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Tough Early Schedule Pays Dividends for Women’s Soccer Squad

September 21, 2012

Samantha Merlotti  
Samantha Merlotti (right) is one of 13 freshmen on the
STLCC women's soccer team this fall. After a tough
start, the Archers have reeled off five straight wins
heading into Saturday's road match at Northeastern
Oklahoma A&M.

St. Louis Community College women’s soccer coach Juergen Huettner knew the schedule he was assembling this past offseason had the potential to knock his team back on its heels early on.

The 2012 slate began with the season opener on the road against Lewis and Clark Community College, followed by a pair of games in Florida, also against quality opponents.

The scheduling was a departure from last season’s early-season strategy, which saw STLCC outscore its first four opponents a combined 22-3. However, last year also ended in postseason disappointment for the Archers. And with a large, talented freshman class, Huettner determined it was time for a change.

So out were Coffeyville and Independence community colleges. In their place were Broward College and Brevard Community College. Brevard, which defeated the Archers 4-0 in the season’s first week, is currently ranked third nationally.

Initially, Huettner and his young team struggled with the early schedule. In addition to the loss to Brevard, the Archers opened the season with a 5-0 loss to Lewis and Clark, and tied Broward 1-1. Outscored 10-1 and winless three games into the season, few would have been surprised if the freshman-laden Archers made a slow progression while licking their wounds upon their return from the two-game trip to Florida.

However, the return to St. Louis prompted a very different reaction. Per Huettner’s expectation, the grueling schedule to open the season was perhaps the best thing to happen to this team in the first half of the season.
Since returning, the Archers haven’t lost a game, winning five consecutive contests and outscoring their opponents 16-3. The defensive struggles that plagued the team against Brevard and Lewis and Clark have been shored up, with three shutouts included during the five-game winning streak.

Coming of Age

Surely, this team would have found success regardless of whom they played early on. Huettner ranks this team among his most talented, either at STLCC-Forest Park, or with the districtwide program in the last two seasons. But to Huettner, the speed at which the Archers were forced to improve and mature is directly related to the competition and adversity his team faced right away.

“I take it back to us changing the schedule this year,” Huettner said. “A lot of people probably looked at it, and it knocked a lot of people back on the ground. It made people realize we have to work hard in practice. We did that, and now we’re starting to cash in on instantly playing strong opponents. It pays off now.”

Does it ever.

With the influx of 13 freshmen on this year’s roster, contributions from the team’s more youthful players were inevitable. However, the speed at which that group has matured and adapted to the collegiate game has been eye-opening.

Freshman forward Jessica Smugala (Seckman), who was held without a single goal through the season’s first six games, emerged offensively last week with hat tricks in consecutive games. Taylor Giese (Seckman) has scored four goals. Fellow freshman forwards Donna Jolliff (Seckman), Julia Medina (Nerinx Hall) and Samantha Merlotti (Brentwood) scored their first collegiate goals last week.

Communication and Confidence

For Jolliff, the difference of two weeks is all about confidence.

“Our team has just communicated really well,” Jolliff said. “We’ve meshed together, we know how we play. It’s great to know that we have so many people on the field who can get the job done, so we don’t worry on the field.”

Much of that communication can be attributed to that first week, as the team worked, traveled, struggled and then built themselves back up together. They now find themselves beneficiaries of their early-season struggles.

“It would have been scary if they would have come back and lost,” Huettner said. “Then it would have been a problem. But to be pulling out those wins, you’re instantly going to progress so quickly. Right now, they don’t even care that they’re freshmen, or that they’re young. Now they know that they can play. And the next time they lose a game – and the next loss is always right around the corner – now  it’s a lot easier to make them believe that they can check a game off and move on to the next win. It’s a lot easier for a coach to make them believe.”

With five straight wins, the Archers are having no trouble believing now, and they need to look no further than where they came from since Week 1 to find the reason why.