Miami soccer coach Bobby Kramig laughed uncomfortably when asked on Tuesday how it felt to be starting his second 30 years at Miami.
“Thanks for that,” he joked before getting a little more serious. “It feels pretty good. This is what I always wanted to do with my life, and I probably enjoy it more now than I did when I started.”
One reason for that is Kramig is coaching one of his best teams ever. The RedHawks lost just three players and one starter from a team that went 20-3-1 while winning the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament championships last season before going on to upset No. 20 Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Miami, which lost to Duke in the second round, is 1-1 going into its home opener Friday at 5 p.m. against Belmont. The RedHawks opened the season with a 3-2 loss at Illinois State on Friday before edging Valparaiso, 1-0, at Valparaiso on Sunday.
Losing to Illinois State, which moved to No. 7 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Great Lakes Region poll, could prove beneficial in the long run, Kramig said.
“We knew going in that Illinois State is a very, very good team,” said the Wyoming (Ohio) High School and Florida Southern graduate, who started at Miami coach of the now-defunct men’s team and coached both the men’s and women’s team for a couple of years before the men’s program was disbanded. “Losing a tight game at Illinois State isn’t going to hurt us, and clearly, it didn’t. They exposed us and things we weren’t doing right. We hadn’t had that opportunity yet.”
The Redbirds capitalized on what Kramig described as a tentative midfield defense, which he said put pressure on the back line and stymied Miami’s attack. It’s too soon to see if that problem is completely solved, but at least he found confirmation in Sunday’s win in hot conditions on a worn Field Turf playing surface that the RedHawks – ranked 10th in the region – are deep.
“We hung in,” he said. “That was a tough game to play. One obvious strength of our team is the number of returning players we have – not just returning, but kids who played a lot. Having them back is a huge asset. We learned at Valpo that we have a tremendously strong bench. That’s going to help in college with those Friday-Sunday game. In order to succeed in soccer, you have to get through those Sunday games. We have enough depth to raise our level of play on Sundays.”
The RedHawks have seven Friday-Sunday combos remaining on their schedule.
Among Miami’s key returning players is sophomore Lauren Mathews, a Badin graduate who opened last season as a midfielder before being moved to defender, where she started the last eight games.
Miami has more going for it than just experience, Mathews said.
“I think a huge thing is, if anything, we have a little bit more of a fire this year because of our success last year,” said the kinesiology major, whose only goal last year was Miami’s first in a 5-0 win over IUPUI. “Bobby keeps telling us that we have a target on our back. We’re all very aware. We’re very focused because we know there’s not a point in our schedule where we can let up.”