GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Earlier this week, on Day 8 of his team’s fall camp, first-year North Dakota soccer coach Chris Logan was asked to recall his earliest impressions of his team when he first saw it on the field during the spring.
Logan smiled, his mind immediately drawn to a spring contest against the University of Minnesota Crookston. The two teams played three 30-minute periods, after the first of which the game was scoreless due in large part to his team’s tentative play.
“We had the ball the whole time,” said Logan, “but didn’t do anything with it because the team was too scared to make mistakes.”
Logan had seen his team practice with confidence and belief and implored his players after the first 30 minutes to play with a similarly aggressive mindset. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes by doing the right thing, he told them.
The Fighting Hawks responded with five unanswered goals and a resounding victory that served as a lesson for a team coming off of a two-win season in 2016.
“I think the penny dropped at that point,” said Logan, using a common phrase from his native England. “We’ve tried to continue that on into fall camp, being bolder on our decision-making on the ball and on the attack.
“We want our girls to play with passion,” continued Logan. “I think the group’s willingness to take more calculated risks on the attack is starting to come out a bit more.”
On Saturday, the new-look Fighting Hawks will finally get the chance to measure their internal gains against outside competition when Jamestown visits for an exhibition match at 4 p.m. at Bronson Field. Logan said he wants to see his team’s new-found attacking style translate from practice to competition.
“Speed of the game needs to be quicker,” said Logan. “We look at it and believe we probably should be the better team on paper, but we have to be able to apply that to the game and deal with that expectation. The performance is most important. The more consistent the performances are, that usually leads to better results.”
As he provides a positional breakdown of his squad heading into Saturday’s opener, Logan says “we have more of an idea of what our lineup is looking like, what are strengths are, and where we have a lot of depth.”
UND’s returning trio – yes, trio – of Catherine Klein, Olivia Swenson and Jacqueline Wells was outstanding, and it had to be. The Fighting Hawks were outshot by an average of 24-11 last season, an area Logan says the staff and players have worked hard to address. But, he says, they are comforted by the luxury of having three starting-caliber players.
Klein, who led the Big Sky Conference in save percentage (.848) and saves per game (8.38), will sit out Saturday due to an injury but the expectations placed upon her are lofty.
“Catherine is incredible,” said Logan. “She’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve seen.”
While Klein is on the mend, the presumptive starter will be Swenson, who became the program’s first All-Big Sky performer last year after earning a honorable mention nod the year before.
“Olivia has a determination about her,” said Logan. “She competes so hard for the spot that between the two of those, it’s very difficult.”
Logan is also quick to add that Wells should not be overlooked in the battle for playing time.
“She brings a different skill set in that she’s very good with her feet,” said Logan. “Passing is one of her strengths, which is important to how we want to play. It’s a really tight race.”
“They are really connecting as a partnership, which you’re looking for in your center backs,” said Logan. “That’s really nice to see.”
That duo will be complemented by an outside mix of Erin Svensson, Megan McCabe and Emma Contino, the latter of whom also has the versatility to play in the center. Experienced senior Lexie Andres and freshmen Megan Schumacher and Karly Sandoval will also push for playing time.
“There’s a lot of competition on the backline, so we’re really still assessing where we’re at,” said Logan. “But we’ve seen some good relationships forming out there.”
Much like on the back line, the situation among the midfielders is still in flux for UND.
“We’ve got a lot of different dynamics in the midfield,” said Logan. “Right now we have a couple of good ball-winners with Kennedy Kidd especially, and with Emily Smithson. From there it gets pretty interesting because we have a lot of different types of players.”
“We have a lot of depth and different types of players who will be asked to play in different situations,” said Logan.
Logan is unequivocal when asked which players will be leaned on at the forward position, immediately identifying returning scoring leader Katie Moller and North Dakota State transfer Brittany Mueller, both juniors.
“[Katie] has got to be our goal-scorer and she knows that,” said Logan. “She’s very comfortable taking the responsibility on her shoulders and she’s one who needs to have a big year.”
Mueller redshirted at NDSU last season but played in a combined 17 matches the previous two seasons.
“Brittany is very good, too. The team has really taken to her,” said Logan. “Those two have formed a pretty dynamic relationship as a forward duo. They need to have a great effect on every game if we’re going to be competitive.”
As his first season at the helm of the Fighting Hawks approaches, Logan takes the long view of building a winning soccer program at UND. Successes will not be based solely upon wins and losses. Logan identifies three measures by which he will judge his team: competitiveness, growth as people, and a commitment to academic proficiency.
He and his staff, including associate head coach Chris Citowicki and assistant coach Danielle Mendez, put together a plan for the program that is assessed daily. Much has been asked of the players, who are adapting to a new staff, a new system and even to a new home, having moved their locker room from the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center to the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The early returns, said Logan, are promising.
“They’ve been awesome. Even when we were chopping and changing little parts of the system those first few days, they were great,” said Logan.
He added: “They’ve been above and beyond in terms of being coachable.”