FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas soccer team opened its 2008 preseason camp Wednesday with two training sessions at Razorback Field. The team reported to the UA campus Tuesday for meetings, but returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first time since the spring.
The two workouts—one morning and one afternoon—included agility and weight-room. The morning session concluded with the Razorbacks splitting into four teams for 7-on-7 games. During the afternoon session, the team participated in an 11-on-11 game. Head coach Gordon Henderson was pleased with the effort put forth by his team on day one.
“We did three of our five core tests,” Henderson said. “About 60 or 70 percent of the team had personal bests in all the tests, so that clearly shows they’ve worked hard this summer. A lot of them are getting back from injuries from last year, so they’ve been working hard knowing they have an awful lot to prove.”
Senior defender Sarah Gwisdala, one of five seniors for Arkansas this season, said it was fun to get back to work with the team. Gwisdala, Megan Fawley, Kathleen Paulsen and Abbey Wilburn will serve as the captains for the 2008 Razorback soccer team.
“I think everyone is really excited to be back out here,” Gwisdala said. “We’ve had a long time off from playing soccer. A lot of the girls who are returning haven’t touched the ball in awhile so it was a little rough at first, but we started to get into it. The freshmen look great and I think we’re going to have a good team.”
Henderson and his coaching staff will use the next two weeks leading up to Arkansas’ season-opener to evaluate and put the team in the best position to win. With an incoming class of eight players—six freshmen and two transfers—Henderson said the team will use the preseason to learn, improve and get to know each other.
“We’re counting things in segments of four,” Henderson said. “We’re going to have four training sessions and then evaluate on the field. This will let us know if we need to advance or re-address some things. Obviously, you want to get your defense sorted out first of all.
“There are two systems of play we’ll use this year, so for the returning players, it’s just an extension of work we started in the spring, but for our eight new players, that’s a lot of new stuff to learn. We’ll have to pick it all up as quick as we can.”
Paulsen, echoing the sentiments of her head coach, thinks the next two weeks will be important for team chemistry.
“We’re just going to work on meshing together,” Paulsen said. “It was starting to look good, but there are still a couple of things we need to fix, in terms of formation, and once we get that down as a cohesive group, it’ll be great.”
After the two-session workout, junior midfielder Sophie Wentz says the amount of work put in on the first day is just an indication of what’s to come over the next two weeks as the Razorbacks prepare for their season opener. She was also named the player of the day for her work in testing sessions and on the field during games. Defender Lauren Hallauer also stood out for Henderson.
“Players that tested well were Sophie and our transfer from Ohio State, Lauren Hallauer,” Henderson said. “It’s not just the testing, but it’s also how they played on the field. Those two stood out in terms of the consistency they had in all three of the tests and how they transferred that to the field.”
Bentonville, Ark., native Kelly O’Connor missed the final eight games last season with a torn ACL, but is looking to put that behind her. With a group of exciting newcomers and a deep bench, O’Connor expects the Razorbacks to compete for the conference crown. Personally, she is willing to do whatever the team needs her to do in order to have a successful season.
“I couldn’t be happier to be back out here playing with these girls,” O’Connor said. “They’re my family and my team. I went out to Virginia this summer and worked hard and got to play, so I’m ready to go. I’ll play wherever coach wants me to play. If I’m up top, hopefully, I’ll be scoring goals and if I’m in the midfield, hopefully, I’ll be distributing well.”
Henderson was happy with what he saw from the sophomore midfielder on day one.
“I think Kelly O’Connor had a very good day,” Henderson said. “I definitely know she was chomping at the bit to get back on the field because she was one of the ones injured last year with a torn ACL. She was off to heck of start during her freshman year with six goals in the first 12 games. She probably would have had a shot at the SEC Freshman of the Year, but things happen so she’s definitely one out here with something to prove.”
Arkansas is scheduled to return to the pitch Thursday for more field and weight testing. The team’s first 11-on-11 game for evaluation is set for Friday night. It will be the first of four game-like evaluations for the team during preseason workouts.
The Razorbacks will take on Missouri St. in their season opener Aug. 22 in Springfield, Mo., with a 7 p.m. start time. Log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com for continued coverage of Arkansas soccer.