Coming off its best season in a decade and with a freshmen class more highly regarded than any that have come before them, the Oregon women’s soccer team has laid out an ambitious plan for the 2019 season.
The Ducks don’t just want to build on last season’s success, they want to make history.
“Our goal is to be the first team in program history to get to the tournament,” seventh-year coach Kat Mertz said.
For a program that has had just one winning season and five non-losing seasons since its resurrection in 1996, making the NCAA Tournament come November will be a significant and difficult task.
Doing it with a first-time starter in goal and without its top scorer from 2018 will make it even tougher.
But for Mertz, if Oregon isn’t playing for a spot in the postseason, then what’s the point?
“We had that real conversation in the spring … ‘What are we doing? And what’s our why? And what is the purpose of this team?’” said Mertz, whose team opens the season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Fresno State before a 1 p.m. game at No. 13 Santa Clara on Friday. “If we can all understand that our team goal is to be the first team in program history to get into the NCAA Tournament, then everything else will be OK.”
The Ducks went 9-9-1 last season, including 3-8-0 in the Pac-12, making it the 21st time in 22 years they failed to win more than three games during conference play. Still, it was their best overall record since going 9-9-2 in 2008, and one win shy of posting their first winning record since going 12-6-2 in 2006.
Oregon lost nine seniors from its 2018 team, including a trio of notable players.
Goalkeeper Halla Hinriksdottir, who started 65 games in her four seasons, finished her career with the second-most wins (24) in program history, the second-lowest goals-against average (1.23), tied for the second-most shutouts (16) and with the fifth-most saves (208).
Forward Marissa Everett was the team’s leading scorer with eight goals and earlier this summer she became the first former Oregon player to get a goal in an NWSL game when she scored in a game for the Portland Thorns.
Defender Jazmin Jackmon also became the first Duck to get drafted by the NWSL when she went in the third round and 21st overall to Houston.
Among the returning players, only senior forward Emma Eddy and junior midfielder Chardonnay Curran contributed to the Ducks’ 21 goals last season. Eddy had six scores and one assist, Curran had two goals and three assists.
If last Saturday’s 2-1 exhibition win against British Columbia was any indication, there are several players eager to shoulder the load on offense this season. Junior forward Eden Hardy and sophomore forward Jordan Wormdahl combined to take six of Oregon’s 15 shots and capped their aggressive performances when Hardy scored the game-winner in the 82nd minute off an assist from Wormdahl.
The Ducks’ first goal of the game involved two members of their talented nine-player freshmen class, which was ranked 17th nationally by Top Drawer Soccer.
Freshman midfielder Sakura Yoshida passed out of a corner kick to junior defender Mia Palmer, who sent a ball into the box that freshman forward Ally Cook headed into the net from 13 yards out for a 1-0 lead in the 27th minute.
“Obviously we just want to keep the same momentum we had from last year and the spring and we want to also bring along the freshmen that we have coming in,” said sophomore midfielder Zoe Hasenauer, who led Oregon with five assists in 2018. “To see them step into that role right away was really cool. They really took it on head on.”
Cook and Yoshida both started Saturday, as did 5-foot-10 freshman defender Croix Soto, an early enrollee who is expected to establish a formidable back line along with senior Alyssa Hinojosa, who played every minute of the 2018 season.
“Absolutely we need the freshmen class to step up right away,” Mertz said. “They all bring a different level of professionalism. These kids want to all go play pro. So it’s fun. It’s fun to see the training, they’re staying after, they’e doing film, and I think everyone has elevated their play at practice.”
Replacing Hinriksdottir could prove to be more challenging.
Senior Katelyn Carter has appeared in 17 games in her career as Hinriksdottir’s backup, and is 5-4-1 with 33 saves. Sophomore Charlotte Brisley didn’t see action last season.
Both played against British Columbia, with Carter getting the start. She didn’t face a shot in the exhibition, but Brisley, who played in the second half, made a save and allowed a goal.
“The two have been doing a really good job of making it hard for us,” Mertz said. “We will play them both (this) week and we will make that deciding factor as we get into that. But they both want that starting spot.”
Oregon's home opener is Aug. 30 against Portland State. The Pac-12 opener is Sept. 27 against Washington in Seattle. The Ducks also have home games against No. 3 Stanford on Oct. 13, No. 5 USC on Oct. 31 and No. 4 UCLA on Nov. 3