September 5, 2007

W. Soccer Adjusts to New Head Coach

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Last weekend, Danielle LaRoche began her campaign as women’s soccer head coach, taking over for 2006 interim coach Gretchen Zigante. The new hire represents the soccer program’s decision to hire a young, energetic head coach instead of an established veteran to take the Red back to the top of the Ivy League.
It seems that LaRoche was destined to sit in the coach’s seat. She was a member of the University of Maryland’s soccer squad from 1991-95, when she played under April Heinrichs — a captain and eventual coach of the U.S. women’s national team.
“In my first year, 1991, April was actually the captain of the U.S team that won the first World Cup, so I didn’t see her much,” LaRoche said. “But because I was a reserve, I got to sit next to her on the bench after that and see the game from the coach’s perspective.”
LaRoche remembers Heinrichs as one of the most competitive coaches that she ever had.
“I get my edge from her,” LaRoche said
After Maryland, where the Red coach had the opportunity to play against ACC stars like Mia Hamm, she made a couple of stops on the assistant coaching trail before ending up on the staff of a local Cornell rival, the Binghamton Bearcats. There, LaRoche was an assistant for the 2004 America East championship team that qualified for the NCAA tournament.
“That team taught me a lot of lessons,” LaRoche said. “There was a lot of parity in that conference, and we weren’t the best team. We struggled early, but ended up finishing first because of another team’s loss. … So, you don’t have to be the best team to win the conference, you just need good leadership and for all the pieces to fall in place.”
At Binghamton, LaRoche was also influenced greatly by Paul Marco — the men’s head coach — who has led his squad to a perennial place in the top-50 national rankings. She talked soccer with Marco often and also gained key knowledge about the recruiting process that helped him transform the program.
Finally, LaRoche served as an assistant coach for the George Mason Patriots last year before joining the Red.
She has former GMU strength and conditioning coach David Tenney to thank for her her current fitness regimen, which the Red has used to prepare for the 2007 season. Tenney, like several of LaRoche’s former staff members, has gone on to greater success; he is now the fitness coach of the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS, where he also serves as the goalkeeping coach.
As for her current team, LaRoche’s biggest impact this season will be on the defensive end, where she has revamped the system to try to develop a sustained counterattack.
“We have a zonal defense now, whereas before it was a man-to-man,” LaRoche said. “The zone requires a lot more communication with all eleven players out there. … With the flat-four-cross scheme that we are playing with, there is more room for defensive breakdowns, which is why we’ve allowed a lot of goals so far.”
As for the rest of the season, LaRoche is expecting to improve greatly on last season’s 3-13-1 record.
“We don’t want to lose a game on our home field,” she said. “And we want to go .500 on the road. … There are a lot of teams that we can beat.”