Confidence, maturity helping Bulldogs continue strong start to season
With a 6-1-1 overall record thus far, the UMD soccer team is off to its best start in recent years.
The team ranks in the top-five in shots, points, goals, and assists in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Last season, the Bulldogs were 4-2-2 at this point in the year, having been outscored 8-9. This year, UMD has been on an offensive barrage coupled with an outstanding defensive front and goalkeeping.
“I think we’re more attentive to the result being important in terms of our preparation,” said head coach Greg Cane. “Mentally our players are just preparing better, and thus were competing better. It’s more consistent; we’re a more dangerous team. We’re more organized, and that’s giving us a better chance to do well in games.”
UMD has seen more players collect points in just eight games this year (13) than in all of 2016 (11), or 2015 (11). Many have collared their first career points as a Bulldog this season, including redshirt-freshman midfielder Gabby Bland, junior midfielder Madison Carey, sophomore midfielder Emily Hinz, and sophomore defender Mikayla Iaquinto.
“Not too surprised,” said Cane when asked about the rise of point-getters. “Anytime a player has an opportunity, it’s for a reason. They’ve proved, they’ve earned, and they’re put into scenarios that could have a high likelihood of getting involved on the stat sheet. And that’s been the case with those players. They’ve delivered when they’ve had the opportunity.”
Now, with just over half the season remaining, Cane looks at areas for improvement for his team while recognizing their strengths.
“We need to improve our attacking play all the way around,” Cane said. “It needs to be sharper; it needs to be more collaborated. I love the attitude and mentality of our team ... And though they may not be showing up on our stat sheet, we have some players that are not typical starters that are really starting to show their quality.”
Assistant coach Kelly Grgas-Wheeler, who’s in her fourteenth year with the team, believes that one of the Bulldogs’ biggest areas of improvement compared to last year is more mental than physical.
“When I think about this team right now I think the word ‘maturity’ comes to mind, and we maybe weren’t quite there yet — on the field, off the field — last year,” Grgas-Wheeler said. “But I feel like we’ve definitely found a little bit of that, and I think that definitely influences it out on the field.”
Of the ten games remaining, six are road games. So far, the Bulldogs sit at 3-0-0 on the road, and Cane knows the impact a road win can have for his team.
“Confidence,” Cane said. “If you can enter games on the road with confidence, it’s a mindset that shows the opponent that you’re serious about three points. If we continue to have that approach I think we’re going to give ourselves a good chance all the time to get three points on the road.”
UMD will look to remain undefeated on the road as it takes on Winona State University (3-4-1; 2-2-1 NSIC) on Friday Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. Then, will face Upper Iowa University (1-5-1; 1-3-1 NSIC) on Sunday Oct. 1, at 1 p.m.