In just three seasons Coach Eddie Radwanski has turned Clemson women’s soccer around. Having taken over a program, which, despite a tradition of success, had tail-spun dismally into a protracted cycle of ACC futility, Radwanski now has his team back in the argument in the toughest soccer conference in the country.
And though the Tigers finished the 2013 season at 7-8-4, and 4-7-2 in ACC play, and just missed making the league’s tournament field and receiving a possible NCAA bid, their competitiveness and quality of play were never at issue.
“The decision to fight and battle is just that, it’s a decision,” said Radwanski. “You can have games where you’re off. Fair enough. But I was really pleased this year by the fact that we showed up every game to compete. There’s not one game where we walked away, and I thought, ‘Yeah, we mailed it in.’ To me, that’s a great sign.
“That was true even in the Virginia game. Virginia is probably the best team in the country, and was just phenomenal this year. We played them after playing Virginia Tech and going into overtime. Fatigue was an issue, and the quality of Virginia’s play was significant, but until the 90th-minute our kids kept battling. I took away from that a special feeling that we’re going to be okay going forward.”
One key to the turnaround was the arrival of a large and talented freshman class that Radwanski had begun assembling as soon as he was hired. Other factors were the contributions of veteran players, and the family atmosphere and unity of purpose that prevailed within the team.
“Everybody on this team made a contribution,” said Radwanski, “even the kids that may have had small minutes. The quality of our practices was like night and day, because the standard was so much higher, and that comes from people showing up, day-in and day-out. That’s where a team comes from. It’s not just the game-day, but all the stuff behind the scenes that plays a part of it. We were very blessed and fortunate to have such a great group of people.”
Though the Tigers often dominated their opponents in terms of possession and the creation of scoring opportunities, the finishing touch was sometimes lacking. Having first concerned himself with strengthening what he calls “the spine of the team”, by which he means the backline and midfield, Radwanski says that putting the ball in the net will be the next priority.
The expectation is to address that concern through recruiting, but also to allow for the development of returning players.
“That’s really the next step and stage of it all,” said Radwanski. “When you try to address an area like that, one of the nice things is that we had thirteen players score for us this year. I don’t know how that compares to previous years, but I felt like everybody had the opportunity to do it, and you need those contributions. If we were at signing day, I could speak more about the people coming in that will help us in that area.
“But the players that are returning are also going to help us. It’s a tough baptism. Some of these kids have played at some of the highest levels in the country, but to come in here and compete in the ACC is still another ball of wax, and the hardest thing to do in this game is to score.
“I’d be more concerned if we weren’t creating opportunities. We must be the kings and queens of the would’a, should’a club, because we had a lot of open nets, and a lot of great chances. But you can’t always be greedy, because you can look at other games and realize it could go the other way, as well.”
While the Tigers did leave some points on the table, and dropped some decisions that might have gone the other way, Radwanksi believes that experience will change the script.
“You can almost sum up our season in ten minutes,” he said. “There were the last four minutes of the Florida State game, where we conceded that late goal, then the last four minutes of the Miami game, and the forty seconds at Virginia Tech. There were some points there that we left.
“And then the games with Duke and Wake Forest, which we could have readily won. But I think that’s where the experience factor comes into play. Wake has been in those situations before, and they get one opportunity, and they stick it in, and they can manage the game out. But we’ll get there. It’s like wine, where it takes some time to shape itself out.”