Interview With Coach Brian Pensky


I did an interview with Maryland women’s soccer coach Brian Pensky today, with the plan of interspersing quotes into a post previewing the team. It was such a great interview with a great guy, however, that I’ll just post the transcript here and do a preview post separately.

Q: Last year was arguably the best season for the Terps under your tenure. What are your expectations going forward next year?

A: Well, you know you always hope to build on things that you’ve achieved, and I think going into this fall that’s no different. Last year was special, and our kids were connected and committed and really fought for each other and did all the right things, so this year, the biggest pieces for us are going to be can we stay healthy? Can we be undyingly committed to winning, and all that comes with that? Can we make all these steps, in terms of taking care of our bodies and making the right decisions? Just treating ourselves like pros, and treating our bodies like pros, and just doing the right things. We did that last year, we had great leadership last year and I feel very good about our leadership this year. So, we’ve all got to kind of live the right way, and then we have to execute. We have good players. We return pretty much all of our goal scoring from last year, and all of those players have gotten better over the course of the offseason, so I think we have the potential to be very, very good. But again, we’ve got to be healthy, and we’ve got to be committed to doing the right things.

Q: After last year’s success, do you feel there’s a different atmosphere with the team?

A: I think last year they went in kind of hoping to win, kind of thinking that we can be good, but not really, at the end of the day, knowing that they are capable of doing pretty good things. I think now this group knows that they can be good, so the question is does our mentality become “We’ve arrived and we’re great” or “Okay, yeah, we’ve arrived and we’re pretty good”? We can’t forget how we got to last year’s results, we can’t get comfortable. I think there are pretty good expectations within the locker room.

Q: Are you thinking of using a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 formation, or will you mix it up?

A: Last year we played pretty much from start to finish in a 4-4-2, midway through the season we adjusted a little bit of how we were playing in the midfield, and right now we’re planning on staying with that 4-4-2. We found success with it, we think it’s a system that fits our kids and the players that we want on the field, and so right now the plan is to stay with that. Having said that, we just started preseason today. It is a new season and it is a new team, and if different people need to be on the field because they’re performing well and those people fit a different kind of shape and system, then we’ll adjust, but right now if we were to play a game tomorrow, we’d be on 4-4-2.

Q: For that 4-4-2, are you expecting Danielle Hubka to join Jasmyne Spencer up front?

A: No. Probably the best thing about Danielle Hubka is that she’s a great soccer player, and I think that’s how I would describe her first, she’s a soccer player. With Jasmyne, you see it right away, she’s a speedy forward. Danielle can play for us in different spots, so she obviously was good for us up top last year, but I think she can also be good for us at midfield. Sade Ayinde really didn’t play a lot for us last fall because she was coming back from a knee injury and never really got herself fit the way she should have been fit. She had a very good spring and a good summer of preparation, and Sade is a very, very dangerous goal scorer, so we’re trying to see if we can get Sade into the rotation, too. We’ve got to see who’s playing well, because we might have three kids right now that play up top for us in a two-front, but we might want all three of those kids on at the same time, so that’s potentially moving Hubka back there to midfield, or maybe playing with a three-front. We have to see how the preseeason plays out.

Q: So the versatility is going to be important for your players?

A: Yeah, one of the things we’ve done with recruiting is tried to bring in kids that are good players that can play in a couple different spots. Right now, other than Mary Casey, our goalkeeper from last year, we lost our two wide backs, and we don’t really have wide backs on our roster, but we have very good midfielders that played there all spring and can be great, effective wide backs for us, so that just speaks more to the versatility that you’re talking about.

Q: At those wide back positions, who are the favorites to replace Megan Watson and Brittany Cummins?

A: We left the spring with Megan Gibbons being our right back. Megan played limited time last year, but I think was good enough to be on the field. She came in and gave us some very good minutes in our second round NCAA Tournament game against Washington State. She’s got a balance about her, she’s tough, she’s physical, and she has good speed. She came in and did very well in that game, and unfortunately suffered an injury in that game that held her out of the Sweet 16 game against North Carolina. Megan is what we talked about before – a commitment to winning and a commitment to doing the right thing. She was out for all of July with mono, but still showed up and did the third best on our team on our fitness test, and came in very fit. Actually the other kid, that we’re looking at for left back, did the second best on our team for the fitness test, and that’s Caitlin McDowell. Caitlin’s been a three-year starter, her first two years at center mid, last year she started at left midfield for us. We’re looking at her as a left back right now. I love that those two kids are two of our three fittest players on the team, because we expect a lot of getting up and down and attacking out of those positions, and Watson and Cummins did a great job of getting up and down and being responsible defensively, but at the same time being a big part of our attack right now, and I think right now those two are the favorites for those positions.

Q: At centre back, are Mallory Baker and Skyy Anderson going to be the starters?

A: Baker and Skyy started for the bulk of the year, and then Skyy pulled her hamstring in our third to last game of the season, against Clemson, and then never really recovered from that. She tried to play in the ACC tournament, but then hurt her ankle, and her hamstring was never well. So all through the NCAA Tournament Colleen Deegan played at centre back, and she did a nice a job alongside of Baker. So right now, Skyy Anderson and Deegan are fighting out that spot next to Baker.

Q: At mid, do you expect it to be Dreska, Hubka, Hodek and Hastings?

A: I think, right now, that’s probably the favorite, but Amy O’Sullivan and Olivia Wagner have come in very fit and had a good first morning at practice today. Amy came in as the most fit kid on our team, so I think she’s giving herself a chance to play with that kind of mentality and work rate. Wagner was good today in training, her passing and finishing were very, very good, so those guys are going to get very good looks as well.

Q: It sounds like one of your strong points right now is your depth, because a lot of the girls that you have coming off the bench got playing time last year, so how much do you think that will effect how well you do this year?

A: It’s huge, it’s huge. We talk about health being important, if you don’t have health, you don’t have depth, and right now we have a little bit of health, and therefore a little bit of depth. With both of those things you also get competition. Right now, kids are fighting for spots, and when they’re fighting for spots you’re obviously going to get the best out of them and the best out of their play. I think we’re getting that right now, and I think we’ll continue to get that as long as we stay healthy and we have different options. Kids know that if they’re not performing well, then we have someone else that can step in for them, and there’s huge value in that.

Q: Do you guys have a starting goalie cemented in right now, and how worried are you about the loss of leadership and experience there from the graduation of Mary Casey?

A: Mary certainly was special, she was a tremendous leader, she was vocal, she was an outstanding goalkeeper, she was great. Having said that, I feel like Yewande Balogun left the spring time having won that position. She comes in as the number one this preseason, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be beaten out by Lianne Maldonado or Shannon Zickler. I think the challenge for all three of our goalkeepers right now is to be great shot stoppers, and just as importantly, can they command a presence in the back? Can they become vocal and confident in their abilities? Because all three of them are very, very good goalkeepers. So they can’t worry about Mary, they can’t worry about filling shoes or things like that, they have to realize in their own hearts and guts that they’re very good goalkeepers and they too can help our team win. As long as they believe that, and they know that, and carry themselves with a certain presence, then I think our team will feel comfortable, and that’s it. They’ve got to find a way to be confident and believe in themselves, and even if that confidence isn’t there, they’ve got to find a way to fake it, because we certainly need them to step up.

Q: Have you decided on captains yet?

A: Yep, our captains are fifth-year senior Molly Dreska and Caitlin McDowell.

Q: In terms of Jasmyne Spencer, how much potential do you think she has? Because she seems to improve every game.

A: I think Jasmyne’s speed is in a special category, and what she didn’t get enough credit for last year was just her work. There are a lot of forwards out there who are very, very skillful, who are good finishers, who are speedy kids, and Jasmyne, along with being one of the fastest kids in the league, she’s also one of the hardest working kids. The pressure that she puts on the backlines, her constant ability to get behind teams is outstanding. Now what Jasmyne needs to do to take her game to the next level is be more efficient and effective and clinical in her finishing, and that’s been her number one agenda and priority all spring long and all summer long. I think she’s doing a good job, she’s been committed to doing that, and I think if she becomes a proficient finisher, she becomes one of the top forwards in the country without a doubt.

Q: Do you think that you guys will become even more of a scoring threat this year?

A: I hope that we’re going to get better, because Lydia Hastings had a great offseason and a great summer. I think she didn’t play up to her own hopes and expectations last fall. She was good for us, she started the whole season for us, but I don’t think she was happy with her production, and I think she’s ready to have a breakout fall for us. We scored 41 goals last year, our hope is to build upon that.

Q: Are there any particular things you’re trying to work out in the two exhibition games coming up?

A: I think we just want to see how much we’re growing, collectively, from last fall to the spring and then the spring until now. Within that, obviously, we want to see who’s ready to step up and assume a role. Megan Gibbons had a good spring, but this is for real. Sade played limited minutes last year, but we hope she’s prepared to take on a bigger role. The whole Hubka thing in the midfield, we’re going to take a look at that. Amy O’Sullivan and Olivia Wagner are trying to put themselves in places where they can become bigger impact players then they were for us last year, so we want to give them a good amount of time so they can show us what they can do. Unfortunately, other than our day-in day-out training, that becomes the only opportunity these kids have to show us that they belong.

Q: In terms of the freshmen coming in, are there any that you expect to get a quality amount of minutes?

A: We’re returning so many quality players, so it’s hard for anybody to walk in this fall and play right away, so I think right now we’re going to depend on our veterans to carry the load and letting this be a year of growth for our kids, and seeing how they turn out.

Q: You guys finished 6th in the ACC last year, is there a specific standing that you’re trying to reach this year?

A: Well it’s funny, because we finished 6th in the league, and then by many polls 11th in the country. So I think if we get ourselves in the top 6 again, we’ll again be in the top 20 in the country. However, our coaching staff and our kids believe that we can compete for a regular season ACC Championship, and that’s definitely our approach.