One-On-One With Women's Soccer Coach Jeff Leightman

With a 3-3-1 record during the spring, head women’s soccer coach Jeff Leightman sat down and answered questions on the progress of the side and his overall feelings heading into the summer.

How has the team looked in their matches this spring?

“Throughout the spring our team has gotten a lot better,” Leightman said.  “We are learning how to play the right way and ingraining a style into our play that fans will enjoy. 

“Our overall mentality has gotten better and our level of play has risen tremendously.  From the start of spring practice in March, to right now, we are a completely different team.  And compared to the team that took the field last fall, we are almost completely unrecognizable.”

Your team was 3-3-1 in the spring.  Are you pleased with that mark?

“If you look at our overall level of play, we are leaving the spring in a very good frame of mind.  I think our players are excited about the improvement that they have seen in their play, their fitness, mentality and culture of the team. 

“We have made great strides in the year we have been here.  We are changing the culture of the program.  We are in a really good place moving into the summer and are excited about the fall.”

Lets go line by line.  Tell us about the play of the forwards.

“Our attack has gotten a lot better.  This spring we played seven games and scored more goals in those seven than all of last season.  Our attack is much more unpredictable.  It is more organized and dangerous. 

“We are running at players, going one-on-one, and taking physical risks in the attack, which is great.  That’s the style of play we are ingraining, a Spartan style. It is a very exciting and unpredictable style in the attack that’s fun to watch and the players are enjoying it as well. 

Emmy (Belding) is playing unbelievably this spring.  She was a goal scorer in the fall but now is a handful for any team to defend. 

How about the midfield?

“Our midfield has learned to play together and is improving each time we go out, but we have been nicked-up all spring.  We have played different combinations, but I think we have a feel for how we want to play. 

“In the fall, we won’t be playing any more long balls.  We are playing on the surface and combining in our attack.  It is a coordinated effort.

How about the defense and keepers?

“As with the mids, we had lots of injuries this spring.  As a consequence, we didn’t have one set of four working together back there.  That is a bit of a cause for concern, but we’ll get healthy and organized and the four players who will see the majority of the time will emerge.  We’ll be fine.

“The play of our keepers improved throughout the spring, and by the end of the seven games we were playing a lot better.”

What one key thing do we have to do this summer to hit our stride in the fall?

“All the players need to go home and play.  They need to work like crazy to maintain or improve their fitness.  Fitness is critical.  We have improved this spring, and some have seen a jump in their success because of their improved fitness. 

“At our first competition in March, we struggled a bit.  We played all right, but we weren’t fit yet.  We had only touched the ball for a week or two before that match so it wasn’t too pretty.

Compare where this team is as opposed to where you were this time last spring.

“The one word to use to compare our program today from the one we had last spring is unrecognizable.  I think the difference is night and day.  We are further ahead than I thought we would be at this point.  I’m really excited about what is going on and the commitment level of our team.  We’ve got the right players, who want the right things, and are willing to do the right things to achieve their goals.”

Have you named your team captains?

“Yes.  Roxy Kamal, Katie Bonadies and Sarah Wisotsky.

“The three provide a great leadership trio and bring different qualities to the table.  We have really worked on developing our leadership program so that we have positive peer leadership.  We also do a leadership council which includes our three captains and younger players, to begin identifying future leaders of our program.”

What do you feel was your team’s best performance this spring?

“Throughout April we kept playing better and better.  We played two ranked opponents, (UC Santa Barbara and Santa Clara) and we played very well against both.  Although we didn’t win either game, I felt our performances were quality ones.  We gave both teams fits in the attack and we defended much better against Santa Clara.  We proved how much better of a team we have become this spring. 

“In the games where we were better than our opponent, we kept our foot on the gas.  Last year we might have just edged those opponents.  This spring we were blowing those teams out.  That was a real positive.