Saluki fans anxiously awaiting for the start of women’s soccer now have an idea of what the schedule will look like in the inaugural season.
The schedule features three exhibition matches, including University of Illinois-Chicago and Tennessee Tech with the final one being on welcome weekend, Aug. 17, 2019, against Southeast Missouri State University.
“Renewing the war of the wheel with women’s soccer [is] gonna be something the fanbase can be excited about,” Grant Williams, head coach of the women’s soccer team, said about the SEMO match.
After the exhibition matches, the official start to the season for Southern is Aug. 23 at home against the only division two team on the schedule – the University of Illinois-Springfield.
There are 18 confirmed matches so far on the schedule for the Dawgs with eight home games, including the exhibition against SEMO.
“Of the 18, we have scheduled ten of those participated in post season play in their own conferences,” Williams said. “One team in the NCAA tournament, making it to the second round.”
In the inaugural season for soccer at SIU, Williams looked to replicate a schedule that would reflect what they would play in 2020 as an official member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
“We’ve been able to have the breadth of the season, from when we start in August all the way through the end of October,” Williams said.
With Southern being a startup program, scheduling can be difficult especially when most schools begin conference play.
Williams credited the fact with his connections to regional schools and knowledge of what the Ohio Valley Conference schedule looked like as an advantage in scheduling.
“My regional connections with coaches in this area as well as those Ohio Valley Conference schools having a bye – I could preface the conversation [with that],” Williams said.
Williams said he was pleased with the way the schedule turned out, wanting to be able to limit travel as well as play quality opponents.
“I think it’s very appropriate with the amount of travel we have, having balance,” Williams said. “Looking at the strength of our schedule, there’s a stretch there that will challenge us from a quality perspective.”
Though the Salukis will not play in the Missouri Valley in 2019, their record will count but they will not be allowed to play in the postseason.
“They’ll count towards our record, and from that first match on [Aug. 23], those wins and losses will count,” Williams said. “There’s just no post season play eligible for us.”
In the first season for Southern, Williams elected not to play any Missouri Valley teams, in order to avoid having a mindset of what they would look like in 2020.
“I didn’t want there to be any predisposition, good or bad about when games matter in 2020,” Williams said. “Going into 2020 with our eyes wide open and excited about the opportunity I think is going to be a benefit for us.”
The schedule matters only if you have players to play that schedule and recruiting for the team is still ongoing.
“It certainly is a strength [with] St.Louis being a soccer town,” Williams said. “We’ve had some success out of region, and [will] continue to go where the best possible players are.”
As far as how the roster has shaped up so far, the team is not fully completed but they do have enough players to play, Williams mentioned.
The number of freshman on the team will be large in Williams’ first year at the helm of Saluki soccer.
“When I originally started, I thought I was going to be in that 14 to 15 range with freshmen, it’s probably going to be a little higher,” Williams said. “You hope to be 22-24 [total players] adding the goalkeepers.”
In his first year, Williams hopes to make a name for SIU soccer in the region playing regional teams in Eastern Illinois, SEMO, SIUE, and Western Kentucky.
“You want to start to establish some rivalries,” Williams said. “You want to start to impose yourself and start to make a name regionally about getting results.”
There are no set dates yet outside of exhibition games when it comes to the schedule, but the schedule should be finalized soon, WIlliams said.
“We don’t have game contracts yet,” Williams said. “So there can still be some shifting that goes on, it’s a little bit early for a full announcement on dates and times.”
The team will begin practice in August just before the beginning of their season.
“The first week of August is the report date,” Williams said. “We’ll start training about a week before what would be our first exhibition meeting.”
Even though the season seems just around the corner in August of 2019, Williams is ready for the start of the season and the start of soccer here at SIU.
“For me the biggest frustration is having to wait until August,” Williams said. “Watching the season go by and not being able to compete and train is something I’ve sorely missed.”
Some coaches describe the way they play as a system but Williams said that it’s much more than that.
“For me it’s more about style than a system,” Williams said. “The system is semantics, who can make adjustments as the game goes on.”
As for style, Saluki fans can expect a very aggressive approach from the Dawgs in their first season.
Williams thinks that there will be many students interested in women’s soccer for Southern in their inaugural season.
“I think there will be some automatic buy-in, like hey it’s something new, let’s see what women’s soccer is about,” Williams said. “Ultimately the job that I, our staff and our players will have is to keep them coming back.”
The Saluki women’s soccer team will be playing their home games at the Lew Hartzog Track and Field complex by the Baseball field, but renovations are still ongoing to the complex.
“Certainly with our locker room, major construction has already been completed,” Williams said. “We’re looking at what the plans going to be for the press box and extension of the bleachers.”
Fans can see Southern open up their inaugural season at home in their third exhibition game on Aug. 17 against regional rival Southeast Missouri State at 7 p.m.
Sports reporter Adam Warfel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.
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