University of Richmond's women's soccer team has encountered plenty of change this year, and has needed to adjust to new coaches, new players and new facilities.
Head coach Peter Albright is in his 19th season with the soccer team, and has 13 new faces on his squad. This summer, Albright hired Mika Elovaara and Adrian Clewlow to assist him with this fairly young team. Of the 28 players, 17 are returning students and the rest are playing their first year with the Spiders. It’s one of the youngest teams he’s had since starting the program in 1996.
Albright praised his staff highly. Clewlow, Richmond College '98, had a decorated career as a goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team. Albright said he believed Clewlow was an excellent choice to help his young, talented goalkeepers.
“He has a widely varied goalkeeping training resume. He’s just a really outstanding coach and mentor for the young women,” Albright said.
Elovaara is a perfect fit for the staff because of his intangibles as a scholar, a father and a professional player, Albright said. “His paternal personality, his professional playing career and coaching career all come together to make him the perfect choice, and his impact on the program has been immeasurable,” Albright said.
Before meeting the players, the new coaches contacted the team through email and phone calls to begin building relationships. “We sent them a questionnaire and followed with a phone call to talk about not just soccer, but talk about everything else to get them to know them as people first,” Elovaara said. When the players arrived in the summer to train, a level of comfort already existed between the staff and the players.
The Spiders' next challenge was building player-to-player camaraderie. The returning players knew they would have to rely on the 11 new players, ten freshmen and one transfer student, to have a successful season.
Senior captain Drika Bianchin made it a responsibility to build team companionship. “I know it’s a rough transition for a freshman going from high school to college. I want to make them comfortable and a part of the team by including them on decisions and team activities” said Bianchin.
Most freshman groups enter a program looking to sit back and learn their first year, but this group is different. The coaching staff treats the freshmen equally to the upperclassman. Playing time is judged on performance, health and team connection. The freshmen have had their fair share of playing time. Albright started six freshmen this past Sunday in a game against James Madison University. The group has an abundance of talent, and is quickly gaining experience at the collegiate level.
There is a different kind of pressure for freshmen when they are out there playing against upperclassmen on other teams. Freshman Alexis Pringle feels the pressure more as motivation.
“If there is pressure, it’s more positive," Pringle said. "It pushes us to want to work harder."
Junior goalkeeper Emily Kelly said this was the best freshmen class she had encountered during her tenure on the team.
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Albright said he had been impressed with the immediate impact of his coaching staff. The Spiders are 13 games into the season and hold a record of 7-5-1. The team philosophy is to attack, and they have executed. They are leading the A-10 conference in shots and goals.
The team has also received two new facilities this year. Their new practice field was built next to the Jepson Alumni Center.
“I love it,” Albright said. He said he liked the switch-up of playing surface for the players. The Spiders play games on the turf field at Robins Stadium, and they practice on the grass fields. The softer grass surface gives the players’ legs the opportunity to heal. The grass also helps the team prepare for away games that will be played on grass.
The other installment is the new locker room, as part of the Robins Center renovations. The locker room is updated with wooden lockers, more showers, more bathroom stalls, a bigger television and a new carpet with a large, red Spider. Albright has taken advantage of the new setting, and uses it as a team meeting room and community center for his team. “A couple of us found ourselves in there watching movies before practice, and it was awesome just being able to do that," Kelly said.
The three coaches have championship experience, and they see champion capabilities in this year’s team. One key factor is the depth and talent of the team. Clewlow said everything the team had built starting in the preseason had been geared to making it into the postseason.
Contact reporter Justin Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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