Oct. 10, 2011
Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ron Rainey faced an uphill battle when he took over the University of Iowa women’s soccer team in the spring of 2005. In his six years as head coach, Rainey has brought the Hawkeyes much closer to the top of that hill.
Rainey and his Hawkeyes are on pace for one of the best seasons in school history and currently sit at 10-2-2 overall. This year marks just the fourth time in school history (which dates back to 1997) that an Iowa soccer team has recorded 10 or more wins, but things didn’t look as promising when Rainey took over the program.
The Hawkeye women’s soccer team was coming off a 3-12-4 overall record, including 1-7-2 mark in Big Ten play, when Rainey was hired as the fourth head coach in school history. Iowa had recorded losing records in four of its last five seasons and had won just eight Big Ten games in that five-year stretch.
Rainey knew he had to make serious adjustments in the program in order to give the team a chance to compete in the Big Ten.
“We needed to address a lot of things within the program,” Rainey said. “Things like mentality and pride in the program. Fortunately, the team was doing very well academically when we got here, and we are proud that has continued.”
“When we first got here, we put the goal of winning a Big Ten championship and making the NCAA Tournament in an envelope and put it up on a shelf. We said we would know when we were at a level to take it off that shelf. That’s something we hope to look back on at the end of the season and say we accomplished one of those goals.”
UI head coach Ron Rainey
One of the first issues Rainey attacked was his back line. Iowa’s opponents netted 49 goals the year before he took over and had also scored a total of 188 goals in the previous five seasons. Rainey built from the back and the results started to show.
In Rainey’s first year, the Hawkeyes set a school record for fewest goals allowed in a season (22). Even though the overall record didn’t scream success, the first piece of Rainey’s successful puzzle was being put in place.
“We needed to be strong in the back,” Rainey said. “That takes into account a little bit of who we are at the University of Iowa. We get good, hard-working, blue-collar type players, and they buy into defending well and not giving up goals.”
Iowa’s defense has responded during Rainey’s tenure, never allowing more than 26 goals in a season. This year’s team has only allowed 11 goals and could break the school record set in Rainey’s first season.
Rainey’s first team didn’t allow many goals, but struggled to find the net themselves. Next on the checklist was finishing in the final third and that result came in Rainey’s third season at the helm.
In 2008, the Hawkeyes tallied a positive goal differential (+4) for the first time in eight years, and only the fourth time in program history. Iowa netted 27 goals to its opponents 23 and finished with nine wins, the most since 2002. That statistic was maintained in 2009 (+8) and 2010 (+7).
This year’s team is scoring goals at a record-breaking pace. Iowa’s current goal differential (+24) could threaten the school record of +23 set in 1999. The Hawkeyes have netted 35 goals through 14 games and is sneaking up on breaking the single season goals record of 49, also set in 1999.
“Right now, I think we have some solid players up front who can match the level of athleticism in the Big Ten,” Rainey said. “You have to find the right mindset, so we are going to look everywhere. Not just in Iowa or in the region, but nationally and internationally as well.”
In order to recruit the best players in the state, Rainey had to prove that Iowa was the place those recruits should land. The Hawkeyes had struggled against in-state rivals in the past and had compiled 2-5-1 record against Iowa State before Rainey took over. That changed immediately.
Rainey has never lost to an in-state school and holds a 12-0-1 record against Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Drake.
“The differences in the in-state games are a lot smaller than people realize,” Rainey said. “Those kids have played against each other and know each other very well. It’s important for us to have success in those games. We want to be the best team in the state, and I think we have proven that over the past few years.”
After establishing dominance in the home state, Rainey set out to move up the ladder in the Big Ten. The top eight teams in the conference qualify for the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the season and that was a big goal for Rainey.
Iowa hadn’t advanced to a Big Ten Tournament since 2001, but Rainey led the Hawkeyes to back-to-back appearances in his second and third year as head coach. The conference eliminated the tournament in 2009 and 2010, but it’s back again this year, and Iowa is on track to make yet another appearance.
“The Big Ten Tournament was a great goal for our program in those early years,” Rainey said. “We won some big games in league play that were pretty special to get us qualified for that tournament.”
Rainey is still working on his next goal at Iowa and this year might just be the year that comes to fruition. Every coach wants to compete for Big Ten championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Unfortunately, those accomplishments have never happened in Iowa soccer history. Rainey wants that to change.
“When we first got here, we put the goal of winning a Big Ten championship and making the NCAA Tournament in an envelope and put it up on a shelf,” Rainey said. “We said we would know when we were at a level to take it off that shelf. That’s something we hope to look back on at the end of the season and say we accomplished one of those goals.”
Rainey’s Hawkeyes have a sparkling overall record, currently are tied for seventh in the ultra-competitive Big Ten conference and are 38th in the latest NCAA RPI. With a tough five game schedule remaining, Rainey isn’t too far away from reaching those goals.
Once those goals are reached, the view from the top of the hill Rainey has been climbing will be well worth the trip.