Starting her sixth season at the helm, Mertz has a mix of experience and youth that have her excited about Oregon’s prospects.
Home to the past two national champions – Stanford and USC – the Pac-12 will again be a monster but for the first time in her tenure, Mertz has reason to be optimistic the Ducks have the tools needed to compete with all comers.
Somewhat ironically, it was a players only practice that may be the cause for the change in tenor from years past when the concern was if the Ducks could find the back of the net frequently enough against the best competition in the country.
After a team retreat and before official practices began, the team assembled on their own at Pape` Field, chose up sides and had it for the first time as a unit.
“I didn’t want it to end,” was senior forward Marissa Everett’s recollection of the way the scrimmage unfolded. What is generally a casual affair quickly turned into a pedal-to-the-metal romp on the pitch with six goals and a sense of more to come.
“It was very exciting to see everyone on the field, everyone having fun, and making the most of it,” said senior keeper Halla Hinriksdottir.
“After the practice, I got little goosebumps,” said junior defender Alyssa Hinojosa. “Scoring that many, in a practice that was just for fun? I looked back and was like, ‘Wow, I think we have something going for us.’”
That new found offensive threat has the luxury of knowing the Oregon defense will be solid Senior Jazmin Jackson and Hinojosa along with Henriksdottir will anchor the back line. Senior Brianne Parsons adds experience to a position that will see a handful of freshman and redshirt freshman competing for time on the pitch.
In mid-field, the Ducks have only two seniors, Nicole Seaman and Sofia Chambers. Sophomore Chardonnay Curran brings international experience from her time with the US under-20 team.
Sixteen of Oregon’s 21 goals scored in 2017 return for Mertz, giving her more firepower at the forward position than she has enjoyed in the past. Everett, Kyra Fawcett, Jessica Yu, Bayley Bruner, Emma Eddy, Taylor Kuroda and Hannah Wilson are all either juniors or seniors. Eden Hardy is a sophomore and the Ducks welcome two freshmen, Zoe Hasenauer and local product Jordan Wormdahl.
Wormdahl is the first incoming freshman to join the program in spring – a practice far more common in football – and sang the praises of having a spring practice under her belt.
“It’s about time it came to the women’s game,” she said. “… it helped me a ton … being able to … kickstart that early chemistry that is so essential with a soccer team was so cool.”
As the season gets underway, Mertz will be looking to see that her side is “firing on all cylinders over the next couple of weeks” as they prepare to take on the rest of the Pac-12. “That Portland game (Sep 14 @ Merlo Field on the Portland campus) will be a good test for us.”
With defending champions Stanford and USC expected to fill the top slots of the table, the Ducks will be competing with California, Arizona and Colorado to separate themselves from the rest and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament, something Oregon has yet to accomplish.
In Stony Brook the Ducks will face the defending champion of the America East Conference and one of nine NCAA tournament teams the Ducks will face in the coming season. Clemson – another of those tournament teams will arrive for a 5:00 pm date on Sunday.
What would it take for the Ducks to join that club? “We just have to stay in the moment,” said Mertz. “And work at getting better every day, every practice, every drill.”