A Day in the Life: UCSD Women’s Soccer

By the time 11 a.m. rolls around, the players are laced up and head coach Brian McManus is headed to the practice grounds at RIMAC.

Practices vary in intensity. Before games, the 25-man team (which looks more like an army, all clad in navy blue) might work on penalty kicks or play soccer-tennis (an aptly named game, which is a hybrid of soccer…and tennis).

Every other day, the tightknit and usually laid-back squad puts aside the inside jokes and the gossip, and focuses on what McManus calls, “putting the work in.”
Practices begin with the girls dividing themselves into lines to practice passing and then circling up for a stretch. Afterward, the squad usually divides themselves again, with starters donning jerseys for a scrimmage against the reserves.

Here, it would seem that things could get contentious. With 25 girls on the squad, and only 11 players allowed on the pitch, tensions can run high, and practices are always competitions for playing time.
At the same time, all the players — from the starting eleven all the way down to the redshirts — appear to have a sort of consensus of collaboration, a certain selflessness that allows every squad member to forget about themselves and do what’s right for the team.

This is clearly illustrated in the thick of the season, when as a way to save the starting elevens’ legs, the first string is, on some occasions, excused from the most grueling sprint and long distance training, while the reserves eagerly toe the line for sprints.

For a sport where a player can expect to run up to four or five miles in a match, a great deal of soccer players does not enjoy the exercise.

Soccer coaches have concocted a number of grueling conditioning drills, but one of the worst — and a particular favorite at UCSD — is the “black widow.” Interestingly enough, the “black widow” drill is known by most players as the “figure eight drill,” but the McManus tag is a bit more indicative of it’s effect on a player’s lungs and legs.

The team is split into two, with each group at opposite corners of the field. When McManus gives the OK, the groups sprint the full 120 yards along the length, cut back to sprint the diagonal, sprint the other length of the field, turn the corner and run the diagonal to get back to where they began. The task is repeated at least four or five more times.

Moans and groans can be expected, but like a general addressing his troops, McManus always tries to keep the ultimate goal in mind for his players: a national tournament berth.

This is a goal that’s probably hard to forget when just last season the squad finished No. 2 in the nation, after a crushing 4-0 loss to Grand Valley State in the NCAA title game.

In his thick Scottish accent, McManus can often be heard saying, “I don’t care who finishes first or who finishes last, just do your best.”

Oftentimes covered in sweat from the midday humidity, one of the 11 newcomers to the squad are tasked with collecting the balls, jerseys, and cones and bringing them back into the storage room.
A second trip to the ATR is a must for most players, either to tend to bumps and bruises, or for an ice bath — a restorative technique used by a number of athletes to aid sore muscles. What it boils down to is sitting in a vat of ice and water up to your navel for 10 minutes. It seemed that when the athletic trainers figured this out, they also figured that if you filled a garbage can with ice and water it serves as a perfect ice bath for two, which is why you will see a number of soccer players standing in a row of garbage cans outside of RIMAC after practices.

Remarkably, most players still have a full day of classes ahead of them.

What’s even more remarkable is that the players are not only ready to repeat the routine five days out of the week, but are also ready to run themselves through the wringer in the hopes of a postseason berth.