RICHMOND, Va. – After reaching the CAA Championship game for the second time in five years, the VCU women's soccer team is hard at work during their spring season priming for another run at a conference title next fall.
VCUathletics.com recently sat down with Co-Head Coaches Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Tim Sahaydak to chat about last season, the preseason and what to expect this upcoming fall.
VCUathletics.com: What do you think is the biggest lesson you'll take with you from last season?
Tiff: I think this past season, it's almost as if we knew we had a talented group and that we were going to be good, but we may have taken it for granted that it would take time to mesh on the field. And it's not like we weren't meshing because we were, but the little details weren't happening in the beginning of the season. Hopefully this coming fall, we won't need as much time as did this past fall because the majority of our core players are all returning.
Tim: I think our players all learned a lesson as far as perseverance and sticking to the philosophy and the plan. We're talking about not getting the results right away in the beginning of the year, and dealing with some frustrating results when we lost to some really good teams by one goal. It's a positive lesson. Coming together as a team and really defining who we were when we were 1-7-7, we knew that we didn't need to reinvent the wheel. There were some small things we needed to do and some small areas we needed to improve. It was a lesson in a winning mentality.
VCUathletics.com: What was the biggest success of last season?
Tim: For a core group of the players that have been here for four years, it was one of the most successful seasons that they've had as a group. It's a good step in the right direction as far as understanding what it feels like to have an 8 or 9 game win-streak, and realizing how difficult it is to be that consistent.
VCUathletics.com: What's the area you would like to see the most improvement this spring?
Tim: I think we can improve offensively as far as our conversion and converting our opportunities. After going back and looking at things, we're a very attack minded team so we create a lot of opportunities. Seeing the box scores of past games, we have a lot of shots on goal and several quality shots that were good opportunities to score, we just didn't convert on as many of them as we would have liked.
VCUathletics.com: You're losing a good group of seniors, what type of gap is that going to leave in the team and how do you think it can be filled?
Tiff: I think the biggest thing we're losing with our seniors is the leadership aspect, so that will be the most challenging part of losing this group of players. We had tremendous leadership this past fall, and that definitely had a lot to do with our success that second half of the season. They remained positive and loyal to the coaching staff and our beliefs in this program and how things should be done.
Tim: They were one of our first recruiting classes, so they've been under our philosophy for four years. I think they did a good job of translating that to the younger players coming on to the team. But we're excited, we're adding a lot of talent next year to the team. As far as on-field talent, I think we'll be about as strong as we've ever been, if not stronger. But talent doesn't always win games.
Tiff: Tim and I are evaluating and observing our players so we can have the best captains and leadership group. They're all invested. They want to win and, having that taste of almost winning the championship, that is all they talk about right now. You can see this energy of, okay we didn't get things done but our class—we're going to finally be the class that wins that championship. You can see the pride, the energy and investment is there with this group of rising seniors. But really picking out a few people to lead this team as captains, I think that's going to be challenging.
VCUathletics.com: Going off of that, who do you think is really going to step into that leadership role?
Tim: You can't be a leader unless you can convince people to follow you, so there is always a sense of which player commands respect from their teammates. Whether it's what they're doing on the field or off the field, I think finding the balance of someone that can influence the players with their actions in both cases is always the best option for a captain. Right now, we're still looking at evaluating players' abilities to do that.
Tiff: The whole class is a really good package, they're all unified and it's a great class. It's difficult to pick out one person, because they all bring their strengths together.
VCUathletics.com: Both Karol Sanchez and Cristin Granados played on the Costa Rican women's national team in the off season How important do you think it is that players get experience like this? How do you think it will help the team upon their return this season?
Tiff: It's unbelievable and it's immense. They are playing at the highest level, and they're going up against the U.S., who could arguably be some of the best in the world. Karol is defending those forwards. We watched those games and were saying "that's our girl." She's going up against some of the best players in the world and shutting them down and you see just how good she really is when she is at that level.
Tim: As a player, every time you get the opportunity to represent your country and play at a very high match level, every time you have that exposure, you take something away from it. You grow and learn as a player when you're playing in a match like that. They certainly bring that back to the team here.
VCUathletics.com: What sort of techniques and playing styles will you focus on the most during training before the season starts?
Tiff: I want to be the team that, when we lose the ball, you can see it in our eyes that we are getting the ball back. We're a team that really values having the ball and, if we happen to lose it, we're going to get it right back.
Tim: I feel that our players can never be technical enough on the ball. We want them to be able to make decisions and never have to worry about their technique letting them down. On top of that, it's working on the strengths and weaknesses of each player and how that relates to the team as a whole.
VCUathletics.com: Are there any wildcard players you think fans should expect big things from?
Tim: A piece of what our legacy has been is how we have recruited in the past couple of years. We tend to cast a wide net and bring in players that are either international or tend to be less well known by other coaches in the conference or region. People don't know what we're going to bring until they play us. So there may be some players that other coaches are not aware of or have not seen a whole lot of last year that have been working hard in the spring.
Tiff: Bex Kunz is having a very good spring and is a starter for our upcoming matches. She is chomping at the bit because she didn't get as much playing time as she would have liked last fall. She has taken more responsibility and feels that it is her time, but she is not taking it for granted just because Zania's gone. For me, she's one player that has become fitter; she is eating better and just all around taking care of the little details.
Tim: There's a core group of them that show up before we even get out to training. They are out there with a bag of balls working on finishing, their touch or just juggling. I think it's good that there is a core group of players who are motivated to make a bigger impact, and they're doing what is necessary to improve.
Tiff: Brianne Moore is another player who didn't get a lot of playing time for us this past fall. There's a lot of competition as the center of the midfield, but she's had a very good spring and has committed herself to a different level. She came in as one of our fittest midfielders, which has never been the case, and that's just a great sign of her commitment to program, to herself and to this team.I'm also really excited about Marin and the way she's approaching this spring. She could be one of those players that could really explode because she has all the tools, she's already got one season under her belt, and the majority of her teammates are coming back who are starting to know her tendencies are.
VCUathletics.com: You had Matt Carr and Myriam Bouchard on the coaching staff for the first time last fall, what have they meant to the program?
Tiff: Matt has been a great relationship builder, whether we're talking about recruiting or our current team members. He's got a very warm personality and is a very positive person, very easy to get along with. As far as our chemistry, he brings a very positive energy to this program.
Tim: Myriam's been around and has been through the program. Having a graduate assistant who is a former player for VCU and played at a high level for Canada's National team, she brings a high level of knowing what the expectation is, what our expectations are as a staff for what the environment should be. She's a good reinforcer for what we want for the team. She's also a good kind of liaison between the players and us because she's not far from being a player herself.
Tiff: Getting everybody here, getting the new players here.
Tim: Pre-season is one of the times for me that is the most enjoyable because it's almost like Christmas morning for coaches. Everyone's here and you know what you have to work with. And then you start working.