By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
In 2011 the UNO men’s soccer team was brand new and expectations were tempered by the uphill climb of starting a new program. Then the Mavs exceeded those expectations and won their first game 2-1 at UMKC.
Less than 48 hours later, UNO was shut out 4-0 at home by UC Irvine, and it would take another seven games before the Mavs could even get another goal, let alone another win. But just four months removed from a 1-11-1 season, the UNO men’s soccer team is already worlds away from its first season of Division I competition.
“Obviously last year we didn’t have a spring. I barely knew some of the guys,” head coach Jason Mims said about how far his team has come from last fall. “Some guys showed up in the summer and did some offseason workouts.”
“But for the most part we got a bunch of guys together that didn’t know each other, a coach that didn’t really know his players. [We] basically got together for two weeks of practice and then boom, we started playing.”
In the last few weeks Mims and his team have started spring practice and begun developing the relationships that didn’t exist last August. Like other NCAA sports, the UNO soccer team has a mandated amount of time in which to hold spring practice and prepare for a fall schedule.
The Mavs will hold practices almost every day through April 21 and are allowed five dates on which to play games. Spring allows Mims and his team to dedicate a lot more time to getting better than is available in the fall.
A fall schedule usually includes two games a week meaning soccer teams will often spend the time in-between to recover rather than to practice.
“This is the best time for development,” Mims said about spring practice. “We’re seeing so many guys progress and get better and better and better [because] you can actually train and work on stuff.”
While some of the work done in the spring is team-focused, it’s also the time when players earn starting spots and roster spots. By the time August arrives, Mims needs to have a team ready to prepare for competition.
New players will arrive on campus, game plans will start to be formed and it might be too late to try and make an impression on the coaching staff.
“For sure these guys know that this is their time to prove to themselves, prove to their teammates, prove to their coaches…and basically show what they have,” Mims said. “The guys that didn’t play much that’s their chance to say ‘hey, here’s what I can do.’ And the guys that played it’s their shot to say ‘look you played but we gotta get better.'”
“Show us that you’re improving. Show us that you’re getting quicker, that you’re getting stronger, maybe you’re getting smarter and we’re starting to see that with some guys.”
The next two months will be new to Mims and his players. Since UNO has a roster of 90 percent freshmen, that means most of the team hasn’t been through an offseason conditioning program nor lifted weights.
A year ago, that lack of physical maturity showed. At the beginning of the year, many of the Mavs didn’t have the ability to play longer than 10 minutes in a half.
As 10 minutes turned into 15, then 20, then 30, UNO became more competitive. The Mavs went from losing games in the first half to staying close until late.
Taking that into account, Mims and his staff have formed a plan for the spring that includes three phases. Phase one was to gain strength.
In the first six weeks of spring practice, the team spent four days a week in the weight room. Mims says the average player gained four or five pounds of muscle and dropped one or two percent body fat.
Phase two is the running and conditioning part of soccer, and phase three is the five games UNO will play in the spring.
“This is my favorite time of the year,” Mims said. “I know the guys, it’s probably hard and the guys wanna play games and that’s what you get judged on and that’s the fun part.”
“For me as a coach the fun part is the offseason. I really enjoy this. However hard you work in the spring and what you accomplish in January and February and March and April, May, that’s gonna determine your fall.”
For spring games UNO has scheduled Iowa Western, Hastings College, Creighton and the Minnesota Stars from the North American Soccer League. Each of the opponents was ranked in the top five at some division of college soccer and the Stars won the North American Soccer League last season.
“For me we could have went and picked four or five schools, and I don’t know who those schools are, to get some results against and get some wins but we’re still in the learning process,” Mims said. “For us to get four or five games that are against one of the best college teams in the country, best Division I teams in the country, best NAIA team in the country…
we’re gonna have a clearer picture in April and right now it’s all about painting pictures and seeing what we got.”