The UD women’s soccer team huddles up during last year’s 5-1 win over Miami (Ohio) on August 22, 2019. Photo courtesy of Flyer News.
Even through the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, UD women’s soccer head coach Eric Golz said his team is finding the positives in altered preparations for the season, whenever that may take place.
“There’s been some challenges, don’t get me wrong,” Golz said. “But I think there’s been a lot of positives, and a lot of blessings throughout this process… (our interactions) seem more genuine, more authentic. There’s nothing tied to it in the sense of games or playing time or personal expectations. It’s an opportunity to talk to, to really try to get to know our players better.”
During this time of separation, Golz said the players have been reaching out to each other and the relationship side has benefited while the team has also been able to talk about prevalent topics like social justice.
“I think that helping to bring societal issues to the surface has forced people to start to challenge the way they maybe have been thinking or viewing the world,” Golz said. “But also, to begin to learn how to have some difficult conversations. And I think that in this, there’s also a greater appreciation for the opportunities that we have. We’ve kind of seen it all be taken away for a little while. I think that the appreciation for the opportunity to represent Dayton and to have some of the benefits and resources that we have to reinvest in ourselves and in our craft is pretty special. Having that taken away from us for a few months, in some sense has hopefully kind of rekindled some appreciation and gratitude, and just joy for why they are doing this in the first place.”
Another positive that has come out of the separation is the opportunity for international players to become more acclimated to the team. Although all international women’s soccer student-athletes were in their home countries during quarantine, they were still able to build connections with their teammates via different methods.
Even with travel restrictions around the world and the lack of any in-person practices, coach Golz said Zoom calls and phone conversations between players has allowed for international players to use the additional time normally spent playing for their local club team to instead build relationships with their Flyers teammates.
“Everyone’s kinda on equal footing in terms of a typical spring and summer, all of them are (typically) at home playing for their teams at home,” Golz said. “They’re (typically) in a pretty consistent training…match environment. So, with that with kinda being put on hold globally now, I think everyone is on a little bit of equal footing. (Incoming freshmen) Liana (Yara, England) and Adriana (Alonso, Spain), and we have a returning sophomore, Yaiza (Navarro Leon, Spain) … I think that quite honestly, we have been able to do more prior to them arriving than maybe we would have done in the past just because of time. They’ve been able to get more engaged with our team via Zoom interactions and just messaging and talking on the phone.”
As the team continues to adjust to the ongoing hectic swarm of events that has been 2020, their preparation for next season is focused on experience and consistency, even in altered circumstances.
With a solid group of returning starters (8 of 11 players with 10+ starts are back), the Flyers are poised to improve from a 7-9-3 season that left something to be desired. In the Flyers’ nine losses, just two were by more than one goal.
Returning experience could be what the Flyers need to take the next step after their 2019 season ended with a 1-0 loss to La Salle in the A10 quarterfinals.
“I think (experience) is invaluable,” Golz said. “Last year, we were extremely young. And every game we had seven, sometimes eight, of our 11 starters were freshmen. So, I think that is an invaluable level of experience and perspective, and I think that our returning players are going into this season with much more awareness of the preparation level that is needed.”
The level of preparation will be tested due to a unique off-season, but Golz said he thinks the team has a clearer understanding of expectations to compete at a top level and to bring their style to light.
Golz also highlighted the ability of last year’s upperclassmen to integrate the freshmen into the game and help shape how they interact as a team.
While preparations for next season are underway, with a team focus on consistency after last year’s up-and-down flow, there is still a feeling of uncertainty over whether the season will be played.
These concerns have been addressed by Golz, his coaching staff, the players, UD President Eric Spina and Director of Athletics Neil Sullivan as the situation around COVID-19 and its recent resurgence continues to develop.
“It’s an environment that is incredibly complex,” Golz said. “There’s so many layers in these decisions as to the start of games and the number of games, and how do we go about testing… I think ultimately, everyone involved – our leadership, with the university, with President Spina, and Sullivan, to coaching staffs for respective programs – everyone’s first and foremost, utmost priority is the health and wellness and safety of our student athletes… and our university as a whole.”
Golz said the program is working “morning, noon and night” to ensure they achieve the highest level of success and not just get back and play, but to complete the season.
As soccer (or football) leagues around Europe return to action, Golz said it has been “awesome” to see the games and the joy the players are playing with.
With excitement bubbling up, Golz and the women’s soccer team are looking forward with anticipation to the upcoming season as they contemplate and discuss the issues in the world, including the recent widespread awakening to racial injustice towards African-Americans.
“It’s a complex issue that, if nothing else, has increased awareness that people’s lives are different,” Golz said. “And depending on their own personal experience, that can become their reality, but also empathy for understanding what somebody else’s experience may be, or may have been, and how that shapes them and who they are. So, we’re having conversations as a team, but I think that there’s also been people who have gone out to participate in protests …(and) on social media. I think it’s a really good time to listen and to learn and to have some different conversations and read… watch some different things, to just gain perspective that maybe we had not considered previously… in terms of steps we might take as a program, I think that those are all conversations that are ongoing, with our program within our university. I think it’s a fact that we have a role in it. And it’s a role that we need to consider and take seriously and not take the back seat on.”
As the fight for social justice and against racism continues to be brought to the forefront in sports, Golz said he sees this time as an opportunity to build bridges as he prepares for the season along with the team.
“On the whole, I think sport has a big role in healing and helping to create some bridges,” Golz said. “To help heal some of the issues that we’re facing right now… we’re excited about that opportunity, we’re also excited about the group of women that we have come to wear our jersey. They’re an incredibly talented group, so I think our hopes and expectations are to make some progress and continue to grow our program and compete for championships.”