Soccer working to reverse history


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Iowa isn't known for its soccer.

The 14-year-old Hawkeye program is the worst in the Big Ten. The team's all-time 33-93-12 conference record adds up to a .283 winning percentage, and Iowa has finished in the league cellar six times.

Head coach Ron Rainey sees reason for optimism, though. The Hawkeyes are young and talented, and they ended the 2010 season with a thrilling conference win.

History will always be there, but Iowa isn't looking back.

The wonder years

The Iowa soccer program's inaugural season wasn't special. After an 8-11 season in 1997, though, head coach Stephanie Gabbert turned the Hawkeyes into a legitimate threat. Iowa posted its only winning Big Ten season in 1999, a 7-3 campaign that earned Gabbert Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

"As the first coach in the history of the program, I felt I was able to establish a certain kind of culture and a belief in the program," Gabbert said. "In the short time I was there, we made some pretty good strides. But beyond the winning piece of it, it was more of having pride and being a Hawkeye — and being able to carry that forward as well."

Gabbert left Iowa to coach Iowa State after the 1999 season, and successor Wendy Logan coached the team to a 5-5 conference record in 2000. Iowa hasn't achieved a .500 Big Ten record since.

The blunder years

Wins became scarce after the turn of the century.

Logan left the school after two years at the helm, and Carla Baker's four-year tenure marked the worst stretch in Iowa history. Iowa went 20-45-9 from 2002 to 2005, including a 4-30-6 mark in conference play. Hawkeye scoring dipped from 37 goals per season in the program's first five years to just 21.

This didn't help Britta Marmon, formerly Britta Vogele, Iowa's goalkeeper from 2001 to 2004. Marmon made the most of her playing time, anyway — she's Iowa's all-time leader in wins (23) and second in Big Ten history with 489 career saves — and said the team wasn't lacking ambition.

"[As captain, I was] motivating people to be passionate and commit themselves … to that common goal of winning Big Ten championships," the now William and Mary assistant coach said. "That was the goal and the mindset I felt everybody else should want."

Rainey era moves forward

The team has improved in Rainey's five years as Iowa's head coach, but Big Ten play has remained a glaring problem. Iowa is 29-11-7 in nonconference games, but just 10-36-4 in league matches under Rainey's tutelage.

"Some of the teams in the [conference] season are flat-out better than the teams we played in the first half," Rainey said. "In the league, the margin of error becomes a lot slimmer. We have to have people with the confidence and mindset to step up and make plays. I think we have this year in certain games, but we haven't done it enough."

Jackie Kaeding is optimistic about the team's future. The former midfielder and defender (2005-2009), who regularly attends games, said the Hawkeyes have the talent to hang with the Big Ten's best, but they need one more piece to push them over the edge.

"What we really need is that one player who can score," Kaeding said. "Somebody who can come and score goals, and outrun the defensive line, and who's hungry for a goal and isn't afraid to take shots."

The young Hawkeye offense showed flashes of fulfilling that need this year. Freshman Leah DeMoss shredded nonconference opponents for five goals and three assists, but the entire attack stalled for the majority of a 1-7-2 conference season.

Still, Iowa stuck with most of the Big Ten teams it played and looked impressive when it scored three goals to knock off Purdue in the last game of the year on Nov. 6. Both teams recorded 20 shots in the 3-2 slugfest, a statistic that encourages Rainey.

"[In other seasons], the game might have been 25-6 in shots," Rainey said. "Now, the games are equal. Now, the next phase of this program is, how do we take some of these equal games and get one goal wins and get more of the results we want in the Big Ten?"

For Rainey, the answer lies in the off-season. He said the months from November to August are vital for conditioning and cultivating the killer instinct necessary to find results in a difficult conference.

"The strides are there," Rainey said. "We've been able to play with some of these teams. Our big challenge is to play above their level or technically look to do some things that can give us wins in the league. That's something everyone can agree with, from top to bottom."

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