AU women’s soccer changes mentality with new coaching staff and upcoming season

AU is celebrating the small victories this year, starting with the kickoff of a new season

AU women’s soccer changes mentality with new coaching staff and upcoming season
Women's soccer head coach Marsha Harper at practice.

When American University women’s soccer takes the field this Saturday, it will be the start of a new chapter for the program. First-year head coach Marsha Harper and first-year assistant coach Katie Greenberg will begin their Eagle careers and start the 2021 season — an event that has been a long time coming.

“We're excited for any and everything that comes our way,” Harper said. “We feel like our team is eager and excited to be able to start to put together some of the pieces that we've been working on. We are obviously a new team, new coaching staff, new philosophy, so I think both our coaching staff and our players alike are excited to see that begin to unfold.”

Last season, the Eagles finished 6-8-4 overall and 1-4-4 in the conference, rounding out at the bottom of the Patriot League. AU will look to turn the tides with the addition of four freshmen and one transfer student, and relying on 10 returning sophomores with more experience under their belts. Fisayo Iluyomade, Alysa Vazquez and Emily Smith, who all scored multiple goals last season, will return for the Eagles this year.

The highly anticipated season will include just six games, one game every Friday or Saturday through the middle of April with the Patriot League Tournament to follow. This schedule will take the place of the traditional slate of fall soccer games, which were canceled due to the pandemic.

Though the Patriot League is playing a shortened season, the Eagles are viewing each game as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and step up their play from the last season. Each game is unique, so each of the six games will serve as part of the collective whole of the season for this new coaching staff and program. 

When Harper was hired as head coach in December 2019, she knew that offensive production was an area that needed improvement. After scoring just 19 goals in 18 games in 2019, Harper and Greenberg now will look to change things up in hopes of seeing the results pay off on the scoreboard. 

Some of those changes have come from the culture shift that the new coaches brought to the program. By implementing a higher standard of performance and consistency in repetition, Harper and Greenberg are shifting the mentality and bringing about a new level of confidence among the athletes to help them win games this season. 

“We're really focusing on turning up our mentality to being one that's truly relentless, and one that cares about the details and understands why exactly the details matter,” Harper said. “We're telling them about all the little details, what we call the championship details, or CDs, as we call them for short.”

Those CDs include pushing players to their best on the practice field and making sure their “toes are behind the line” for instance, but they also include building strong bonds and trust between teammates. The extended offseason that included numerous complexities and teachable moments helped bring the team together, and the unity of this group on a personal level will hopefully translate to strong performances and unity on the field. 

“We have a collection of women that believe in themselves, and therefore believe in their sisters, and their woman next to them … that’s where the unity comes into play,” Harper said.

The new chapter of AU women’s soccer begins this Saturday when they take on Lehigh University from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at 5:30 p.m.

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