she brings to the table is that she's a very smart soccer player and she's also very unselfish. You can commit a lot of players to stopping Rachel, but she's smart enough and unselfish enough to find other players that can put the ball in the back of the net. It will be interesting to see what other teams try to do. It's in our DNA to be an attacking team and our forwards understand it's their job to put the ball in the goal, and that's something that we're going to try to continue to do. When you have players like Rachel and Kyla Cross, those are players that have a lot of ideas in the final third, can create and are able to combine with each other.
"One thing that I like about our group is we are pretty versatile. We have players that have technique, that can hold the ball up for us and can play with their back to goal. We also have enough forwards that can play with pace to get behind, and the technique is there for us to play quickly and combine to draw people in and get in spaces behind that are dangerous. I like the fact that we're versatile. I think our wide players could play in the middle and some of our players in the center could play out wide. That allows us to do some things, mix up some things, and try to figure out where we have an advantage. All in all, attacking players have to have a great attacking mentality, they have to be unselfish and they have to really have that confidence to be able to put the ball away. We have three or four players that have that ability and we're excited to see how effective and how potent our offense can be once again."
Key Returners: Rachel Bostick - 4 G, A, 45 SH, Anna Stinson - 5 G, 9 A, 45 SH
Coach Roff: "Rachel Bostick and Allie Newsom are veterans that are going to come back and go a great job for us as a holding midfielder. Where we're probably going to be a bit young is in those attacking midfield roles. I think the midfield is the area of the team that could potentially improve the most during the season, because we are going to try some young players there at some point. Whether it's in a starting role or a reserve role remains to be seen, but we've got some good athletes coming in. Once again, they have certain strengths that we're going to try to play to and it'll be exciting to see these young players develop throughout the season. That's an area where I feel we'll be a little more athletic and I think that we're going to have some great competition. My goal is to have six players in the midfield that can all play, get minutes and push each other to improve throughout the season. It's very important in our system to have three quality midfielders and, when it's all said and done, we will have that. That is a group that is a little bit untested and a group that is going to be thrown into the fire early. Whoever comes out of that in the best form will probably be who's playing for us."
Coach Roff: "Kristin Cooley has always done a great job for us. She's played a great deal of minutes and serves a lot of our free kicks. She's been an outstanding, consistent performer for us in the back, but she's always been paired up with two MVC Defensive Players of the Year (Natalie McCabe and Danielle Mutters) throughout her career. She understands that it's time for her to be the leader back there and to be that rock for us. It's going to be her job to really embrace that role of being the leader and that's something that she's comfortable with. It's also going to be her job to communicate and make sure that the center back next to her is on the same page, and that the outside backs are in sync with each other and the center backs. We're going to have to find out who our best option is at center back next to her. We've got a couple of players who are going to battle for that position and I feel like we'll be in good shape. By the end of preseason we'll know what our best options are. On the left side, Gabbi McArtor did a great job last year, so we expect her to continue to do what she did. She's a tenacious defender and she loves to get forward in the attack. That's something we try to utilize quite a bit. On the right side, we're going to have a couple of veterans in Sarah Carlson and Heather Sterling battling it out. Our depth in the back is going to be a real positive thing for us this year. We are going to try to send our backs forward quite a bit on the wings, so we'll need to have fresh players out there. Hopefully we won't be forced to just use four backs throughout the season. We want to use our depth at every position in the field, but in the back I think we'll have six or seven players who are capable of doing a good job for us."
Coach Roff: "We have two goalkeepers with a lot of ability in Mara Kremenovic and Aryn Newsom that have both played a lot of minutes for our program, so I feel like we're in excellent shape at that position. I expect them both to compete. In that role it's difficult because typically only one player plays unless you split time. We haven't done that too often since I've been here, but I think the competition is going to be very heated and that's exactly what you need. I feel to have two goalkeepers that can play at a starting level is going to be a huge advantage for us. If we're going to continue improve as a program and hopefully take it one step further in the NCAA Tournament, we're going to need stellar play from our goalkeeper."
2011 Record: 13-6-0
Coach Roff: "I think it's a great schedule. We always try to challenge ourselves as much as possible early in the season before we get to conference so we know that we prepared ourselves best as possible, and this year is no different. We have three exhibitions, which is rare. Usually we just have two, but we have three this year. That will really give our young players a chance to play in a college game environment. We'll make some mistakes in those games, but they won't cost us, so we'll learn from them.
"Once we get in to the regular season, Southeast Missouri State has played us very tough the past couple of years. That's going to be a great way to kick things off. We host Illinois here on our home-opener, and that's going to be a fun game. We're expecting a great crowd and it should be a great match.
"Then we're going down to play Florida Gulf Coast and Florida Atlantic, two very good programs. We're going to have to deal with the challenges of traveling and my guess is it will be pretty warm in Florida that time of year. Those are the type of things and the type of environments that you want to put your team in, because it really does prepare them for the conference. In the conference, every game is so important. Last year we lost one game in the conference and needed some help at the end to win the regular season championship. We know that with just one bad day in the conference, you can be sitting in second place.
"Our goal every year is to get our team to the NCAA Tournament, as every team's goal should be in college soccer. We feel like if we play a great schedule throughout the year, then we'll be prepared. Sometimes you have to travel and sometimes you have to play teams out of region. We want to get that experience, and I think that playing two Big Ten teams, playing a very strong program in Florida Gulf Coast, as well as teams like Western Michigan, Loyola and the Green Bay, those games are good. Our players like to play great competition, and that's how we get better. That's something that we've always done as a program and this year is no different. It's a great schedule. It's our goal this year to be ready early on. In some years past, the difficult games early have really prepared us, but sometimes we're learning lessons in those games. Our goal is to be ready from the start and be playing good soccer early on and not take too many lumps before we are playing at a good level."
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