bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the final game against Fresno State in the WAC Tournament this past Friday?
Blair Quinn: We ran into a very good Fresno State team who quite frankly played better this past Friday in the tournament than they did the week or two prior when we played them at their place for regular season. I don't know if that had something to do with them being fresh and us having played the day before as opposed to the last time we played them we had each played pretty tough games that Friday and had to go in and play that Sunday as well. They were more prepared to play that game than we were both physically and mentally. They are very, very good.
bc.net: When you take a look at the season overall you finished 10-8-3, a winning record. How important was that in your first season to meet a couple of your goals, have a winning record, you reached the conference tournament and you also won your first conference tournament game.
BQ: Those were all big steps for the program as a whole. Especially for these kids that have been here from the beginning. I hope that they see it that way. The program continues to get better and it's because of them. Getting the 10 win season is nice. Double-digit wins is always something you want as your minimum goal, you're always hoping for more and as you look back there's always a couple of games that you kind of go, "We could have won that one if… or we should have done that and could have won if…" But it was nice to get the 10th win, it was really nice to qualify for the tournament again so the kids didn't feel like in their first year it was an anomaly because they were new. I think they understand they earned it that first year and they earned it again this year. Now everybody that's on the team has been and everybody's coming back. We'll have five kids next year approximately that won't have been to the WAC tournament which is huge. I think having that under their belts is nice and even playing in the games that led up to the tournament, we had to get points out of those. The tie at Fresno, the win at home against Hawai'i. Those were like playoff games, we had to win those or get points out of those. Those are all big steps for the program in terms of where we're headed.
Looking back overall, I think the kids were happy with the season as well but I know they were disappointed with some things too and that's good. That's a good sign. That means they know that they can do more and that they want more. Anyone that's competitive should have that feeling. That's a good sign as well.
bc.net: You finish the season with eight losses but five of those are against teams that either won their conference regular season, won their conference tournament or played in the conference tournament championship game. There weren't really any bad losses for the team.
BQ: Yeah. Our schedule was good, I'd like it to be stronger overall and I think the overalls strength of schedule will continue improve as we continue to improve as well. We lost to some good teams, irrespective of records. Weber State for example didn't have a great record but that's a good team. I don't think people realize that. They were in the Big Sky championship game and really lost on penalty kicks. That's a very good team. Obviously Texas Tech is a very good team. To go to their place at the beginning of the season and lose 1-0. UTEP was in the Conference USA championship game and lost to arguably one of the top five teams in the country in Memphis, in overtime. We were in the game with them until the last 15 minutes or so and that was our very first game together and we'd all love to play that weekend over again and see how it would play out because we've grown so much since then. I don't think we had any glaring bad losses. But again, you look back at some of those and some of those are game that we could have won too if we had done things differently so that's encouraging as well.
bc.net: As a first year head coach what are some things that might have happened throughout the season that maybe you didn't expect and what are some things that you learned that will help you as you head into your second year?
BQ: I think just the whole process of it really. As an assistant the last several years I was much more focused on specific details. I had a very clear role. Like at Arizona State for example I had a very clear role and a very good head coach that I worked for, he allowed me to do my specific things and be good at them and this year I had to oversee everything. Everything. From the most mundane details and tiny little paperwork things that you never really think about to actual in-game coaching and planning and training and things like that. It's a bit more time consuming than my previous job but I make it that way too. I absolutely hate losing, absolutely hate feeling like any part of what we're doing is not working or failing and so I spend a lot of time with my staff just going over things very meticulously. At the end of the day, the saying is "The buck stops here." My job ultimately is going to depend on how well I can get the team to perform and I think they helped me out a lot this year by doing a good job. I know they performed above expectations of everybody else and I think we performed at least to our expectations for the most part and again knowing we can do even more next year.
bc.net: One of the things that your team was able to do well was make adjustments during the game. How different was it for you being the head coaching and the one watching and making the adjustments in game and at halftime versus your role during a game as an assistant coach?
BQ: It's different. I'm trying to evaluate the whole picture as it's playing out instead of just my team or just the forward line for example which is what I did a lot of as an assistant or just the goal keeper. I'm trying to evaluate the whole picture. Is something working because we're doing it well or is the other team just not defending it or is it not working because the other team is stopping us or are we just not doing it right? Those are some of the things that you've got to figure out on the fly. I have very good assistant coaches. We're constantly talking throughout the game either about players or positions or about the team in general, the style, what we're doing. I think the team did much better as the season progressed at recognizing and implementing some of the adjustments we were putting in play. Sometimes we'd do them at halftime and sometimes the way soccer goes, there's no stops really, maybe you sub a player on and have them tell people around them, "Hey this is what we're going to do now, this is the formation." One of the things I think was a proven example, from the beginning of the season and in preseason even we trained this situation called up one/down one. It's where you're training the last 10 minutes of the game and you're either up a goal or down a goal. I think the first few weeks we trained that, it was just absolute chaos. It was really just disorganized chaos and by the end of the season, unfortunately we found ourselves in the situation that we were down one late in games a little more than we liked but they handled the situations really well. They adjusted and made tackle adjustments because they understood them better as we'd been training them all year and we got ourselves out of a lot of those situations where we got a goal back and were able to get a tie out of it or get a win. I think they started really picking up a lot of the situational adjustments as the year progressed and they did a good job doing that.
bc.net: From an overall leadership standpoint it seems like your team has, maybe moreso than a lot of teams, a lot leadership on the team and in part because a lot of these kids were there from the very first kickoff in the program and so there's a lot of ownership in the fact that it really is their team.
BQ: Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think there are a lot of leaders on the team and some probably moreso than people might think because they don't get to see anything other than our games. There are a couple of kids that are very good leaders in the things we're doing off the field with our community service hours and things like that. They're always constantly saying, "Guys this is an opportunity or hey this is an opportunity to do this," but maybe that person doesn't speak a lot on the field. On the field itself, you're right, that junior class having been here since day one, they pretty much bought into this program, regardless of who's coaching it's their program. I think that's going to do a lot for us. It did a lot for us this year and it's definitely going to do a lot for us next year.
There's even a few sophomores and even a couple freshmen that stood out this year in terms of their ability to lead on the field at times. It's not consistent typically from the younger players as it is from the older players but there were moments that we had sophomores and a couple freshmen leading our direction either vocally or through their play and that's really encouraging. I'm very excited about the entire group coming back.
bc.net: You went into the season, Mikaela Bitner had an offseason injury and had to redshirt and you were left with Jess Schutter who was coming off a redshirt year and Erin Wosick who played a little bit as a true freshman last year but you really got very solid play out of your goal keepers. You had the injury to Erin late in the season and Jess had to step in there and keep the momentum going for you.
BQ: Yeah, to be very honest that was a positional concern of mine coming into the season knowing that we only had two healthy to begin with and neither of them having played a ton. They competed really well against each other throughout the preseason and non-conference portion of the season. Both played good minutes, had good games. The goal keeping position, more than any other position is difficult because you need that competition constantly but it's likely that only one of them is going to play or one is going to play more than the other. It's not like other positions where you're subbing in and out. The mental aspect of that is what you really have to have from the kid that isn't playing as much. I think Jess handled it really well. She kept training really hard all year. As we got into the conference portion Erin kind of had staked her claim to the number one spot. At the time she was just training better, more consistently and just doing the right things to earn the spot every week. I so annoyed with myself, it's nothing I would have done differently but the kid gets hurt 15 minutes before practice is over the day before our last game of the season, she takes a ball off the post and sprains her thumb. Jess stepped right in and handled it really well. We didn't know if Erin was going to be able to play the next morning or not so Jess didn't even know until Friday morning or midday that she was starting that night against Hawai'i. She played really well the last three games and made some great saves. I don't think any of the goals she gave up were things we were looking at going, "She should have saved that." They were great goals that if she'd saved it would have been, "Holy cow, I can't believe she did that." She played really well and it was encouraging. It was encouraging that they both played considerable minutes going into next year and hopefully having a healthy Bitner back in the fold, that'll be huge for the team I think.
bc.net: Your back like with your four defenders and the couple of subs were really the anchor of your team all season long but especially in the early season as you started to get more consistent offensively later in the year.
BQ: Yeah, definitely. For the most part of the year early on it was the same four kids playing really all the minutes which is not necessarily a great thing because we were still trying to bring a couple kids along to try to get more from them. When you start putting that many minutes on your starters as you get deeper into the year they start fatiguing in games sooner just because their overall fatigue level is higher. Thomas, Irwin, Nordin and Hendler were kind of the regular four for most of the year and they did a really good job of becoming a much better defensive unit than I think they were the previous couple of years. You throw in Mickey Giles who over the last part of the season played a lot minutes and played really well for us in the wide back spot. Part of that is my fault, we were toying in the beginning of the year of playing her in holding mid or maybe center back or wide back and never really settled her into a position until about halfway through the year and that's probably as much on me as anything but she came in and played really well at the end. Olivia Sierra also came in and played center back for us a lot more in the later part of the season and did a good job. Both of them are just sophomores and are going to get better and better in those positions as well. I think really the six of them got the lion's share of the minutes this year. Plus the goal keepers, we had seven shutouts this year which equaled the 2009 and 2010 totals combined so that was a big step for us as a defensive team.
bc.net: In the midfield, one of the biggest changes you talked about early on was your offensive style was different than the previous style in that you wanted to play through the midfield and early on that was kind of a struggle as the kids got used to it. As the season went along you got a lot better play in being able to play through the midfield as that group started to grow through the season.
BQ: Yeah that's really what it was, growth by them as players and as a unit. It was something we knew wasn't going to happen overnight. It took them a while, it took them a few weeks in the preseason and getting games. That's the big thing, we can train and train and train but they've got to get in games where they're playing against different systems. They're playing three-v-two or they're matched up three-v-three or even what we ran into a couple times there at the end was playing against a box in the middle so they were playing three versus four. Those are all challenges they have to really see in games to continue to improve and I think as a group they were probably our biggest improving group from day one of preseason to the last game. I think while the backs greatly and the forwards improved greatly as well in terms of their tactical play, I think the mids improved the most as a group. They were pretty young too. We didn't really say much about Copey's [Lauren Cope] injury all year but the kid was out for 80 percent of the year or more. She had a knee injury from about the fourth day of preseason. She was our oldest midfielder as a junior. We did what we did without her healthy. Even when she played she wasn't 100 percent. We're definitely looking forward to getting her back in the mix next year. Daisy Hernandez was our best midfielder down the stretch of the season including the WAC tournament and she's a sophomore. Amber Harrington played a ton of minutes, she's a freshman. Katie Smith played a ton of minutes, she's a freshman. Kay Kay [Tupponce] is a freshman and played a ton of minutes and we played her at attacking mid and at forward, she's just really good on the ball. MK [Mary Kate Koziol] is a sophomore. I think we got some really good minutes out of a really young group of players. That whole group coming back with the only senior being Copey means that they're all going to be back again for another year which is really encouraging as well.
bc.net: You mentioned the forwards also showed great improvement throughout the season.
BQ: I think for the kids that were returners there was a pretty big adjustment to be honest going from three forwards and the style that we play. It wasn't as much direct where we've got great pace, let's just send them straight to goal. I argued with myself a couple times about that, maybe there were times when I should have just played like that but I have a hard time doing that because I don't like watching it. But you have a player like Yolie, she had seven goals last year and she was in the middle of the field and it was straight pace. She was so much more effective this year even though she scored a couple less goals. We had a couple kids with five, two kids with four, two or three kids with three, we were spreading it around and Yolie had five goals and five assists. Her impact was greater even though she scored fewer goals. Her impact on the team and on our attack was greater. Teams were flat out just keying on her. It came to the point at the end of the season that we knew what the scouting report said. Don't let 21 get the ball and run. That opened things up for Bree Luhrsen who had four goals and Katie Smith coming out of the midfield had five goals and Mary Kate coming out of the midfield had three goals. Layla Todd had three goals, she was a forward on the other side. It just opened up a ton of things. I think it makes a team harder to stop when they have more people capable of setting up and scoring goals. Now having said that, I'd love to have a double-digit scorer. I think every year that needs to be a goal for the forwards as individuals. They need to each be thinking, "I need to be a 10 goal scorer this year." If the forwards are thinking like that and we have somebody with 10 and somebody with eight and two with six and five assists and that kind of thing then I think we're definitely going in the right direction.
bc.net: When you got hired it was toward the end of the spring season and you didn't get to do any work with the kids during that time. You really only got to see the final exhibition game in the spring. How important will this offseason be for you and for the team.
BQ: I think it's going to be huge. Especially with everybody coming back. That's such big factor and I don't think I can really stress that enough. All these kids now get a full year with us, with the staff. They've seen what we're trying to do tactically in the fall. The spring is really about individual development. I think Courtney did a really good job with them last spring with what she could. Between her having to go to class herself and having to run the team by herself for three and a half months, she did a really good job with that. Now with having a full complement of coaches on board we can really divvy the players up into their position groups and work specifically with technical issues for each of those players and those positions. I think cleaning up our technical errors will help immensely with our tactical game.
bc.net: For each position group, what are some things that you noted that you want to address in the spring?
BQ: For our goal keeping it would be being more confident and dominant on any ball played in the air in the box. That would probably be the number one priority for them.
For the backs, our ability to handle the ball under pressure. I think defensively they did a much better job. Tactically in the fall we'll talk about tightening things up but technically their ability to handle the ball under pressure so we're not having to play as many long balls into the back so that we're connecting passes to the midfield even more.
For the midfield, just playing at a faster mental speed, understanding what's going to happen before seeing it about to happen and specifically playing out to the weak side. That's kind of the basis of our philosophy is playing out to the weak side mid. That's something that they can do technically by increasing their mental speed.
For the forwards, being a little more dynamic in their runs so there's more interchange so we don't have a right forward, a center forward and a left forward which is something we tended to have for most of the year as we played. There wasn't as much interchange as I'd like so for them to understand the timing of their runs. And of course for forwards technical finishing. Them being more dangerous in front of the goal, whether it's right foot, left foot, head.
bc.net: One of the weaknesses throughout the season was the slow start games. What are some things you'll be doing in the offseason to try to fix that?
BQ: That's actually something I've already thought a lot about this weekend and today even. I'm going to talk to a lot of my coaching colleagues, guys that have been doing this for a while and see what they do in their pre game routines, see if there's anything I can do there. I've got a lot of great, well qualified, long-tenured coaching contacts that I can use to talk to some of those guys. I read a lot so I'm going to read some publications from some professional teams and leagues. There's all kinds of topics and sessions you can find on pre game warmups and even just mentality on quick starts and speed of play. That's definitely something I want to address that I need to get better at to make us better at, finding a way for us to start faster. I think a lot of people would say we were a second half team and that cliche kind of bothered me even as a player because it tends to automatically lend itself to the fact that you're not a first half team and that's kind of the case. I'd like to start putting teams into positions where they have to start coming from behind with 10 minutes instead of us. That's definitely something I want to get better at.
bc.net: I'm sure you're looking forward to looking forward to working with all the kids in the offseason but who are some kids who you're really excited to get a hold of in the offseason and work with?
BQ: I think Yolie for sure. The kid is just tapping her potential I think right now. Her ability to be both a dangerous goal scorer and a dangerous setup player.
And the juniors really because I do only get the one more time and I want them to be as good as they can possibly be. Yolie is definitely one. Courtney Irwin. Really that entire back four. The starters were all juniors. It's those kids that I've got one more year with. That year includes this spring. I've got an entire calendar year with those kids as of right now.
A couple other individuals would be Amber Harrington, Katie Smith. Both I think have a lot more, both had very good freshman years but I both think they have a lot more they can show just by changing a couple things in their game technically.
As a goal keeper, I'll get to spend a lot of time with the goal keepers as well this spring. That's where I think individually I might be able to be the most helpful to Wosick and Bitner and Schutter because I played there and I think I can give them some more little detail stuff, insight things that they can only get from me or from Chris, our volunteer who did a fantastic job with them this year, but they can only get certain things from Chris or myself that they can't get from people just because we played the position.
bc.net: You had a lot of freshmen who played quality minutes for you and had a big impact on the team. A lot of times you hear about with freshmen is them hitting the "Freshman Wall" two thirds the way through the season. It didn't seem like your freshmen had that issue this year.
BQ: Yes and no. I think they hit it at different times which was helpful. Because we do play a lot of freshmen and they do play a lot of minutes I think if they'd all hit that slump at the same time we would have struggled a little more. I know Scooter [Katie Smith] had one, I know Kay Kay [Tupponce] had a little bit of a slump for a weekend. Amber, Jennae, they all hit it at some point but they all didn't hit it at the same time. A couple of them actually about after the fifth or sixth game, that weekend, just the physicality had taken its toll on them from preseason to that point, it had been the hardest thing they'd done in soccer to that point. Others lasted longer and they started to hit it right as we started to get into conference play because then the season had now gotten a bit longer and worn on, they'd played 12 games already. So they hit it at different times. I think as long as we can do our job as a staff and coach them through the spring in terms of understanding their fitness levels because that's a big eye opener to freshmen is college fitness versus any other type of fitness and we can improve their fitness level and their technical ability, hopefully what we can avoid is the sophomore slump. That's something you hear about too. You have the great freshman year and then you hit the sophomore slump and that's what we want to avoid is them taking any steps backward. We want everything for them to be forward.
bc.net: You have just one senior this year in Cassandra Branch but you still have to recruit, you still have to bring in players, what are some things you're looking at for this class coming up?
BQ: Obviously you've got to try to replace Branch in some fashion or another either with a kid that's a forward in general or if at all possible, and I don't know if it is possible, you've got to try to replace that pace that you're losing. I don't know if we can do that in one year or not, that pace she has is ridiculous. Those are key things right there. Trying to replace a) someone on the forward line and b) somebody with anything close to that kind of pace would be great to add.
Then we want to keep solidifying the team with technical players. I've said before, as people keep coming out and seeing us play year after year and seeing our team, they'll realize that I'm not the guy that goes after the six-foot, biggest, strongest, fastest kid on the field. Those are great to have at times and in limited quantity. I'm a soccer fan at heart, I'm a soccer player, I'm a soccer purist. I want the game played, I don't just want to run and kick and out-run and out-jump other teams. I want to outplay them. I think you're going to find that we're going to have some kids coming in that are probably going to be smaller than maybe a lot of other schools are bringing in but I think they can play. If I think they can play that's why I'm bringing them in.
bc.net: In terms of your style of play, would you say that the second goal you scored in that match against Hawai'i typified the way you want to play?
BQ: Yes! Yes, that was a team goal. Yes, definitely. It was built. Ball into the midfield, ball into the forward, back into the mid, ball played over the top on a diagonal though, not an over the top long ball. We had already built well into their end, played a nice little diagonal into our forward, Yolie, who took a great touch, then smashed a great shot off the post and then kids were thinking ahead. It was a soccer IQ moment. They were crashing the goal, the ball comes out, MK crushes one and hits the keeper and our other forward, Breesy [Bree Luhrsen] is standing there running into that spot, making the right run, gets a fortunate bounce and that's probably one of the easier goals she'll score but it was scored because of the work that was done. That was very much a team goal, those are the kind of goals I'd like to continue to see us scoring and scoring.
bc.net: Obviously the conference is changing dramatically next season. What do you know about the teams that are coming in?
BQ: Seattle U is very good. I'm very good friends with the assistant there and I know the head coach as well. The assistant and I go recruiting a lot of the same places together. I know him well and I know what their style is. It's a very good soccer playing team. They get a lot of good kids out of the Pacific Northwest, there's a ton of good talent in the state of Washington. They were somewhere around 12-6 at one point this year, that's a very good team. I absolutely believe they'll be a top three or four team in the conference first year. I'd be shocked if they weren't.
Denver, is a very good team. Every year they play a very good non-conference schedule. They're always right around that range to be bubble team, an at-large to the NCAAs if they don't win their conference. I know this year they didn't, they lost in their conference semifinal in their conference tournament. Their RPI is right around the 40s or low 50s so they're always right around that bubble range which again makes them a very good team and the recruiting base for them out of Colorado is huge. They have a ton of talent in Colorado to recruit from.
Then you've got Texas-San Antonio who won their conference last year and went to the NCAA tournament and they've won it a couple times. I think they were top four this year. I don't know their coaching staff or much about them other than what I just follow.
Texas State just won their conference tournament Sunday, they upset the 1-seed Stephen F. Austin who has a very good program. I know Kat's done a very good job at Texas State for several years. I actually coached at a camp with her back when I was at Kansas in 2006. I thought she was a very good coach.
While it's disappointing to lose Fresno State and Hawai'i and Nevada, I think we're getting four very good teams. Hopefully we're going to see the conference RPI and the conference profile be raised by those of us in the conference continuing to get better and the four teams coming in.
bc.net: You talked about the talent in Washington and Colorado. How much does it help open your recruiting doors by having Seattle and Denver in the league?
BQ: Absolutely. Just in general I'm already recruiting in those places anyway because I had ties from my time at Arizona State and being there for four years so I was already in those spots a lot anyway and I'm going to be in them a ton here as well. I got out and started recruiting in May when I got there but it's May, June, July and then it's season time so I haven't even really had a whole recruiting cycle for this program yet. That all basically starts with Thanksgiving. There's a ton of tournaments and we're definitely gonna be hitting the west region hard, specifically Colorado, Southern California, I've got contacts in Washington that I'm already working for kids. Those are definitely places we want to be. And then also, I want more Texas kids. We've got one right now, she's an El Paso kid which a lot of people kind of consider local to here. I want more Texas kids. I think there's a ton of talent there that's not being completely tapped.