By: KEITH RAAD – Staff Writer
Approaching his 20th season on the sidelines of Baujan Field, University of Dayton Women’s Soccer head coach Mike Tucker finds his team confident and poised for the upcoming season, instead of scurrying to fill the void of graduation.
In the breeze of the cool spring season, Tucker has his girls excited and competitive for the crisp fall season.
“It’s been mostly real good,” Tucker said. “I think we’re coming along as a team well. This time of year is so much different than the fall because you’re gearing up to play game after game in the fall and this time of the year is about getting the mental development right.”
Already four games deep into the spring season, the Flyers will play two more in preparation for a “fall-like feel,” when UD will host the University of Illinois April 13 and Northern Kentucky University April 23.
“Illinois is always really good, they’re always an NCAA Tournament-type team,” Tucker said. “It will have the feel of a regular fall game there. NKU is just getting better and better so that’s another quality game. We finish out the spring with two games like we’ll see in the fall and we’ll have more of an opportunity to see individually where we’re at.”
Though Tucker and his staff feel the graduation of seniors Juliana Libertin, Stephanie Emery, Megan Scharer, Sarah Senoyuit, and Jordin Melchert will not have a damaging effect on the team’s production, the departing graduates contributed to a 66-16-4 career record and a winning percentage good for fifth-best in the country. For him, it is a matter of the returning players carrying the team.
“I think right now it’s kind of piece-by-piece a little bit,” Tucker said. “Some of them, frankly, didn’t get to play a lot last fall but they’re coming on with a couple of good minutes here in the spring. They need to prove how well they’re going to do or prove we really have to look for something else. We’ve had some real good surprises so far and don’t feel like we have a lot of holes to fill come fall.”
Among the returning players are 2013 All-Atlantic 10 First-Team junior mid-fielders Ashley Campbell and Nicole Waters. Campbell led the team with 18 goals, good for 10th in the NCAA, while Waters dished out 17 assists, a feat tied for first in the NCAA.
UD welcomes two incoming freshmen who have already started their Flyer careers and are enrolled for the current Spring 2014 semester.
Out of Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati the Kiehl sisters, Kaitlynn and Alexis, have already made an impact and made their case for regulars on the field.
“The Kiehl girls are dynamite,” Tucker said. “We knew they were going to be but this has been really good to get them going in the spring. I think Alexis has two or three goals so far and Kaitlynn scored her first one [Sunday].”
As the spring has progressed, Tucker said, the Kiehl sisters seem to be fitting into the team’s game plan.
“It wasn’t a matter of skill level. It’s more on the level of these two girls that should be finishing up high school and they’re here and socially fitting in,” Tucker said.
“Fitting-in” is a priority that echoes with program as well. In his now two-decade tenure, Tucker knows that earning an NCAA Tournament berth is his program’s goal year in and year out.
“Well it’s been mentioned a few times that it’s been a couple of years now since we’ve been in the NCAA,” Tucker said. “We focused on that a little bit because it’s not acceptable for us. Our goals are always to be playing in the NCAA. To have it end the last couple of years in penalty kicks has been disappointing.”
Despite winning their 11th Atlantic 10 regular season title last season, Tucker has his sights set on advancing in the NCAA tournament.
“We have to learn to deal with a little adversity at times and hopefully not get too full of ourselves if we get a little bit of success, so it’s a matter of being on an even keel looking at your goals and working hard to get there.”