Returning to the Pitch

May 4, 2012

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 — Most fans associate spring practice with the University of Iowa football team. The few weeks of practice allowed by the NCAA gives the team a chance to work on fundamentals while preparing for the fall season.

Ron Rainey and the UI women’s soccer team have the same opportunity each spring, and the results from training have the Hawkeye head coach excited about the fall.

Iowa enjoyed its most successful season in school history last fall, compiling a program-best 13-4-3 overall record. The team’s fifth place finish in the Big Ten was the second-highest in school history. The Hawkeyes earned a No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, also the second-best in program history.

Fall is right around the corner for the Hawkeyes and the team got back to work during the second semester. Iowa played a total of seven matches against quality competition, finishing the spring with a 4-2-1 mark.

Iowa opened with a 1-0 win over North Dakota State in a 9-v-9 match in The Bubble, which would be the last soccer match played in the indoor training facility.

“Next year is an important year for us. We need to come out and compete like we did last year and have the right mentality. We play in a competitive league and have a tough nonconference schedule. If we aren’t mentally ready to be better than we were last fall, we won’t get the results we want.

This team wants to have a great 2012 season.”

UI head coach Ron Rainey

“The Bubble has been an excellent training facility for us over the past few years,” Rainey said. “It has allowed us to play our game on a bigger space in the winter and spring. We can see balls in the air over 30 or 40 yards.”

The Hawkeyes then drew with Nebraska at the UI Soccer Complex, 1-1. Iowa defeated Kansas (1-0) and Iowa State (2-1) in a spring Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge before traveling to Milwaukee. Iowa fell to Marquette, 3-1, but rebounded with a 1-0 win over Milwaukee.

The spring season ended with a trip to national powerhouse Notre Dame. After trailing 3-0 at half, the Hawkeyes fought back against the three-time NCAA champions with two goals in the second half, before falling 3-2.

Rainey was pleased with his team’s performance in the spring and was happy to keep the training room empty during workouts.

“We looked strong and healthy,” Rainey said. “We got through the spring without losing people to injuries, which was great. A lot of people played well for us.”

One of the players that stood out was junior-to-be Alex Melin. She was named team MVP in the fall after starting all 20 matches in the midfield and continued her improvements in the spring.

“Alex continues to perform in the center of the field for us,” Rainey said. “She just works. She is a workhorse. It’s excellent to see her play.”

Iowa’s attack was back in full force during spring competitions, with junior-to-be Leah DeMoss, senior-to-be Dana Dalrymple and sophomore-to-be Cloe Lacasse leading the charge.

Lacasse led Iowa in goals last year as a freshman with 12 and was a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week. DeMoss started every match and netted three game-winning goals, while Dalyrmple recorded five goals and three assists.

“Lead DeMoss and Dana Darylmple had very good springs,” Rainey said. “They were dangerous over on the flanks. Cloe had a nice spring and created some chances as well.”

Another part of spring soccer that Rainey likes is seeing athletes who didn’t get a chance to shine in the fall step up and compete in the spring. Two players in particular stood out during spring ball.

“Anne Marie Thomas didn’t see a lot of action in the fall, but came in as a defensive midfielder and looked very athletic and strong,” Rainey said. “Her speed of play really improved and that was exciting to see.

Jordan Rakas is coming off a knee injury and didn’t play in the fall,” Rainey said. “She started the entire spring at left back. It was great to see her in the lineup.”

Rainey and his team worked on the mental and physical side of the game during offseason drills. The team responded in all phases.

“We focused on technical improvements,” Rainey said. “Receiving balls, playing balls, first touches, things like that. Almost a third of our practices had some sort of technical theme. I was most happy with our technical improvements.

“We want a quicker and faster team, not just physically, but how they can move with the ball. We want to move it around quicker. That leads to more chances on the offensive end. Defensively, compacting space and moving as a group, while putting pressure on teams as high up the field as we can, is the goal.”

While the 2011 team set numerous records and enjoyed a great amount of success, Rainey believes the 2012 edition will be even hungrier.

“Next year is an important year for us,” Rainey said. “We need to come out and compete like we did last year and have the right mentality. We play in a competitive league and have a tough nonconference schedule. If we aren’t mentally ready to be better than we were last fall, we won’t get the results we want.

“This team wants to have a great 2012 season.”