As we inch closer to the start of the fall soccer season, we’re offering some early teases of the new beats starting up with our expanded team. In case you missed this very exciting news, current pro and former Summit League star Annie Williams will be covering St Thomas as they officially begin their journey as a DI program in that conference and Mark Privratsky will be covering both the powerhouse DII NSIC and Minnesotans playing DI in other states. These summer snapshots will shed some light on what Annie and Mark are looking for as they shape their coverage moving forward. In this piece, I ask Annie about her St Thomas beat. Find our chat with Mark about the NSIC online as well.
Question: First, Annie you spent four years in the Summit League. You were one of dozens of Minnesotans plying their trade there for schools *outside* of Minnesota. What do you think it will mean for St Thomas to add a Twin Cities college to that conference lineup?
A: I’m interested to see the immediate impact that the University of St. Thomas could have in the Summit League and in Division 1 soccer. After a 17-2-5 record in 2020 (9-1-1 conference play) at the Division 3 level, the Tommies look to make a smooth transition to division 1. Although UST cannot qualify for the Summit League Women’s Soccer Tournament or the NCAA tournament, this year will be monumental for the program. The Tommie’s first year as a division 1 soccer team will become the foundation for future seasons.
Q: One thing I have a hard time predicting is how much the long standing winning culture that St Thomas built in the MIAC will translate, even as the competition gets tougher. I think people probably, at times, may over assume the gap between a great DIII team and a run of the mill mid major DI team. But what do you think that transition will be like for the individual players? What big differences might the carry over players notice during those first few games?
A: As you said, the gap between some DIII and DI teams can be over assumed and I think St. Thomas’ DIII winning culture will translate over into a DI winning culture, if not immediately, then over time. Mentality is a big component in successful programs and the mentality that the returning players bring into preseason along with the newcomers will set the tone for the program moving forward. From a physical standpoint, players will be met with a more physical, fast-paced, and technical game than they saw in DIII but as I said before, I think the Tommies will be able to adjust very quickly.
Q: They obviously knew about the transition during some of the most recent recruiting conversations so they aren’t only bringing over their MIAC roster to play in the Summit League. They also have a large incoming freshman class. Do you think being able to be part of this “first team” in DI is a draw for some of these recruits? And how much of a hit might some of the other Summit League teams take now that a school right in the Twin Cities is here as an option vs another team in the conference 5+ hours away?
A: Absolutely I think that being a part of the first Division I team in UST history is a selling point for recruits. There is so much opportunity for new players to come in and contribute to the team right away and to be successful. Most DI recruits face the challenge of finding their roles during their first couple years on the team, especially in programs that have sophomores, juniors, and seniors returning to the team with DI playing experience. Although the newcomers at St. Thomas will also have to find their roles within the team, all players will be new to DI and the Summit League, leaving opportunity for all players, returners and newcomers to step up. Recruiting wise, the University of St. Thomas offers Minnesotan players another option to play Division I soccer and stay close to home. I predict that the biggest recruiting impact will be on schools that are similar to the University of St. Thomas, such as the University of Denver and possibly the University of Nebraska-Omaha, both located in urban areas.
Q: For those Minnesota soccer fans that maybe didn’t see you and the Jackrabbits at SDSU suit up and don’t really know the Summit League super well, what kind of style of play will St Thomas be going up against? Talk about some of the top teams and the styles of play the Tommies might need to prepare for.
A: Overall, The Summit League is known for its physical play and rivalries. I am interested to see how St. Thomas will match up against the reigning Summit League tournament champions, the University of Denver. The Pioneers, known for their athleticism and technical play, will challenge the Tommies defensively and I am excited to see how the two teams will match up in conference play. South Dakota State, another top team in the league, returns with a very solid roster, a strong defense, and a lot of championship experience. I look forward to seeing how UST will match up with the Jackrabbits in the Tommie’s second Summit League appearance.
Q: What other things will you be looking for as you follow this team through their inaugural DI season? What themes or stories do you want to track?
A: This season, I am looking forward to following how head coach Sheila McGill and the Tommies will handle the transition from DIII to DI. An interesting component will be to see UST’s ability to learn and grow from game to game and throughout the season. I am also excited to see what characteristics will define the Tommies this season regardless of wins and losses; I’m talking style of play, mentality, and team environment. These characteristics from the first year will help build a foundation for St. Thomas at the Division I level.
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