Seeing that Major League Soccer starts its season in February or March may put some under the impression that collegiate soccer would follow the same timeline, when in fact it does not.
In fact, much like the top European soccer leagues, the collegiate soccer scene in the U.S. gets underway in the fall, and, for the Miami University RedHawks in particular, the season started with a tight contest at home with Austin Peay State University on Aug. 18.
So, if you feel like being caught out, here is a preview of what Miami soccer may have in store:
Since its birth in 1997, the Miami women’s soccer team has only ever had three head coaches, one of whom lasted a single season.
Between 1997 and 2016 Bobby Kramigwas the head coach. Over 20 years, Kramig has led the RedHawks to four Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championships with the most recent coming in 2012. Miami’s recently constructed soccer complex is named after Kramig.
When Hugh Seyfarth was interim head coach in 2017, Miami slumped to an 11th place conference finish with a single conference win. Courtney Sirmans succeeded Seyfarth the following year and has been working on building the program up since.
Chemistry, old and new
Prior to rising to Miami’s helm, Sirmans amassed an impressive playing and coaching portfolio. After graduating from University of Dayton (UD) in 2008, for whom she played soccer on a collegiate level, Sirmans coached at Wright State, returned to UD and then set off to coach at University of Massachusetts and Rice University.
Along Sirmans’ side are associate head coach Ben Williams, appointed initially as assistant coach in 2021, and Roberto Gallegos who joined earlier this year. The chemistry is even better, more so than when Williams and Gallegos have had experience working as well as playing with each other.
On a collegiate level, the two sided together on the Oklahoma Wesleyan University men’s soccer team. Professionally, Williams and Gallegos joined forces as coaches for the AHFC Royals in the Women’s Premier Soccer League and as Girls’ directors for Albion Hurricanes FC.
Years of patiently building to pay off
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After finishing second-to-last in her first couple of seasons, Sirmans led the RedHawks to a third place finish (in the Eastern division) in 2020 with four conference wins. Even though Miami dropped to seventh in 2021, they scored more (16 in 2021 versus 10 in 2020) and conceded less (16 in 2021 versus 17 in 2020) having played more games (11 in 2021 versus eight in 2020).
In 2021, the RedHawks welcomed nine incoming players and, in 2022, eight. Such a substantial turnover in a 30-player-line in the span of two years may signal overhaul. However, thanks to the prudent planning and management over the previous years, this will not be the case: The RedHawks have been able to avoid over-reliance on the senior classes and, instead, handed opportunities to first-years and sophomores.
In the COVID-wrecked 2020 season, among the seven players that started all eight games, while there were no seniors, there were a couple of first-years. And, looking at the eight players who featured in all 19 games in 2021, there were three first-years compared to one senior.
Such patience is bound to pay off, given the experience that the upperclassmen now have under their belt going into the 2022 season.
Spectators will get to see senior defender Kennedy Gray causing chaos on the wing, junior midfielder Haley Anspach feeding in teammates for goals while fellow junior midfielder Camber Hayes anchors the midfield. Assurance in goal will come from welcoming back senior Izzie Vaccari for her fifth year, shielded by sophomore defender Mercedes Schroer and senior defender Bronwen Sears.
And, if the past couple of years have taught us anything about Miami Soccer, it would be to expect some freshmen to make a mark, for how trusting Sirmans is in her recruits.
After exhibition games with heavyweight opponents Indiana University and University of Kentucky, the RedHawks have built the sharpness needed to enter the season. Also, since MAC play does not begin until late September, Miami still has time to make tweaks, whether tactically or otherwise.
Finishing ahead of Bowling Green State University, who has won each of the last four MAC Championships, may be a little far-fetched, but the RedHawks can better their 5-6-0 record and seventh-place finish from 2021.
With the team’s pre-existing chemistry and individual experience, not to mention the proven faith in new recruits, Miami can push for a spot in the MAC Tournament and maybe even finish runner-ups.
Having had a win, a loss and a draw to start the season, the RedHawks will be on the road for the next three games before heading home to host Marshall University on Sept. 11. These will be some challenging first tests for Miami as they seek to, with the prowess of a couple maturing classes of athletes, seek to re-establish themselves in the conference.