MOSCOW, Idaho – In the second practice of the new era Thursday, Vandals women’s soccer took a decidedly optimistic turn.
Senior forward Bridget Daley set up as a wing in a frenetic drill on a 30-yard pitch. A high, hard pass came toward her from across the field. She suddenly bent forward, standing on one foot. With her back foot raised high and kicking like a mule, she connected with the ball and directed it to the goal from about 10 yards out with enough velocity to send it forcefully into the net.
“That was pretty sweet,” new Idaho coach Jeremy Clevenger said. “I told her if she does that in a game, I’ll buy ice cream for the team that night.”
The Vandals are getting back to soccer following an offseason full of travail. In March, the team assembled before the University of Idaho student government to voice support for athletics director Rob Spear following complaints he did not adequately address sexual harassment and assault allegations against a former football player five years before. In April, the soccer players testified before the Idaho State Board of Education when they learned UI might eliminate soccer after this season because of an ongoing budget shortfall in athletics. Soon after, their coach, Derek Pittman, resigned to become the coach at the University of Texas San Antonio.
So balls, goals and the Kibbie Dome this week are a return to a welcome routine. In addition, Clevenger and Pittman speak the same coaching language, according to senior defender Kelly Dopke – start with good defense and attack off it.
“If we defend well, we can attack well,” Dopke said.
In practice, Clevenger made a point of the geometry of the game, the shape of the defense and the angles for offering defensive help. As players on offense tried to exploit sudden openings, defenders sought to smother such attacks before they got organized.
“Pressure the ball immediately. Do it as a group,” Clevenger said.
With eight seniors and 10 returning starters, the Vandals are a mature, disciplined team, well set up to carry out Clevenger’s style of play.
“They have a great ability to work hard as a team, together,” Clevenger said. “One of my philosophies is culture. You need to win together.”
Idaho finished 8-9-2 last year but won its last three games. Before that, the Vandals won back-to-back Big Sky Conference regular-season championships.
“I know this group has a conference championship in the back of their mind,” Clevenger said. “We’ve talked about it as an achievable goal.
“I got handed a good situation. A rebuilding project is not the case here. This is a very good team with a junior- and senior-led roster.”
Clevenger comes to Idaho from Northern Iowa, where he was an assistant. The threat to Idaho’s program has not been lifted, but the State Board of Education gave the university a year to show it can balance its athletics budget by adding three new nonscholarship sports and counting the tuition and fees paid by participants as athletics revenue. Clevenger has also been given a three-year contract.
“The team has a great reputation throughout the university and the community,” Clevenger said.
“I fell in love with the University of Idaho and Moscow,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how I felt about playing in a dome.”
The Vandals, for the second year, continue to have the distinction of being the only college soccer program to play games indoors.
“Since I’ve gotten here and seen the facility, I think our game-day experience will be one of the best for midmajors in the country,” Clevenger said. “This is a cool setting for a Division I game.”
Even more so if Daley takes her dramatic goal-scoring from practice to games.
“I tried a bicycle kick in a game,” she said. “That didn’t go so well.
“I’ve done (the back kick) before, just goofing around. If it’s set up for me perfectly, I’ll try it in a game.”
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