After years of hard work with little in the way of tangible payoff, the Cougar women’s soccer team is reaping the benefits in their 2012 season.
With one-third of the season in the books, the Cougars have already tripled last season’s win total.
Head coach, Bob Maltman, attributes the success to work ethic, confidence and a newly-formed emphasis on the mental aspects of the game.
"I think that’s been the biggest thing, is if we make a mistake…we don’t get ourselves deflated because of it,” he said, before the team’s Sept. 28 clash with the perennial powerhouse Trinity Western Spartans. “And I think that with that has come a much greater degree of communication amongst the team during games…as a result, players make more confident and correct decision, so I think the communication and the mental preparation have been two big components.”
But the team’s winning ways are not just a result of this year’s efforts.
Hard work and good habits have carried over from last season.
While they didn’t hold any immediate payoff for the team – their record last year was 1-10-3 – their efforts have proven to be fruitful through the first stretch of the 2012 campaign.
“There was a tremendous amount of work last year that was done by the team, but we didn’t necessarily get the reward in terms of getting a goal when we needed one to win,” Maltman said. “That’s just the way that team sports are…that you can sometimes play OK and not get the reward, and therefore people don’t think you’re playing that well, but we genuinely thought we had some good moments on the pitch last year, and we also had a very tough schedule.”
That’s not to take anything away from the early stages of this year’s schedule, that’s seen 1-0 Cougars victories over tough opponents in the U of S Huskies and U of M Bisons.
"The traditional teams that are in the Canada West, they’re always good programs, and there’s a lot of games where they’re very tight,” Maltman said.“[Canada West] is definitely not weaker.”
This year’s early winning record is not a result of weaker competition, but of a team that has grown stronger as they’ve come together.
"The success that we’ve been seeing, and the success that I’ve been allowed to have, I couldn’t possibly have done it without the rest of the team." – Stephanie Possberg
When asked to name some of his standout players, Maltman lists nearly every player on the roster.
“There’s been a number of them,” he said. “I think one that I’m very happy with, in terms of just how hard she’s had to work to get to where she is today, has been that of Stephanie Possberg.”
With the departure of All-Canadian goalkeeper Michelle Anderson last year, goaltending duties have fallen to the tandem of Possberg and rookie, Kacey McFee, with Possberg designated as the starter.
So far, they’ve proven themselves up to the challenge, recording four shutouts between the two of them – Possberg with three, and McFee with one.
Possberg’s accomplishments were validated with a U of R Athlete of the Week award earlier this month.
But she’s not letting the acclaim go to her head.
"The success that we’ve been seeing, and the success that I’ve been allowed to have, I couldn’t possibly have done it without the rest of the team,” she said. “A lot of them bust their asses off to make sure that I look good.”
She also attributes the team’s success to the mental training and emphasis on focus heralded by Coach Maltman.
“I feel that’s been very beneficial because it’s allowed us to kind of get rid of the negative thoughts that have been perpetuating in the program for the past few years and everything with the frustrations and the losses that we’ve seen,” she said.
“You take it one injury at a time, one play at a time. Everything will come to pass, and if you have the right mentality towards it and you’ve put in that effort, then all you can do is just play.”
The Cougars suffered their first two losses of the season on Sept. 28 and 29, losing 3-0 to Trinity Western and 6-0 to UBC.
This weekend, they look to bounce back at home against Fraser Valley on Oct. 6 and Victoria on Oct. 7.