KU Soccer takes part in Fall Sports Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas head soccer coach Mark Francis discussed his 2018 squad at length during the fall sport media day, which combined the Kansas volleyball, cross country and soccer programs. Francis discussed all aspects of the team that returns seven starters and adds 11 newcomers this season. Following an opening statement, Francis, now in his 20th season at the helm at KU, along with senior forward Grace Hagan and junior forward Katie McClure held a question-and-answer session with those media outlets in attendance.
The Jayhawks open their 2018 season this Friday, Aug. 19 versus Pepperdine at Rock Chalk Park. A full transcript from Francis and the soccer student athletes is below.
MARK FRANCIS: Thanks, guys, for being here. We appreciate it. Really excited about this group this year. I think after the adversity of last year with so many players out injured before the season even started, I think this year, all of those players are back, Miriam (Melugin), Anna (Courtney), Mandi (Duggan), Kailey (Lane) and Lauren (Breshears), so we have five of the six are back, and 100 percent, which is awesome.
And then we have a big new group. We have 10 or 11 newcomers, we have 10 freshman and one transfer. So we have a lot of new faces this year.
Having said that, we return eight starters from last year’s team. So I think a lot of experience, and aside from the eight returning starters, we have a lot of returning players that played a lot of minutes. I was just looking at this stats thing, and like Anna Courtney, Taylor Christie, they played in all our games last year. I think players like that are going to come back and give us some really good experience to add to the very, very talented freshman group.
It’s the biggest class, I think, I’ve ever had since I’ve been here, and our squad this year is the biggest we’ve ever had. We have 30 on the team, which is a lot for us, although if you look around the country, that’s about an average size for a squad.
Preseason is going really well. I think one of the things, when you have a third of the team brand new, actually a little bit more than 30 percent brand new, one of the things is just creating an identity as a group, like who are we as a team with so many new guys, and I think the returners, these two sitting next to me and all the returners, I think in the summer was when it really started because almost all of our freshmen were here all summer, so I think it gave them an idea of kind of what to expect, and I think the returners did a really good job of just instilling what our culture is on the new group.
When the culture is going bold by August 1st, I think the transition was relatively easy for most of the freshmen in terms of transitioning into training because they’ve been doing it for a couple of months, so I think that really helps. I think Ali Kershner, our strength coach, did a phenomenal job and her staff in the summer. The kids look really fit, so that’s a credit to them.
We haven’t done a fitness — since Ali took over our strength and conditioning program, we haven’t done a fitness test during preseason since she took over because we haven’t needed to because they’re here in the summer and we know they’re going to be fit.
So excited. The exhibition game I think gave us a chance to play a lot of different people, kind of look at some different people. We’re playing a little bit of a different formation this year. We did it all spring and had a lot of success with it in the spring in anticipation of us utilizing that formation this fall based on the personnel that we have. I thought it went very well. So there was a lot of buy-in from the players, just from the feedback we got after the spring, and I think now it’s just a reminder for the returners of how to play that system, and then the new players, obviously the coaches are helping them with that, but so are the returners because they’ve been doing it for three, four months.
Really excited about the game tomorrow. It’s a great match-up. You can’t write it any better. Get to play at Rock Chalk Park against a top-20 team who’s a very, very good team. They play great soccer. If you’re a soccer person, it’ll be a really good soccer game tomorrow. So we’ll see how that comes out. But really pumped to get the group going, and I know the girls are, too.
Q. You guys being two of the top sort of veteran returning players, what kind of role do you take having a third of your team being new players?
GRACE HAGAN: I think it all started in the summer. The majority of the girls that are new came here in June, and like Coach said, that’s why we don’t have fitness testing and stuff when it comes to preseason time because we’ve all been here working hard in the summer. Even the internationals come at least in July. So that’s a big commitment, and I think it means a lot to us for the freshmen to be here. So I think just trying to integrate them throughout the summer has played a huge role and letting them know they can have just as much of an impact on the game as we do.
KATIE McCLURE: I definitely agree with what Grace said. Them being here not solely in weights, but also we practice every day, so having them out there, letting them know that making mistakes is fine when you get in the game, when you get on the field. Try to ease them in when the coaches get involved especially is a big part for the freshmen.
Q. Does the amount of injuries that you had last year kind of help you step into bigger roles and maybe build bigger contributions this year as maybe a bit of a silver lining to that situation?
GRACE HAGAN: I feel like the injuries had more of an effect on the whole team rather than just individuals but also on the girls who got injured. I think their roles changed a lot last year, and their role was more affected than ours was definitely. We just kind of had to maintain and get the team moving through the adversity. But I think each of the girls who had an injury can say that last season they learned a lot more than played a lot, obviously, and they taught a lot, too.
As Coach said, they still played a huge role in the season and helped us out on the field. So I don’t think it was more having an effect on us as it was having an effect on them.
KATIE McCLURE: I think they were just a big impact because not only can we see stuff on the field, coaches can see stuff, but they also saw a different point. I know multiple times I’ve had a couple of forwards, Mandi and Kailey, that came up to me and pointed out and proved a point to me that I didn’t even know, and Grace and stuff. So I think we had a lot of people injured that were in different positions that helped us like kind of see the game better.
Q. Mandi and Anna are both coming off a torn ACL. How have they looked so far?
KATIE McCLURE: They’re both great. Same with Miriam; she tore her ACL, too. I think they’re both strong as ever, competitive as they were before they tore their ACL, and I think they’re all just ready to get back to the way they were.
GRACE HAGAN: Yeah, I think it’s a big testament to John Zirkelbach, our athletic trainer, because all the girls who have injuries, as Katie said, they look better now than they did before, and that’s to Ali, too, with their rehab.
Q. Do you know how those injuries affected team chemistry at all, going between different players that were out, having opportunities or anything?
KATIE McCLURE: I don’t think so.
GRACE HAGAN: No, the coaches are nice enough to let everybody travel. I know that’s not a thing at other schools. We’re spoiled, and we understand that it’s a privilege to travel, and the girls who are injured understood that it’s a privilege because there can be disconnects if everybody is not traveling, so we were glad they were there with us.
MARK FRANCIS: I would add, I think it did affect, but in a positive way, and that’s why we brought them, because we felt like they were going to be a positive impact just because of the comments that both Grace and Katie made. They still contributed even though they weren’t on the field, so that’s why we brought them with us, because we thought they helped. Plus John, our trainer, did a lot of rehab and stuff with them when we were on the road, so that helped them in their comeback to get back quicker.
Q. Your team always has a strong international representation, especially in this year’s incoming freshman class. How does that affect you guys as players, both as teammates and friends off the field?
GRACE HAGAN: I think it’s an interesting dynamic. Katie and I are both fairly local; we’re from two hours away. We like to get to know them and get to know where they come from and their families, and it was cool for us to go to Europe this past semester and kind of see the training and the club representation that they had while they were there. It’s an interesting dynamic for sure. I enjoy having international players, and I learn a lot from them.
KATIE McCLURE: I definitely enjoy them a lot. It’s something different to see. Definitely playing, too, like we always make side comments like Sophie or Ceri, do you guys do this, like not at all, or yes, we do this or something different. So I think Europe was also good, too, because we saw a different type of culture for people that are in the U.S., so I love having the internationals, so Coach, don’t stop.
Q. Coach talked about the difficulty of this first match for you guys, playing a top-20 team. Does that kind of energize you heading into getting off of the preseason into the regular season on such a high challenging note?
GRACE HAGAN: Yeah, definitely. I think he said it himself, you can’t paint a better picture, Friday night under the lights and you’re playing a top-25 team as your first game with 30 players that have worked together all summer. We’re excited to finally get started.
Q. What has Kaycie really brought to this team so far since transferring?
GRACE HAGAN: Kaycie is very, very quiet. They would say that Kaycie and Bri, or Coach Bri, are polar opposites, even though —
MARK FRANCIS: They’re related.
GRACE HAGAN: They’re genetic. But Kaycie is a big presence in the midfield for us. She definitely is a body. She’ll shove people around for you, and she’s really good technically, as well. She can play any ball on a dime probably.
KATIE McCLURE: I think it definitely showed in the first game. She had her first goal of the season, so I think that kind of shows who she really is and how she plays on the field and her mentality of always wanting to be there.
GRACE HAGAN: Yeah, she speaks with how she plays instead of with her mouth.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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