Coach Melissa Heinz has had a great amount of success coming into young or new women’s soccer programs and producing positive results, and it was no different when she came to VSU.
Heinz led the women’s squad to an impressive 11-5 record (5-1-1 in GSC play) and a second place finish in the Gulf South Conference Championship during her first year here and VSU.
After being left out of contention for an NCAA title in 2011 Heinz and the Blazers squad are ready to strike back with a vengeance in 2012.
Chad Stone: So how do you like Valdosta so far?
Melissa Heinz: It’s a great community, nice people and the school has got a lot of things going on so that kind of makes it nice to take a break from soccer when you can. You know, go to football game, go to a basketball game. Valdosta’s a great community. I am enjoying it.
C: What do you think about the community’s reception of the women’s soccer team?
M: Oh it was arms out, and hugs and it was really neat. It was pretty powerful.
C: What sort of emotions has the team felt as they progressed through this very successful inaugural season?
M: At the beginning it was just anxiousness, and they (the players) didn’t know how it would actually feel, and how it would go through. As the season went on they continued to believe more and more. At the end of the season, I’ve got to be honest, I think they were all very sad because they wanted more and they worked hard to get more and they believed they could go get more and when it didn’t happen there were some sad moments.
C: What has surprised you the most working with these athletes that have never played as a collective group before?
M: That you can’t teach experience. I really thought I could (laughs), I thought I could in the training sessions. Kind of give them scenarios that would make some experience, but you can’t. You just can’t teach experience. Even though they all worked hard and they gave their best, experience is still something.
C: Is the entire squad returning next year?
M: Two girls are graduating. Each person will decide if this is the commitment that they want to continue to give because it is a lot of work. On top of being a college student there is a lot of time on the field, in the weight room, and the travelling. We won’t know until after spring, but for the most part, yes.
C: Do you think this gives an edge to the team to have so many returning players and such a young team?
M: Yup. I mean it should, but again the thing that will change is people aren’t going to overlook us as much next year. They are going to be out for us. But saying that, we are also going to be stronger because we have spring training with them and that’s what we didn’t get last year because they were in high school. We will take one for one and be stronger for it.
C: What is the key factor that led to such a successful first season?
M: Hard work. Just across the board. I was here for over a year before they came in. I worked hard. My assistant, Erin Foote, worked hard with me. The kids we brought in worked hard, and just the mindset to succeed their first year and not be that typical first year program.
C: What aspect of the team do you think needs the most improvement as you prepare for next year’s season?
M: Most (laughs). We need to score more goals. It’s just making every player better and stronger. Just improve on what they did in the fall. Not really one specific thing. too many players for that.
C: What is it going to take to overcome some of the harder teams you faced this season?
M: Experience. Here’s the fact is that we lost to West Florida in the regular season, but we beat them in the GSC tournament. We beat North Alabama in the regular season, but lost to them in the finals. To be able to beat a big powerhouse team and then also lose to them is just experience on both sides, and that is what it is going to take. To bring it forward to beat those teams and be consistent, because they have proven that they can just with hard work. Can you imagine if you have hard work and experience and better on the skills? You are on fire!
C: Can you explain the circumstances that led to VSU not being involved in the NCAA tournament?
M: I’m not 100 percent sure. To sum it up we didn’t have a tough enough schedule. Well we did, but Barry and Tampa were early on, powerhouse games. Since we lost to them that kept us out the tournament. If we could have won one of them it might have been helpful. They don’t go strictly by record. They want to see you beat more than Queens and Montevallo. They want you to beat Barry or Tampa. We just played them too early.
C: How did you and the team feel when you found out that VSU would not be in the tournament?
M: Sadness all over again. We knew there was a small chance. Now next year we will make sure that if we can’t win the tournament then we get in at large. Sad again though, they wanted it. That was our mindset to go to the first round at least in the first season. When you didn’t get it the weekend before, you had a little hope on Monday. It just motivates them again to remember every game matters in the season.
C: Do you have any closing comments?
M: We appreciate the support. The girls talk about the first game and all those fans and their support throughout the season. They were excited for that. We just want to thank those people because you don’t get to thank everybody, but that’s huge when the girls are out there working hard. As an athlete anytime you have fans out there it helps you play even harder and rightfully so. Our home games were pretty darn good. Now we are ready. We are going to come back next year even harder.