For a team seeking its first winning season since 2006, going 6-1-1 in nonconference play is no small achievement.
Ultimately, though, Oregon soccer coach Kat Mertz knows the Ducks will be judged by what they do in the Pac-12. That’s where Oregon has struggled most in recent years, finishing no higher than seventh for 13 straight seasons.
“We were here two years ago,” said Mertz, who is in her sixth year as head coach. “We were undefeated when we went into Pac-12 play (in 2016). This is not a new position for us. It’s just showing that we can stay hungry and humble and ready to go for the next game.”
The Ducks are hoping to sustain their strong start as they prepare for their Pac-12 opener against Utah at 7 p.m. Friday at Pape Field. They found reasons to be encouraged in nonconference play, including the breakout performance of junior Emma Eddy and strong play from senior Marissa Everett.
Everett’s goal helped Oregon beat Portland last Friday for its first victory against the Pilots in the program’s modern era. Two days later, Everett scored both goals in a 2-0 victory against Idaho.
“She is just a talented forward up top for us and really is a North Star for our team,” Mertz said of Everett, who was named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week. “When she’s flying high, our team loves to feed off her energy.”
As usual, the Ducks will face tough competition in the Pac-12. Stanford is ranked No. 1 in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, with USC at No. 3, UCLA at No. 8, Washington State at No. 14 and Colorado at No. 23.
The Ducks are receiving votes in the coaches poll and came in at No. 17 in the latest RPI. Though they rank in the middle of the Pac-12 in goals scored and goals allowed, they’ve performed well in close games and, according to Mertz, have developed chemistry that should carry into conference play.
After years of fighting up from the bottom of the Pac-12, there’s no doubt the Ducks are due for a breakthrough.
“What feels different is the team camaraderie, what they’re doing on and off the field and how they’re interacting with each other and the coaching staff,” Mertz said. “I think we have a hungry group.”