Q & A With Oregon Women’s Soccer Head Coach Graeme Abel
Being on the cusp of opening a new season always involves a never-ending list of things for any head coach to do and prepare for. I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Oregon soccer head coach Graeme Abel for setting aside some time in his busy schedule to talk with ATQ and help all of us become more familiar with the Oregon Ducks Women’s Soccer program.
ATQ: You’re entering your third season as head coach of the Ducks, and Oregon has shown steady improvement under your leadership. When you first began running the program, what - in your estimation - were your biggest challenges in righting the Oregon ship?
Coach Abel: The uncertainty that the pandemic provided was the biggest challenge. The challenges it created for our student-athletes and providing them a safe support network. The challenge it created with recruiting and trying to put together a 2022 recruiting class using mostly video footage of prospects, it was very different. I think for most part, coaches when they take over a program it’s the challenge of putting together a group that can compete with the student-athletes already within the program. I have to give the credit to our student-athletes for how quickly they jumped on board with our methods and the demands we asked of them. We asked them to commit to playing a complete different way that required them to really commit physically and continue a technical evolution.
ATQ: The 2021 season for Oregon soccer was a success by any measure for the program. What are your goals for this coming season in improving upon last season’s successes?
Coach Abel: We had some great memories from last season. Our ultimate goal for any season is to be competing in the post season. But to go through the 2021 season and only lose four games in a 19 game season was a solid year. Our student-athletes went to some really tough places and put together great performances. Over the past couple of years, we have been able to rewrite the record books which has been fun, because that’s a direct reward for all the work put forth by our student-athletes and the support network around them. As we move forward to this year, our goal as a coaching staff is to keep our group moving forward week to week in terms of the their own individual development that then feeds into the group’s development. We can definitely get caught up in the wins, losses and conference standings. We have done a good job over the past couple of seasons in really driving home the performance aspect of a game. We know a good performance and doing the things that we do well will give us positive outcomes in the win-loss column.
ATQ: Most Oregon fans are not familiar with the players that you coach. Who are the players on this year’s team that we should be keeping an eye on?
Coach Abel: I think the obvious ones to fans are Leah (Freeman), Chai (Cortez) , Zoe (Hasenauer), Croix (Soto), True (Dydasco), Caitlin Shaw. The ones that have been around for a little while now and have earned a lot of starts within the group. I’m excited for our entire group, to be honest. It’s a little cliché but we have so many individuals that work hard at their own development through the spring with us. People like Megan Rucker, Alice Barbieri, Jordan Snyder. Our incoming group has all adjusted really well and shown their qualities already, so we are really looking forward to seeing who can carry the momentum of practice into games.
ATQ: Tell us about your assistant coaches, if you would - who they are and how they contribute to your coaching successes here at Oregon.
Coach Abel: Rachael Doyle has been here with me from the start. I recruited Rach from Australia back in 2010 when I was coaching at Washington State. I always kept a list of people who I could potentially hire if I went down the Head Coaching path within my career. I followed Rach’s career from Eastern Kentucky and to Hawaii. She is such a good person and coach. Her expertise with the defending side of the game and integration of sports science is vital to what we do. She is definitely one of the brightest assistants out there and we are lucky to have her within our program. Inaki Gonzalo San Millan joined us right before the season from the University of Virginia. He is an excellent complement to Rach and I because of his soccer brain and ability to marry the video piece for us. Having an additional soccer brain like Inaki, coupled with his personality gives us another good person within our staff.
ATQ: What are the underlying factors that drive your passion to coach soccer, and to coach at the University of Oregon?
Coach Abel: I left high school at 16 to try and pursue a career in professional soccer. Then at 18 I came to the United States to play collegiate soccer. That transitioned into some coaching when in college and I fell in love with the coaching side of the game. I enjoyed the teaching and helping people develop in something they are passionate about. I started my collegiate journey at my alma mater in Kentucky, but then took my first Division 1 opportunity at the University of Nevada. It’s funny reading Dan Lanning’s path into this level and jumping into his car to try and get the break. I remember doing the same, working camps, driving to campuses trying to get 30 minutes with a Head Coach to convince them of my potential. I think I was the 7th choice at Nevada but things fell through with other candidates and I am forever grateful for my opportunity at Nevada. My ultimate goal was always to coach at the very highest level. I was so fortunate to coach in two Women’s World Cups and an Olympic Games before I’d hit the age of 40. Even more fortunate to win the two gold medals in 2015 and 2019. So that part of my dream was fulfilled. When the opportunity at Oregon came about it just felt right. I had always said to myself that I would never take a Head Coaching position just for the title. It had to be the right fit. I was so curious about the inner workings of the athletic department, the university itself, the untapped potential within the program. Once I had a couple of conversations with Lisa Peterson, I really wanted to get on campus and see it for myself. It was the people in the department that really sold it for me. It was a major athletic department that certainly didn’t have a cold, corporate feel to it. It felt genuine and they wanted their soccer program to hit the levels that their other programs were hitting. Since coming here, those expectations have exceeded what I initially thought. We are upgrading the infrastructure around the entire program to give our student-athletes the very best environment from a holistic point of view. We’ll keep evolving everything we do in our environment. We want to create one that allows them to fulfill their goals on and off the field.