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Sunday, June 20, 2021

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Women's soccer gets back to basics before A-10s

They start with a warm-up that includes jogging, high knees and stretching, and then they move on to foot drills and scrimmages, all in the blistering Virginia heat that has just begun to subside despite the official change of seasons.

The women on the University of Richmond's soccer team have been working hard to prepare for their three coming Atlantic 10 conference games.

"The heat makes practices harder," freshman forward Becca Wann said, "but you have to play in it so [you] get used to it."

The team's 2-1 victory against the University of North Carolina -- Wilmington on Sept. 19 was the beginning of a two-week break before its first conference game against Saint Joseph's University on Oct. 1.

"We deliberately put this break in," head coach Peter Albright said. "We want to have a chance to ramp up our fitness. We actually can put in three or four really good training days now."

Albright said the players were also using the break to practice special plays, do some detail work and recover from minor injuries.

"The break is a good time for injuries to heal," Wann said, though only one player, freshman Kristen Lybert, had sustained a season-ending injury.

"We expect to go into this next run of games healthy, fit, organized and very motivated," Albright said.

Despite a 3-5-1 record, Albright said he believed the record could be better and that the losses only encouraged the players to compete harder.

"We've kind of been on a little bit of a rollercoaster from day one," assistant coach Jennifer Woodie said. "But I don't think there's a sense of fear. I feel like this year the energy is really good and positive."

Wann said the team should have a better record, but the players have taken positive lessons from the games they lost.

"We have a young team," sophomore back LeighAnne Baxter said, "and I think we spent the first part of our season sort of getting into our groove and learning each others' styles of play."

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Baxter said the players had good chemistry on and off the field.

"Our off-the-field chemistry is crucial to our on-field performance because it builds trust and creates a desire to win and go that extra inch for the people who are not just teammates, but best friends," she said. "We are not forced to be together, we choose to be.

"We are working hard in practice to be fully prepared for a solid win in our first home A-10 game."

But their first home conference game will not be played on campus. This season, both the men's and women's soccer teams play at Ukrop Park, a 15-20 minute drive from campus on Ridgedale Parkway in Chesterfield, Va.

Wann said that although the new venue was nice, it was still 20 minutes off campus and had a different atmosphere than a field on Richmond's campus.

"Our team will always show up to play and compete no matter where we are playing," Baxter said. "However, I think that it is degrading to have us playing at an off-campus location that is not convenient to get to for us, fans or the other team. [Recreational] games are going on around us and it has a youth atmosphere rather than collegiate."

Wann said: "We're playing next to 10-year-olds. It's not really distracting, but there wouldn't be a track meet at the same time as a football game would there?"

But Albright said it was not something to focus on because it could not be changed.

"We wish it were different," he said, "but it's our home field and we want to win games. We're going to try to make it a home field advantage."

Albright said he hoped to see the team "come out with [its] hair on fire" and be up 3-0 at halftime during the conference games.

"I'd like to make a statement to the league that we are a serious team," he said. "I want to earn respect every time we play from the teams who play us and the people who watch us. I would love to see a big crowd Friday night."

Richmond will play Saint Joseph's University at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Temple University at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 and George Washington University at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 9. All games will be played at Ukrop Park.

Contact staff writer Kate McDonnell at kate.mcdonnell@richmond.edu

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