Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cardinal soccer hungry for improvement

By Nick Bravos
Sports Editor

In his first season as Saint Mary’s University’s men’s head soccer coach, Pete Watkins implemented the same coaching philosophies he used during his eight years at Aurora University, where he accumulated a 101-48-13 overall record.

In 2003, Watkins inherited a 1-19 Aurora Spartan program. Throughout his time with the Spartans, his focus was on recruiting quality players with winning mentalities.

“It’s a players’ game,” Watkins said. During the recruitment process, he said he looks into players’ backgrounds and what programs the players are affiliated with to see if the programs are competitive or not.

“It’s hard to turn on the switch of competitiveness if they don’t come from a club that’s known for that,” Watkins said. “The mold we’re looking for is an overall athlete who will put the time in, especially in the off-season, who will go above and beyond.”

Attacking soccer 12 months out of the year should be a staple for the team, not an exception for one or two players, Watkins said.

“It’s that culture shift; we want players who are hungry to get out and get better.”

The “hunger” described by Watkins sparked internal competition between players for spots this season. Watkins started players who showed potential in practices in terms of overall performance and hard work, said junior mid-fielder Jacob Bina.

“This gave other people the opportunities to prove themselves not only to Watkins but to the rest of the team,” Bina said. “This also made the team more competitive in a way that helped overall, because we knew that we had depth.”

Watkins also implemented many new aspects of team coordination to help jump-start the inherited 2-16 program.

Compared to former coach Dembiec’s 4-4-2 formation, Watkins’ 4-1-4-1 formation took into account different strategies of play that he thought would best fit the team’s abilities.

Watkins used the “poor man’s blanket” analogy to describe formations in soccer. While using a new formation to cover one problem, new problems are often uncovered.

Watkins also conducted position-specific practices featuring drills designed to accommodate the different roles of offensive, mid-field, defensive and goalie positions.

“Another nice addition to this year was that the goalies had their own practices,” Bina said. “These occurred before regular practices, so they would have practices that were twice as long as the rest of the team. The team could tell the goalies were learning much more than in previous years.”

Watkins also implemented regeneration practices for high-minute players. Players who could expect high minutes of game time would split off from those who saw no or low game time and do 25 minutes of cardio and core work.

“This helped a lot with building back our legs,” Bina said.

Players who could expect no to low minutes of game time would continue to fight for game spots in an 8 vs. 8 scrimmage.

Watkins’ ended his first season with an overall 2-13-2 record. He said that it was “disappointing to lose those five games in overtime,” but that the team did manage to steal a 3-2 conference win against Concordia College, whereas the team went winless in conference play last season.

“We were competitive in most games, which is something that is nice to see, because the future looks bright for the program,” Bina said. “It was an overall good first building year for Watkins and the team, even if the record doesn’t show it.”

“An immediate goal for next year is to be 500, then after that to compete in the MIAC tournament,” Watkins said. One of his overarching goals for the program is to earn respect in the soccer community, not just in Winona, but regionally in the MIAC as an on-the-rise program.

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