Plant discusses Panthers’ offseason preparations

Eastern+forward+Serra+Pizano+gets+into+position+to+head+the+ball+in+Easterns+match+against+Chicago+State+on+Sept.+3%2C+2021%2C+at+Lakeside+Field.+Pizano+had+a+goal+in+the+match%2C+which+Eastern+won+1-0.+

Ashanti Thomas | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern forward Serra Pizano gets into position to head the ball in Eastern’s match against Chicago State on Sept. 3, 2021, at Lakeside Field. Pizano had a goal in the match, which Eastern won 1-0.

Nick Bays, Women's Soccer Reporter

The Eastern women’s soccer team’s season ended last November after qualifying for the OVC Tournament once again. While the playoff appearance was impressive enough, the Panthers would be eliminated in the first round.

Two months removed, the Panthers have had time to sit back and look at last season as they prepare for their next upcoming OVC campaign. Head coach Jake Plant has been able to take much of last season’s ups and downs into perspective and is using that information to create a productive spring off-season.

“Coming back from the break, you get a few priorities you need to addres. Make sure that foundation is solid,” Plant said. “One major one that we’re dealing with right now, that we think will have a massive impact this fall, is our possession rate. We pride ourselves as a possession-based team. Also, getting the understanding of ‘why’ into the group is one of the biggest things.”

He also said that roster turnover makes it difficult to work on things long term. 

“Not only do we need to have good possession rates to dominate games, but we also had a lot of turnover in the last two seasons,” Plant said. “Lot of kids leaving and coming in with big classes. So, that learning and understanding of the microdetails of possession is something we really have to get done this spring.”

When looking at this spring offseason, Plant said this spring is more of a return to normal spring seasons. 

The last two springs had been affected more drastically by COVID, with one being cut short and the other containing a rescheduled fall season.

“The next three to four months, every detail in possession and why the ball goes here and there and has to be taught,” Plant said. “That may not be the only thing, but that will be the biggest thing we will be doing all spring long.”

Along with emphasizing possession, Plant said he is ready to give potentially important roles to younger players.

“You give the chance to the younger kids to develop, grow, and become the staple kids in the program. They earned those spots (last year) and that’s just where we’re at as a program. Lots of our kids graduated, especially in the backline, so we had to stagger it with some youth,” he said. 

“Now these younger kids are somewhat experienced, which is nice. The future is bright when it comes to those positions because by the time they’re juniors and seniors, they’re going to have played fifty to sixty games for EIU and be rock solid.”

When it comes to spring training, the emphasis will be heavily possession based. 

“(Possession) is going to be immersed in everything we do,” Plant said. “Every session, every drill, even if we’re doing a finishing drill that’s about scoring goals, there will be an element of the principles of possession. . . The importance will be stressed by the girls just seeing it every day in lots of different scenarios.”

Possession play, and starting possession at the back line, is important to Plant and the offense he wants to run for a few reasons. 

“Dropping the center backs towards goal and spreading them out wide tempts the other team into coming forward,” Plant said. “We want the opponent to come to us to create space in their half of the field. Then that allows for the decision makers at the back to once the pressure comes to bypass it. It’s all about creating space behind the opponent.”

That potential space created behind proved to be effective on multiple occasions for the Panthers as they doubled their goal scoring tally from their 2020 season (played in the spring of 2021). The Panthers in that 2020 season scored five goals in ten matches averaging 0.5 goals per contest. However, the Panthers last season scored ten goals in seventeen matches with an average of 0.58 goals per game.

With younger players developing under Plant with an emphasis on possession and creating space in the other half combined with six proven goal-scoring threats who found the back of the net last season for the Panthers, this average should continue to grow alongside these players. The foundation for the Panthers is a solid one that presents potential for growth, and Plant’s ideas and methodology seem to be taking the program to more competitive seasons to come.

 

Nick Bays can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]