The Ottumwa girls soccer team will try to avenge a season-ending loss when it kicks off its season Monday at Oskaloosa.
The Indians unceremoniously ended the Bulldogs 2012 season when they bested Ottumwa 1-0 in the Class 2A, Region 6 quarterfinal at Oskaloosa.
It will be the Bulldogs first game under the tutelage of first-year coach Brett McKenzie, who was tapped to replace Lindsay Safranek, who guided Ottumwa to a 5-11 record last spring in what would be her first and only year as coach of the team.
To prepare his team for its first game, McKenzie, who will lead a program that turned out 38 players this spring, has leaned hard on the basics: Making good passes, fitness work, moving without the ball and working on communication skills.
“A lot of the little things that can help make you a better team,” McKenzie said.
But, above all else, the coach wants his girls to play as a cohesive unit.
“If we can work together as a team, we won’t have as many mistakes,” McKenzie said. “It will be easier to make passes and defend.”
The coach said he will know a lot more about where his team is at right now after the match. Still, he’s identified some areas where his team has shown potential.
“I think we have some good team speed,” McKenzie said. “I think our defense is looking pretty good right now with its movement. Hopefully, we can use our speed to our advantage and be able to get behind the defense and score some goals.”
The Bulldogs and Indians have developed quite the rivalry over the years — the past three games have ended in a 1-0 score, one in Ottumwa’s favor, two in Oskaloosa’s. The Indians mustered just enough offense to beat the Bulldogs the two times the teams met last season.
“They [Ottumwa and Osky] are fairly even talent-wise,” McKenzie said, “so it’s always a close game.
Although McKenzie and his players will have to find their way without their two 2012 CIML Metro All-league selections, forward Shayla Robinson and defender Katerina Berg, who both graduated last spring; the Bulldogs will return two players who received honorable mention honors in 2012: Juniors Kathy Lopez and Ginny Kjer.
McKenzie comes to Ottumwa armed with the experience and knowledge he acquired during his esteemed soccer career at Central College in Pella. In his four years with the Dutch, the Ottumwa coach established an impressive pedigree for himself, including, according to a press release, being named the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player in 2010 and being selected the team’s most valuable player for two straight years. His name is a common sight on the Dutch’s all-time individual lists: First in game winning goals since 1998 (15); second in shots on goal (114); and tied for second in game-winning goals in a season (five in 2007 and 2010).
McKenzie is a strong believer in the importance of work ethic, and, thus far, he’s been pleased with the effort the girls have expended at practice.
“When we need to put our nose to the grindstone,” McKenzie said, “we’ve worked hard. The girls have been really willing to listen and do what their supposed to be doing.”
Follow Andy Heintz on twitter at @heintz23.