Though much of the preseason buzz surrounding the Clemson women’s soccer team has focused on a large and highly-rated freshman class, coach Eddie Radwanski is quick to credit the hard work that’s been exhibited by his returning players.
In fact, and as his rebuilding project gains ground as he enters his third season at Clemson, Radwanski is emphasizing a collective dynamic above all, and believes that veterans like Savannah Coiner, Vanessa Laxgang, Katelyn Reeve, Allie Kington, Kylie Tawney, Jenna Polonsky and Deana Sherry could all be key contributors.
“I’ve said this before, that whatever we do going forward, it’s going to be everybody,” said Radwanski. “Everybody has to make a contribution, and contributions can come in many different ways, both on the field and off. We feel like we’ve got a really good buy-in from our group and our family, and I think that’s the key.
“I love the group that’s just come in, and they’re going to make a hefty contribution, but they’re not going to be able to do it alone. We need our returners to do their part.”
Having inherited a traditionally strong program in a much diminished state, Radwanski clearly appreciates those earliest recruits who have had the patience and the vision to help him through the first crucial ground-clearing steps in the task of restoration.
“There are kids who’ve been here for three years now, and have gone through some tough times,” said Radwanski. “I give them a lot of credit. They decided to stick it out, and they want to be part of the change.
"All the positives that we had in the spring, we wouldn’t have if those kids hadn’t made the decision to do it and to go about it in a certain way. We wouldn’t be making progress if we didn’t have that, so I’m grateful for them and their commitment.
“So when I say that we’re in this together, and we’re going to progress together, that’s what’s going to happen. It’s not just going to be one group. There might be a player that helps us here and there, but we’re still going to do it collectively.”
Radwanski feels that the preseason blending of veterans and newcomers, and the expected upgrade of competition for playing time, has worked to the advantage of the entire team.
“One of the things that I liked seeing in the preseason is that we’re in much better shape physically,” he said. “Our fitness level overall as a group was high, so that was a positive. And you can sense the urgency in the play, and the attitude of the players that are back. It’s just a little different.
“With the freshmen, there are 11 of them, so that’s pretty influential just by sheer numbers. But they’ve also brought some excitement because it’s their first time playing at Clemson, so there’s that energy that they have. I think that’s become contagious and helped a lot of our returning players. They realize that ‘Okay, there’s competition here!’
“We feel that with the spring and the new class coming in that we’re going to be better in all areas on the field, and with our play. Now it’s just going to be a matter of how that translates into goals and results. I upgraded the nonconference schedule this year and put some more challenging games out there because I felt we needed it before we headed into the ACC.”
While that rapid indoctrination will be an early test for the younger players, the hope is that a steady diet of pressure-cooker matches will best prepare the Tigers for a conference schedule expanded to 13 games with the addition of new league members Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Pitt.
Given that the ACC is already the strongest soccer conference in the country – as seen by the fact that the league’s fourth-place team last season (North Carolina) ended up as NCAA Champions – the challenges for Radwanski and the Tigers are obvious.
“I think our biggest challenge is that while we’ve made improvements in a lot of different areas, we’re still in the ACC,” said Radwanski. “We’re still in the toughest conference in the country, and we just added Notre Dame. So it doesn’t get any easier.
“But if I can see us making progress in the areas that I think are important, then I feel good about what we’re doing. And at the moment I feel like we’ve continued to take steps, which is the thing that gives me confidence.”
Radwanski's Tigers open their season tonight with a road match against 2012 NCAA tournament team Auburn, and then face Southern Conference favorite Furman at home on Sunday.