A New Attitude Five Months Later

Nina Mandell

By Nina MandellThe Daily Northwestern

Driving around a day after Northwestern beat No. 16 Indiana, first-year coach Stephanie Erickson wouldn?t talk about being impressed about her team upsetting a ranked team on the road. It was the little things like getting a shutout and Kelsey?s goal and the idea that her team is closer to top four in the conference, something they?ve been aiming for since the beginning of the season.

?We were just happy we went in and got the job done,? she said. ?It doesn?t matter who we beat.?

It?s that attitude players like Kelsey Hans, who had the winning goal in the 1-0 shutout of Indiana, said are bringing the team back from the gutter of the Big Ten where it rested with only two conference wins last season.?

It?s also allowing the program to gain respectability after a hazing scandal propelled them into the national spotlight.

?This year if we win it?s more of an expectation,? Hans said. ?Last year if we won it was like ?Surprise! We won.? ?

But this year if the team can stay above Michigan State (2-5 Big Ten), Iowa (0-7), and Minnesota (1-6) in the standings for three more weeks of regular season play, it will make the Big Ten tournament, something that didn?t happen last season.

With a completely revamped coaching staff, a more aggressive offense and a new team attitude, this is not that team.?

It?s been five months since the now-infamous pictures of hazing in the program appeared online. Hans, who said the team had never done anything like that before, couldn?t believe what happened in the spring.

?I was just surprised,? Hans said. ?I wasn?t thinking when we did it. I didn?t think it would blow up like that.?

By the end of May, five-year coach Jenny Haigh resigned. Brittany Oliveira, an assistant under Haigh, had left to take an assistant coaching job at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a job she said she had already accepted before the hazing scandal broke out.?

Erickson, the leading scorer in NU soccer history and one-time assistant under Haigh, made an about face from her first head coaching gig at Harvard after only one year there.?

?It?s hard to turn on ESPN and see the N-Cat next to those pictures,? Erickson said. ?I figured (Northwestern) was the safest place to be. If this team hasn?t learned after that incident ? I don?t know who would have.? ?

The team performed community service ? the players and coaches ran a soccer clinic for underprivileged youth ? and upperclassmen on the team served a two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. Shortly after she was hired, Erickson put together a staff of her former teammates. Erin Ekeberg holds the spot as the second-most saves as an NU goalkeeper, and Danielle Slaton was a former U.S. National Team player.

?I think Stephanie did an amazing job of putting together a staff,? athletic director Mark Murphy said. He declined to comment on Haigh?s departure.?

Now the Cats are trying to prove that on the other side of the highly publicized scandal, the team has come out better.?

?I just feel like it?s an attitude,? senior Tori Bohannon said. ?It?s very hard to describe. I just feel like we have a new sort of energy within the team. I just think we honestly believe (in ourselves).?

There?s also a strong freshman class ? four have started consistently ? and junior midfielder/defender Shannon Schneeman is back from a knee injury that kept her out last season.

And other players are stepping up. Hans is one example of a player who?s play and scoring ability has skyrocketed this season ? she currently has six goals on the season ? the total number she reached last year, after scoring 15 her freshman year.

?(Erickson) wants to score, she wants to win,? Hans said. ?We do a lot of finishing drills at practice, finishing in the box. She?s very attack-oriented, and our offense has more support up top (then last year).??

Ironically, it?s not the first time Erickson has had to take over a program on a few weeks notice. In her first coaching job at Stanford, Erickson was promoted to co-head coach the day before the opening game after head coach Andy Nelson resigned amid accusations he pushed two players to the ground during a practice.

The top-ranked team went 21-2 under Erickson and co-head coach Paul Sapsford, losing in the NCAA tournament to eventual national champion Portland in penalty kicks in overtime.

Oliveira, who played at Stanford under Erickson that season, said Erickson?s attitude and ability to raise team spirits makes her likeable as a replacement in tough situations. Oliveira denies statements the team had anything but a winning attitude last season.

?She was obviously a great player herself,? Oliveira said. ?She has a great passion for the game and knows it really well. You immediately gain respect for her just from the way she treats people. It makes the transition easy.?

Though Erickson pointed out the scandals had different timing ?Stanford?s was during its preseason, NU?s was in the offseason ? the situations put both teams at a disadvantage coming into the season.

?When it?s adversity, it?s always the same,? she said. ?That?s what it was there, that?s what it is here, its just getting the players to respond to it in a positive way.?

Hans said the team has already gotten the positive attitude, thanks to team bonding sponsored and supervised by Erickson. As for learning from the incident that propelled them onto national television, she said there was nothing left to learn there.

?We go through the meetings and we know it?s not acceptable,? she said. ?We just didn?t think about it.?

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]