HOUGHTON - With the Michigan Tech soccer team set to begin Sept. 1 at Minnesota-Crookston, Huskies head coach Michelle Jacob has stamped down two very specific goals for her team to improve on in the third year of the program's history.
She wants more attacking play. And she wants it to last longer.
Out of their practiced 4-3-3 formation, Jacob would like to improve on last year's 1.7 goals per game average with increased offensive pressure from the midfield and fullbacks.
Michigan Tech’s Janelle Riedl vies with an Ashland player for a loose ball during their game Sept. 30, 2011. The third season of Husky soccer begins Sept. 1 at Minnesota-Crookston. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"We are looking to get more numbers up this year," Jacob said.
"We are looking for our outside backs to get forward in the attack and be able to play either diagonal balls to the weakside forward or slotted through balls to the forwards. I think also you will see our offensive mids joining the attack and making runs. Last year we had too much 'get the ball to the forwards and let them play with it,' type of movement. This year we want everyone in on the attack."
To do that, requires an attitude change and a physical one.
The team's overall stamina - especially from the midfield and fullbacks - needed to improve to allow the more aggressive system to be effective. Putting more bodies forward in attack wouldn't help much if those same bodies couldn't stand the rigors of a 90-minute match.
Hence, Jacob changed up the offseason conditioning program she had used the first two years. Instead of simply "staying fit" the team was put through soccer-specific - and more demanding - drills to improve conditioning for the 17-game slog ahead.
"We have made some changes to our strength and conditioning program and I think that we have more endurance and more quickness and just more mobility now than we did last year," Jacob said. "I expect us to be strong through all 90 minutes."
Jacob has been able to demand more of her returning players than in the first two seasons and much of that ability comes from the fact that for the first time ever, she has upperclassmen she can rely on.
Eight juniors fill out Tech's roster and with them come all the benefits that such experience can bestow.
"We have worked the last two years on our formation and how to create runs and how to create scoring opportunities and we are more advanced in what we are doing," Jacob said.
"The juniors that have been here for three years provide leadership. We now have a support system for any questions the younger players might have,"?she added. "They (the juniors) know how to work hard and know how to practice right. It just rubs off on everyone."
That experience also has allowed Jacob to be comfortable while coaching a more attacking system.
In juniors Jenna Proctor and MacKenzie Jordon, Jacob knows she has two centerbacks who can clean up a lot of messes that inevitably come with throwing more bodies forward offensively.
"They do make it easier because they just provide us security back there," Jacob said. "You have to trust each other, you have to know what the other is doing - when one steps, the other has to drop, that kind of thing - and they are like clockwork with that."
For the rest of the lineup, however, nothing is set in stone. Even leading returning scorer Katie Boardman (seven goals, six assists in 17 games last season), will have to re-earn her place on the field.
Jacob wants to emphasize that the process matters, and those who show up best in practice will be the ones playing in the games.
"We are narrowing it down, but every day we tell the girls in practice that they have to earn their shirt," Jacob said. "They need to keep working hard in practice and they need to show us what they can do. We have some good ideas (for who will start), but at anytime that can change."
Tech finished 7-9-1 last year and 7-10 the first year of the program.
The path to a positive record will be the more attacking one, Jacob believes.
But she hasn't put it in those terms.
"I don't really look at things like that," Jacob said. "Obviously the last two years we have kind of been about the same and we want to build upon that. The record isn't so important to me as what we produce. Obviously the record comes into play but I just want to go home knowing that we did our best and that we showed them good soccer out there."