In his second stint as head coach of the Fort Lewis College women’s soccer team, Damian Clarke will look to replicate the same level of success he had during his first stint as Skyhawks coach.
Fort Lewis was scheduled to have its alumnae game Saturday afternoon as a final tuneup before the season starts, but it was canceled after one half because of lightning strikes in the area. The match ended in a scoreless draw.
Clarke, the all-time wins leader in FLC women’s soccer history, returned to FLC after four seasons as head coach of the Midwestern State University Mustangs in Texas. He went 40-27-13 at Midwestern State, had two trips to the NCAA South Regional championship and delivered a Lone State Conference title in 2016. In seven seasons at FLC from 2007-13, he went 106-31-17 and 67-20-11 in conference play.
Despite Saturday’s weather-shortened exhibition at Dirk’s Field, Clarke was still pleased with the development of the squad with two weeks of practice under their belts.
“I think there’s still a lot of learning going on between both the staff and new players,” Clarke said. “We’ve got 13 new players and quite a few players that I got to spend some time in the spring with, but we still have a lot to figure out before we are comfortable and trusting in our relationships that will allow us to move forward and improve.”
One of those areas where Clarke is looking forward to improving is in the goal department area, where Fort Lewis scored only 17 times last season and gave up 32. The team returned two of its top-three leading goal scorers in junior forward Emma Patron, who scored four times last season, and Renee Terrell, who scored once and added two assists.
Clarke said that in practice and preseason, scoring goals has to be more of an emphasis moving forward.
“We’re not giving up goals, but we’re not scoring,” Clarke said. “We’re happy with the fact that we’re at least organized enough to feel like defending is going well, and, collectively, they’re doing well on that side of the ball, but there’s a lot to figure out in trying to go forward and gain some confidence by putting the ball in the back of the net. And we’ve yet to do that, so there’s still a lot of work and a lot of progress to be made.”
The Skyhawks stout defense has been a bit of a surprise as five of its seven players are underclassmen. Those that saw action Saturday included freshman Alison Bischof and sophomore Diana Sifuentes, a transfer from Lubbock Christian.
Fort Lewis will be a possession-based team and will try and build its attack from the back, according to Clarke. It has been one of the program hallmarks, and he wants to re-instill it once again.
“Tactically, that footprint has always been there, it still is,” Clarke said. “Fort Lewis has always attempted to be a possession style team. I think, at the same time, I learned a lot going to Texas and sometimes being forced to be a little bit more direct and change a little bit. So, I think at the moment we are still adapting and trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do with these kids.
“We’re definitely going to try and keep the ball when we can and defend the space when we don’t have it. We’re going to be a very good defending team when we don’t have the ball, and, when we get it, we’re going to try and keep it as long as possible.”
After going 4-11-1 and 4-8 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference last season, the Skyhawks were picked to finish in ninth in the RMAC preseason poll. The way practice and preseason has gone, Clarke believes that the Skyhawks could surprise teams.
“I think the team is adjusting well and the culture is beginning to get a little bit better,” Clarke said. “I think that the kids are still learning a lot about each other and we still have a ways to go there, but overall, we’re moving in the right direction.”
FLC players were not made available for comment.
The Skyhawks will open the season at 6 p.m. Friday at Angelo State.