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ASU soccer's physical endurance outlasts opponents match after match

The Sun Devils have had trouble scoring early in matches, but frequently score game-winners in the latter half of games through their superior conditioning

Sun Devil Soccer huddling up before taking the field in a match against Kent State on Sunday, September 3, 2023 at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium in Tempe. ASU tied 1-1.

The ASU soccer team has had trouble scoring in the first half all season, but has excelled at scoring late-game-winning goals due to its deep bench and robust training regimens.

Currently, the Sun Devils (9-2-4, 4-1-1) sit fourth in the Pac-12 and were recently ranked No. 24 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, their first ranking since the 2021 season. The team has lifted  ASU to new heights, scoring 28 goals while only conceding eight goals this season.

21 of those goals have been scored in the second half this season. Besides ASU’s goal-scoring, the team’s offense has produced more shots and corner kicks in the second half.

Explaining his team’s strange trend, ASU coach Graham Winkworth said his team owes late-game goals to its depth of talent. Last season, Winkworth relied on the trio of then-graduate forward Nicole Douglas and midfielders Eva van Duersen and Alexia Delgado for 68% of the team’s scoring. Now, this season, Winkworth said his younger players and veterans are all stepping up offensively.

“I didn't want to take those players off the pitch because they were a really high level above everybody,” Winkworth said. “Now we've got a lot of quality in deep in deeper numbers, and so we rotate more heavily than most teams now earlier in the match.”

Sophomore forward Enasia Colon leads them in scoring with nine goals on 37 shots. Colon has been productive in the latter half of matches by scoring seven of her nine goals in the second half. She said she thinks the team’s offense is great this season but could make minor improvements. 

“I realized that sometimes maybe in the last couple of games, we’ve been more of a second-half team,” Colon said. “We are working on becoming a 90-minute team instead of just 45.”

ASU’s offense has been led by junior forward Keri Matthews and senior forward Gabi Rennie. Matthews ranks second on the team in assists with five while Rennie has scored three goals on 10 shots on goal. 

Before the season, ASU soccer enhanced its training efforts by hiring intern athletic trainer Rafael Lopez, who holds a master’s degree in athletic training. Rennie said that staff members like Lopez have helped keep her and her teammates on the pitch, especially for players who play significant minutes in most matches.

ASU’s offensive outbursts may be aided by the team's range of options for protecting players’ health. Sun Devil Athletics runs a sports medicine staff that provides injury prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for student-athletes for all ASU sports. ASU’s recovery options include everything from ice baths to expensive Normatec compression boots, which help reduce swelling among other benefits.

ASU typically strengthens up with rounds of conditioning before winding down later in the schedule. Calling back to her own experiences, Colon said the team doesn’t do conditioning during the season to avoid cramps and other ailments, adding that ASU’s in-season drills typically help build a player’s fitness. 

“We're ready to go game by game,” Colon said. “I feel like the recovery that we have as a team is really good. You know, ice beds, hot tub, stems, whatever our trainer makes us do and what he thinks is best for us.”

ASU’s veterans like Rennie must nurse their bodies to stay healthy for a season that often entails multiple games a week. Rennie said a string of soft-tissue injuries have plagued her career, but effective training regimens keep her ready for competition against Pac-12 foes.

“We've got a really good staff that manages us well,” Rennie said. “Sometimes we have to come sit out of training to make sure we get our body right, but you know, the priority is playing on the games and winning those games.”

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan

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