NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Lipscomb women’s soccer team wrapped up its spring schedule and with it found improvement and success.
“We had a great spring with a 3-1 record,” Lipscomb head coach Kevin O’Brien said. “We finished real strong with three wins in a row. We showed improvement. Without a shadow of a doubt there was improvement made by each individual player on the squad.”
The Lady Bisons started the spring with a game against cross-town foe Vanderbilt. LU fell 1-0 but O’Brien saw positives in the loss.
“It was a very competitive game,” O’Brien said. “We created some great chances and their goalkeeper made some great saves. It was a competitive game against a good SEC opponent.
“It was a good start, unfortunately it was a loss. But I was proud of the battle and we played good soccer.”
The Purple and Gold followed up with a match at Tennessee Tech where the offense came to life in a 4-1 victory.
“It was probably the best performance on the attacking side of the ball since I have been here,” O’Brien said. “Not only did we threaten with some good balls from behind but we played some good combination soccer to get through them.”
With Lipscomb controlling the contest, O’Brien saw things that they worked on in practice come through.
“I was excited about things that finally came together that we had been working on all spring long in regards to combination play and finishing,” he said. “Since I have been here, finishing has been a glaring weakness and in that game we capitalized on our chances.”
The third game of the spring was against another Nashville school as the Lady Bisons traveled to Trevecca. Lipscomb prevailed with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
“They were an industrious, hardworking, blue collar team,” O’Brien said. “Overall we had the lion’s share of the ball and I thought we played a good attacking game. Their goalkeeper came up big on three different occasions.
“After the girls got their goal, they kept on being the aggressor. I was proud of the attacking mentality that we showed in the game.”
In the final game of the spring, O’Brien saw what he thought to be the most complete game the Lady Bisons have played since he took over the program in February of 2012.
“We played UAB to a 2-1 victory,” O’Brien said. “It challenged us because they played a different system. They overloaded the midfield which created some challenges that the girls responded well. It shows that they are learning how to make adjustments within the game.
“We came out, got an early goal and it became a back-and-forth game. It was a pretty level match as far as chances and possession.”
With only three subs for the entire spring season, O’Brien feared the lack of depth would come back to hurt them in the second half.
“I was a little worried at halftime that they might wear us out,” he said. “About halfway through the second half UAB equalized the score.”
It was at this moment that O’Brien was wondering how the team would respond - succumb to the momentum of UAB with the lack of depth or turn the corner and fight back.
“It was the most excellent response that you could ask for as a coach,” O’Brien said. “The girls dug-in. They were determined and went on a run of form. We played great soccer and scored the second goal, which ultimately was the game winner.
“Our girls responded in a way that really saw a champion’s character in them. That is something that we have talked about but hasn’t shown itself. I was thrilled with the result.”
The players made improvement through the learning process.
“In the spring you actually get to coach,” O’Brien said. “In the fall with so many games it is hard to learn. It is more performance based. The spring is a wonderful teaching time to actually develop the group.”
Two of the players that saw the most improvement were sophomores Brittany Rupple and Baylee Linnell.
“I was really proud of Brittany,” O’Brien said. “She has always been a good soccer player but she played with a little bit more fire. She was more active and involved on both sides, defensively attacking and in possession. I feel like she took a real step from the fall to the spring.
“Baylee is coming along. There is no question that she is a superior athlete but she is starting to play better soccer. It is encouraging she is showing growth because I think she is going to be an important player for us moving forward.”
The other portion of the spring schedule is to find leaders who step up to replace the seniors who are no longer with the team. Two of the leaders are coming off injury-plagued years while the third is a transfer who has found her role within the squad.
“Martika Powe is back after missing the entire year because of an ACL injury,” O’Brien said. “I was encouraged because you didn’t know what you really had in regards to leadership. She proved that the girls respect what she had to say.
“Kelsey Reiman was another player that was injured throughout the fall. She was never really visible and she really stepped up.”
The third player that O’Brien saw step up was Callie Cavanaugh who transferred to Lipscomb after playing at Clemson.
“It is always difficult to lead in your first season because you are brand new to the team,” O’Brien said. “She has stepped into the role this spring and was a great motivator and encourager.”
As the Lady Bisons depart for the summer, O’Brien is confident the success will carry over into the fall.
“It was a positive spring,” he said. “We played better soccer and they were committed to the cause. They developed and will come into the fall being sharper, wiser and smarter of what the coaches are asking them to do.”