August 29, 2007

New Start Brings New Coaches, Defensive Plan

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By the time their senior season rolls around, most Cornell athletes are pretty familiar with their surroundings: they’ve been on the campus for three years already, so they’re just trying to gear up for their final Ivy campaign. For women’s soccer senior Leslie Campbell, however, things are a little different this fall — she has to deal with an entirely new coaching staff after her first three years.
Danielle LaRoche, the former top assistant coach for the George Mason Patriots, is taking the reigns for Cornell this year to mark her head coaching debut. She brings with her assistant coaches Allison Cowan — also from George Mason — and recent University of Vermont graduate Amy Cochran. The staff takes over for 2006 interim head coach Gretchen Zigante, who had been a prominent member of the staff for five years. She led the Red to a 3-13-1 record last year.
All that adds up to a lot of change for Campbell, who has provided the Red defensive stability since her freshman year. The Sacramento, Calif., native and two-time captain has started every game for the ed since 2004, making the All-Ivy team the past two seasons.
“It was weird as a senior to get back to school in August and have no idea what the coach was going to be like,” said Campbell. “But it’s also really exciting because anything can happen this season … so far they have been incredibly energetic and supportive as we try to adjust to a new coaching style and system of play.”
Although the new coaches come after a 1-6 Ivy season last fall, Campbell does not think of her final year with her six fellow seniors as a transition effort.
“We’ve been careful to make it clear to people that we don’t see this year as a ‘rebuilding season’ … we want to jump right in and make some noise in the Ivy League, but no matter what happens this season, the program is definitely headed in the right direction.”
LaRoche’s staff gave the players instructions for their off-season workout plan, but Campbell has not otherwise altered her preparation for the year. Other than on-the-field practice, she spent he summer working on weights and on her conditioning.
Perhaps the biggest change Campbell must adjust to is the shift in defensive philosophy under LaRoche. This year, the back line will try to take on a more aggressive role in kick-starting the counter-attack, aiming to get the ball to its outside backs to move quickly upfield. Campbell, who has excelled because of her heady play and nose for the ball, will try to unify the new-look defense.
“I rely mostly on my instincts. I’m not the most techincally gifted player, so I’ve always relied on my ability to read the game and hard work,” she said. “We’ve changed the defense around a bit, so right now I’m just trying to make sure that I keep the back line tight and organized.”