A new era begins for Saluki soccer under coach Craig Roberts
August 30, 2022
On November 2, 2019, the Saluki soccer team walked off the field at Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex having won its fifth game in program history against the visiting California Baptist Lancers. It was the final game of the inaugural season for the women’s soccer program, a campaign that ended with a 5-10-2 record.
Three years later, the team is still searching for its sixth win.
What followed that first year became a string of seasons to forget. The 2020 season was postponed to the next spring, and ended with an 0-6-3 record with only one goal scored all year. Most recently, SIU finished 0-15-1 in fall 2021, extending its winless streak to 26 games.
The tough stretch for Saluki soccer came with a few asterisks. The COVID-shortened 2020-21 season forced SIU to play a tough schedule, almost exclusively facing established Missouri Valley Conference opponents. The team then faced a quick turnaround of only a few months before the next year, which was its worst yet record-wise.
As the 2022 season kicks off, the team looks to put that stretch of futility in the past, as it enters the Craig Roberts era.
On March 15, Saluki athletics announced Roberts’s hiring as the second-ever women’s soccer coach in program history. Roberts previously was a head coach at Grambling State, Ball State, and UT Martin, accumulating a record of 150-92-45 in 15 seasons.
“Craig has an impressive track record in building soccer programs at other institutions and has demonstrated a strong commitment to student-athlete development,” interim Athletic Director Matt Kupec said at the time of hiring.
Although no longer a brand new program, SIU women’s soccer continues to face the challenge of building a team from the ground up. With a new coaching staff, it gets a fresh start at that process.
“It’s a brand new start with inheriting this program,” Roberts said. “We’ve laid down a lot of new values, a lot of new standards, expectations, and also trying to implement the environment that we want — definitely a family, well-connected team. We have a sisterhood within the team.”
Before a team can start winning, it needs to establish a good culture. Emphasizing togetherness, the team might be facing an uphill battle, but the results they have from this season onward will be won or lost together.
“I feel like everybody’s on their toes, myself included,” junior forward McKensey Bunch said. “Everybody’s ready to go, especially with the new coaching staff bringing all of the new material to the table… I think we’re ready to just dive in and get to work.”
The first game of the year, the home opener against Lindenwood, saw the Salukis face a familiar result: a 2-0 shutout. While the score was not to be desired, the play on the field represented the first step of what will be a long process for the team to dig itself out of rock bottom.
“Our focus has got to be on taking the positives out of each game,” Roberts said. “For 60 or 70 minutes of this game, we took a lot of positives out of the game and what we’re going to do now is dissect the last 30 minutes and just make sure that we correct those mistakes.”
Saluki soccer will face a tough task on the road against Missouri on Thursday, before returning to Carbondale for a three-game homestand beginning on September 1 with Alabama A&M.
Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BrandynWilcoxen
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