The Truman State University women’s soccer season kicks off this Saturday as the Bulldogs host the Missouri University of Science & Technology Miners at Bulldog Soccer Park.
It has been 473 days since the team took the field in a competitive setting after the Great Lakes Valley Conference moved the 2020 season to this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the players and coaches are grateful and excited they get to finally play a season.
“I think everyone’s really excited to play a game against another team other than just scrimmaging against ourselves in practice,” Forward Chance Douglass said.
Douglass said having the chance to get back on the field has been a big motivation for herself and the team.
Douglass mentioned one of the most significant differences between this past off-season and the preseason was the absence of scrimmages. Typically, the team plays a couple of scrimmage games against other teams. However, in response to COVID-19, the team resorted to in-house workouts.
Midfielder Paige Peterson said the team focused more on lifting and conditioning during the time off. Peterson added that the off-season was a lot different due to the timing of the pandemic.
“Last spring when everything got shut down we hadn’t been able to play any other team yet,” Peterson said. “And then we came back in the fall and weren’t able to practice until October.”
Peterson said it was almost like having two short off-seasons.
Head Coach Mike Cannon said practicing indoors, especially this spring, has been different. He explained time restrictions and playing surfaces vary because several sports are in action right now.
Cannon said basketball courts don’t match up to the grass soccer field they play and usually practice on. Due to the indoor courts’ size, Cannon explained they haven’t been able to have full team scrimmages, and the ball moves quite differently.
Cannon said the situation would be like telling the basketball team to play on half the court but replace the hardwood with grass or turf.
Despite the challenges this off-season and preseason, Cannon said he and his team are ready to put their best foot forward for the spring season.
Cannon is entering his 28th season as the head coach of the women’s soccer team and has had his fair share of success. Cannon said he attributes the majority of the success to his players.
“We get good kids, I think all of our sports do,” Cannon said. “You know our kids are pretty focused, they work hard in the classroom and that translates onto the field.”
Cannon added his players all want to contribute to the team, be successful and still get the best grades in their classes.
Cannon said with the amount of time he has been at Truman, he has established a consistent program to get players involved and doesn’t intend to leave the program any time soon.
Peterson said having a coach like Cannon is valuable because he has so much knowledge of the game.
“Everything he says you just want to soak in and listen to because you know he knows what he’s doing,” Peterson said.
Having been here so long and having had so much success, whether he’s telling you to work on something or explaining something, you should be listening, Peterson noted.
Peterson explained that Cannon is a great person to work with and be around. Peterson noted that this also gives her and her teammates the motivation to win for Cannon.
Douglass echoed this sentiment. While Cannon possesses a wealth of knowledge, he still keeps that positive family environment within the program, Douglass said.
“He really treats us like we’re his kids, like we’re all a big family,” Douglass said. “He always checks in on us to see if we have injuries or how school’s going.”
Douglass said Cannon brings lots of positivity and cares about his players both on and off the field.
Going into this season, Cannon said the biggest goal is to finish the season and stay healthy. Cannon continued by saying you don’t have to look far to see a decent amount of postponements or pauses.
“Obviously not just Truman sports, but you look at professional sports, college sports and all the teams that are going into quarantine,” Cannon said. “We’re going to try and avoid that if we can.”
Cannon said while they can’t control everything, they’re going to do their best to avoid any pauses in the season.
Cannon said the team wants to be successful and win games, especially for the seniors who usually would be focusing more on post-college life at this point. Cannon added that his seniors have all stepped up as leaders on the team despite the abnormal senior year.
Cannon said the seniors are giving their best to the team, and he wants to make sure he and the rest of the team provide the seniors with the best possible season.
One of those seniors, Peterson, said one of the team’s big goals is to gain momentum early in the year. Peterson said last season the team got off to a slower start but hopes they can get off to a strong one this season.
“Even though we haven’t gotten to play any other teams in a year and a half, it’s just to try and start strong so we don’t have to play catch up later in the season,” Peterson said.
Peterson said she hopes this can help the teamwork toward the ultimate goal of winning the conference.
Douglass and Peterson both said making sure the team plays simply is something they’ve focused on during the extended preseason.
Douglass said playing simple has resulted in a lot of their success in recent years. Douglass noted this style of play results in fewer free kicks and ultimately better results.
Peterson said sticking to their play style is important as is moving the ball around quickly to force their style onto the other team.
“It’s just trying to play that ball when it’s on, but also not force it and make my teammates run or give the ball to the other team when we could just play it around the back again or swing it out wide,” Peterson said.
Peterson said ultimately this is to help keep possessions longer and avoid what she said Cannon calls the home-run pass.
Despite the areas of improvement on the team, Peterson said it’s going to take more than just that to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the conference. Peterson said there is a lot of uncertainty for this season and they will have to try finding some form of consistency.
“I think it’s just trying to push through and keep a positive outlook and just stay consistent,” Peterson said. “Because whoever wins is going to be the team that can adapt the best to everything going on right now.”