Dec. 15, 2010
By: Robert Ivory
Looking back at the 2010 women's soccer season at Cleveland State, it is easy to see that the biggest change from the previous years was who they were.
"Something fundamentally had to change," head coach Derrek Falor admitted. "There was an emphasis for me in the offseason to look at how were we recruiting, how we were training on and off the field, are were we giving the kids the right information about nutrition. We looked at everything."
Falor even went as far as changing the face of the program, switching providers of jerseys, soccer balls, and warm-ups.
"What we tried to do was present a completely new twist on everything that we did," Falor said. "I think that resulted in a completely new level of commitment from each player. That's where some of the fundamental changes happened."
The change truly showed in just the first month of the season, as the Vikings, who were aided by a five-game home stand, were unbeaten in their first six matches, including a draw with local rival Kent State.
"We fully committed to a 4-4-2," Falor said. "In the past couple of years we played back-and-forth based on the component. We realized we couldn't go and match what the opponent did, because we have no identity."
Finding themselves was the biggest challenge of 2010.
"We created an identity," Falor said. "There were times when I wanted to stray from [the 4-4-2] to neutralize the opponent, but then we leave the kids thinking, `who are we?' I think that is what impressed the defensive improvement right there."
The defense truly held together as senior Jessica McCloy led the backline to some impressive numbers. The Vikings gave up just 25 goals (just 1.32 a game) on the year, as well as helping senior goalie Kelly Zinkiewich record seven shutouts en route to earning first team all-league accolades and Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Zinkiewich and teammate Natalie Daniels became the first players in program history to earn a selection to the all-league first team.
"I think that gave us a little more bite," Falor said. "Now everybody knew where they were supposed to be, the rotations were better, and there was a comfort level with shape.
"We never felt that there were more than a couple teams on the schedule that were so dangerous that we had no answer. The defending came from being more mature."
Starting in all 19 matches, Zinkiewich logged 1,701 minutes in net, allowed 22 goals with 92 saves. For her, 2010 was a special year as she broke several CSU single-season records in shutouts, goals against average (1.16), save percentage (.807), and minutes.
"A lot of that [success] is Kelly," Falor said of his goalkeeper. "She kept us in games that would we would have found a way to let the ball go past us in the past."
With the defense at its peak in the program's history, the Vikings finished the year 5-3 in league play and 9-8-2 overall.
"When you look at it numerically, its ridiculous to think what the progress has been," Falor said of the allowance of goals from his first year (2004) to the 2010 season. In his first year, the team gave up a whopping 95 goals, but limited teams to just 25 last year.
"It has been a gentle decline," Falor said. "That's why we were competitive. When you look at that, the goal total is almost right where it needs to be."
The defense was a nice surprise to the ear, but it was refined and created much respect as it was one of the best defenses in the league.
"We used to be scrappy and kids would dive all over," Falor said. "It was not because we were dirty, it was everybody trying to play hard. This is quality defending and goalkeeping."
Falor looked at one specific stat as to the success of the Viking defense. The team gave up just 20 assists, compared to 34 the year before.
"That tells me that it is taking an individual effort from an opponent to break us down," Falor said. "There are some issues there that I think we addressed pretty well."
Not only does that stat mean that teams had to work harder to score on the Vikings, but CSU possessed the ball more, creating more chances in their offensive end.
"Ultimately, if we have the ball, they can't score," Falor said. "You can't defend better and not have the ball, because you are under siege. There was an emphasis on possession and building out of the back more.'
Although the Vikings defense was at its top form, Falor knew that the offense was not where it needed to be.
"We had changed fitness, we changed commitment, we changed defending mentality, we changed possession, but we did not change dangerous offensive opportunity."
The offensive production did double its production from a year before, but the score sheet was chalked up with Daniels' name.
After scoring just six points in 2009 (two goals and two assists), Daniels notched 23 points scoring nine and assisting on five, setting the CSU single season record for goals and points.
"The identity is that we have the ball, we work hard to get it, and we will work hard to break somebody down," Falor said.
"Ultimately this becomes a great change of mindset," Falor added. "Now the mentality is that the team is going to go out on the field and say, `yes we can' and this is how we are going to get it done."
"We never had that before."