For Rainey, The Fun Is Just Beginning

April 4, 2008

IOWA CITY, IA – The University of Iowa soccer team’s first match for the 2008 season may not be until late August, but Head Coach Ron Rainey has his team preparing for that moment every day this spring.

“This next month is going to be huge for us,” Rainey said. “We want to see if different players can fill some different roles this year, and this spring is going to be big for them.”

We last heard from Rainey on national signing day almost two months ago, when eight high school standouts and one junior college transfer gave their pledges to the Hawkeye program. Since then, the Hawkeyes have been hitting the gym five days-a-week and conducting practices three times a week.

It’s not all just lifting and practice, though. Rainey has taken his team on the road to participate in several spring exhibition matches all across the Midwest and has match-ups with of Kansas, Drake, Northwestern and Western Illinois coming up this month. Rainey believes the competition this spring is a learning experience.

“I think the spring serves as a time to see our younger, less experienced players step up,” Rainey said. “We want to have them compete at a high level. It’s exciting to watch.”

Rainey sees improvement amongst his team, but notes that there is much more that can be done.

“We want to keep improving off the last two years,” Rainey said. “We’ve raised the bar each year in terms of our expectations and the Top 25 is where we want to be in the next couple of years. We can’t settle on the success we achieved last year. We have to keep pushing this team to keep the foundation going.”

While the rebuilding continues for the Iowa soccer program, Rainey admitted that his team still might be looked at as an underdog.

“The challenge for us is to keep the teams we’ve beaten below us and to beat the teams ahead of us,” Rainey said. “I don’t know if we have a target on our backs, but we aren’t concerned about that. We are focused on getting our team better, and that’s the fun part.”

“D”-ing Up

A major cause for the Hawkeyes’ remarkable turnaround last season was the defense. In 2007, the Hawkeyes allowed only 24 goals in 20 matches. With three senior starters graduating, the defensive load falls two defenders that made huge strides last season as freshmen – Jenna Aleo and Mandy Heimann.

“Anytime freshmen can get out onto the field it’s a good thing,” Rainey said. “They get valuable game experience, but we want our defenders to take a more vocal role and be the leaders out on the field.”

Goalkeeper Update

At goalkeeper, freshman Kali Feiereisel got some experience in the Big Ten last season when she replaced the injured senior Lindsey Boldt in October. And while she may have the slight edge for the starting position, Rainey likes the competition that he sees from his other keepers.

“This is an important spring for Kali,” Rainey said. “She got some good game experience last year, but other players are going to be pushing her. We want this position to be wide open to see if Steph [Swanson], Emily [Moran] or Erica [Clausen] can step up.”

Injury Update

Moran, one of the new Hawkeyes, got off to a rough start as she dislocated her elbow during the first exhibition match of the spring. After graduating high school early, Moran joined the Hawkeyes in January to participate in spring practice.

Two other Hawkeyes are also on the road to recovery. Rainey said junior midfielder Kelsey Shaw is on track with her rehab from a torn ACL she suffered last season. Katie Smeltzer, who missed all of 2007 with a knee injury of her own and redshirted, is doing some light running and footwork with the ball.

Rainey noted that all three players will miss the remainder of the spring but should be ready to go before the start of the season.

Click HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.