TAMPA – The University of Tampa women’s soccer team hits the road again this weekend Armstrong Atlantic University where it will face the No.19-ranked Pirates and Georgia College and State.
The Spartans have had only three home so far this season, caused in part by Coach Gerry Lucey’s desire to play a tough non-conference schedule. Lucey says it is hard to get opponents to come to central Florida, meaning his side has had to travel to find competition. Already this season the Spartans have been to Columbus State twice for weekend tournaments.
“Unfortunately, the same as a lot of the Florida schools, people don’t want to come down here and play,” Lucey said. “A lot of teams are just afraid of coming down here and getting two losses, so they’d rather not do that. As you know we have the likes of Florida Southern, Saint Leo, Rollins, Florida Tech, who are doing well, that they don’t want to play against that level of competition for two games, so we have to go away. We’re left with no choice.”
The Spartans are now 3-4-1 after a pair of losses last weekend, but Lucey thinks that has been a result of his side’s inexperience. With the bulk of the starting line-up being made up of underclassmen, he is pleased with the progress he has seen, especially their performance against No.8 Carson-Newman last Friday, which the Eagles won 1-0 in double-overtime. The only things lacking, in fact, are the goals that will make losses like that turn into wins.
“We outshot them 13-5, completely outpossessed them, their coaches were pretty much embarrased at the end of the game, and they told me, they apologized,” Lucey said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the results. We’re just not putting the ball in the back of the net, we’re not scoring goals.”
GROWING PAINS: The Spartans knew entering the season that they may be in for a bumpy ride this year. While only two years removed from a Division II national championship, the cupboard was pretty bare when it came to players who were going to replace members of that team.
As a result, eight of the starters on the side are underclassmen, with two juniors and one senior rounding out the starting line-up. With the youth of the team he is putting out, Lucey is happy with the attitudes and progress he has seen.
“I’m very happy,” Lucey said. “We knew a couple of years ago we were going to hit this wall. When I came back into program, we were seniors and juniors, and really had nothing much underneath that. We only have two players remaining from that squad from two years ago, so we knew we were going to hit a bump, and obviously this year is the bump, but at the same time we have such a good group with a good attitude who work hard.”
Sophomore captain Samantha Kay thinks the team is meshing well off the field as well as on, and that chemistry is beginning to show itself on the field.
“I think we’re doing a lot better,” Kay said. “Especially with possession and learning how people play and trying to get more attack-minded and less defensive than we were the first few games.”
OLD HAND: Saige Steinmetz hadn’t played in goal since her senior year of high school, but after the Spartans struggled in net for the first two and a half games of the season, Lucey called on her to fill the role, and she has responded by recording a 0.88 goals against average so far this season.
“It’s getting better each game,” Steinmetz said. “I think I’m getting more and more used to it, I’ve just got to keep practicing at it. I like it though.”
Lucey said Steinmetz was just as valuable as an outfield player for the Spartans, but this season they needed her stability in net to help the side.
“We knew last year that she was a quality ‘keeper, but we also needed her on the field last year,” Lucey said. “We wanted to give our freshman ‘keepers an opportunity last year to play, but that we let in nine goals in the first two-and-a-half games set the team back a little bit, so we thought we needed to switch things up.”
While Steinmetz has brought stability in net, multiple injuries have left her with a rotating cast in the back frou in front of her. Lucey said that currently he only has four of the eight defenders on the Spartans roster available, with others filling in as needed.
“It’s hard getting used to, because it’s like I have a new defender in every game because everyone is going down at center back,” Steinmetz said.