Aug. 19, 2008
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — After finishing 8-8-4 last season, the rebuilding project is certainly progressing for third-year head coach Ron Rainey and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa had a busy off-season in the recruiting department as it was rated No. 55 in the nation by SoccerBuzz Magazine. Two of the incoming freshmen — goalkeeper Emily Moran and defender Morgan Showalter — were ranked among the Top 200 recruits in the nation. Needless to say, much is expected out of the newcomers.
“We need our young players to step up and do well,” Rainey said. “We need young players to play like they are juniors or seniors to fill rolls. They may not have to do it for 90 minutes — maybe we have two players split in the game or one player playing 60 minutes and one player playing 30 to get comfortable.”
“We have strong spots and weak spots,” senior forward Stephanie Hyink said. “I think the freshmen are definitely coming in and filling those weak spots that we have had in the past. It should be exciting to see how they gel with the returners. The depth is really exciting. It’s nice to know that if someone is tired or an injury happens on the field that we have a girl right there waiting to jump on the field and is just as good as the girl before her.”
The Hawkeyes may only have two seniors on the roster this year but expectations, confidence and motivation are high going into the season. If Iowa plays its cards right, the Hawkeyes could be sitting pretty when the 2008 Big Ten Tournament comes to town Nov. 6-9. Home field was indeed sweet last season when Iowa posted a 5-2-1 record.
The Hawkeyes have 11 home games this season and they open the year with three straight against Drake, Western Illinois and South Dakota State. The home field advantage “feeling” continues when Iowa travels to Malibu, Calif., to face Pepperdine and San Diego. An unprecedented six Hawkeyes are from the state of California.
“We have a lot higher expectations than we did last year,” Hyink said. “We had a really good season and went to the Big Ten Tournament. This year I think we are going to expect a lot more and hope to do better in the Big Ten and better in the Big Ten Tournament.”
“I think we should be really excited about the opening weekend,” Rainey said. “Drake is a super opponent — one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley for really over this past decade. With Western Illinois coming in, who just missed out on an NCAA berth, and South Dakota State was picked to finish third in its league. It will be a great start for us. Malibu will be fun and I think it will be fun for some of our Californian players who will be able to go home and see not just parents, but family, friends, and maybe former club coaches or high school coaches who will come out and support them.”
“I don’t know if we have turned the corner yet. I think our team said it best when they talked about the philosophy of the program. Last year we put in there as a rebuilding program. This year we put in there as an emerging program.”
UI head coach
Like any sport, the Big Ten is no walk through the park as Penn State was rated as high as No. 6 last season and Purdue was ranked eighth. The Hawkeyes refused to back down and lifted their game against the upper-echelon of the league last season. Iowa had its best mark in Big Ten play since 2001 a year ago, posting a 4-6 record. Last year Iowa also had an eight-match unbeaten streak (6-0-2) from Sept. 9 to Oct. 7, which set a school record.
“I love playing Penn State because they are a dynasty,” Hyink said. “They have been dominating the Big Ten. Penn State will be our biggest competition, but we always play good soccer against them because they play good soccer. It is always a nice game to see how we rise up to the occasion.”
The path for improvement is well on its way with Rainey at the helm. He went 6-11-2 overall and 1-8-1 in Big Ten action his first season. If last year was any indication of how much the team improved, look out for the Hawkeyes in 2008. After all, a hard-working team with confidence can be very dangerous.
“I don’t know if we have turned the corner yet,” Rainey said. “I think our team said it best when they talked about the philosophy of the program. Last year we put in there as a rebuilding program. This year we put in there as an emerging program. Emerging programs probably still have not turned the corner but we are a lot farther ahead than we were a few years ago. I like that term. In order to emerge this year, I think it becomes as simple as against all of our opponents cutting down their scoring chances, adding more to ours and finishing on some of those.”
“I would like to make a mark just like our last year’s seniors made a great mark when we made it to the Big Ten Tournament,” Hyink said. “I would like to push that a little further and do better in the Big Ten Tournament and definitely do better in the Big Ten Conference; it would be great to leave that mark.” The Hawkeyes open Saturday, Aug. 23, against the in-state rival Bulldogs at the Iowa Soccer Field beginning at 7 p.m.
To view 15 photos from Tuesday’s media day, click HERE .