07 Oct Cincinnati Soccer Making The Most Of Preparation On, Off The Field
CINCINNATI — Before games at Gettler Stadium in Clifton, one can hear music and excitement from the Bearcats’ locker room and you wouldn’t be too far off to mistake it for a party.
“It is high energy, high intensity…everyone has their own rituals,” according to junior forward Maddy Pittman.
The energy and chemistry around the University of Cincinnati soccer team this season has had a different feeling this season and the squad is thriving.
Some may listen to music, some may get up and dance on their own, and that is part of the winning formula for the team. Its chemistry started long before this past spring season. First-year assistant coach Tom Anagnost implemented a new team fitness competition that added an element of competition to normal training. Teams and players get scored points in relation to how they do on certain games or tests, all leading to a final tally and ranking system among the different “squads”.
“They track fitness scores, weight lifting, and other fitness tests, as well as some in-practice work like 6v6 transitions and man-marking,” said Rexford. “Everyone wants to do their best.”
While COVID-19 saw drastic alterations within many programs across the country, Pittman said it made their 2020 spring season one of the best.
The Bearcats went 5-5-1 last spring before falling in the conference final to No. 14 South Florida. The team started practice in the spring with limited numbers, as only six players were allowed to train at once. Practices and training gradually re-opened, first with 10 players and then 15, but this did not affect the team. The AAC had strict rules in place for games, too, calling for only conference matches in 2020, with only non-conference games being approved by the Medical Advisory Group.
“We hit the ground running, took everything in the fall and perfected it in the spring, which is why we had a good conference season,” said Pittman.
Seeing teammates and training together were some of the “minor details we take advantage of everyday,” said Rexford, “and I was lucky to have that semester where I got to know my team and coaches better.”
Being away from your teammates and coaches for longer periods of time can affect a team’s chemistry. Not being able to hear from the coaches or team leaders can leave a void in the team’s locker room. This is where Kendall Battle and others showed their leadership.
“She always has that energy we feed off of,” said Pittman.
Battle is a strong presence in the Bearcats’ defense and it shows, as she has played 763 minutes this season, including 89 minutes in their last home match and scoring the only goal against ECU. But, there are more leaders in the team besides Battle.
“Ashley Barron, Vanessa DiNardo, Annie Metzger…all four set the standard for work ethic, energy, team leadership,” said Rexford. “And lots of people bring the energy we need on certain days.”
“Karli Royer does several things off the field that show up in games and she is a big factor in our success this season,” Pittman pointed out.
The lines of communication between players and coaches are open and always ready for feedback. Coaches will have a post-practice or post-game circle and talk as a team about what they can do better and work on in the next practice. Having those clear intentions of what the player or team needs to work on, creates trust between players and coaches and leads to better team chemistry, as many have seen this year.
There are players dancing, players sitting with their thoughts and music, and coaches checking in on players. It is a team that has built chemistry through the ebbs and flows of the past year-and-a-half and came out on the other side a strong, cohesive group that is up to any challenge. The Bearcats have been through it all. A canceled season, shortened season, and COVID-19 protocols have made the journey treacherous, but worth the wait.
“This is a fun place to be,” smiled Rexford.
The Bearcats (6-4-2) continue their season on the road Sunday against No. 18 Memphis.
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