UConn soccer coach Reid looks to keep NCAA tournament absence short-lived
STORRS, Conn. -- At the end of May, Connecticut men's soccer coach Ray Reid went on vacation.
He read a few books, spent some time with family and did his best to relax. It was a rare eight days for the driven coach.
"I get antsy at the end a little bit, but I try and unwind," Reid said earlier this summer about the trip.
Those days are long gone in Storrs.
As UConn prepares for the new season, which starts Aug. 28 against St. Francis-Brooklyn at Morrone Stadium, Reid is back to his usual self, operating a mile a minute and juggling as much as he can. Last week, he was bouncing around his office, talking calls and planning the first few practice sessions of the year.
"We're talking through things, we're getting organized -- we're in the middle of it right now," Reid said. "There's excitement, energy and guessing what it is going to look likw. Guys are getting ready to play. It is a great time. It is like Christmas for us."
UConn opens the season against St. Francis, as it did in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The Huskies then play Quinnipiac on Aug. 31 and Dartmouth at home Sept. 4. The Huskies also have an exhibition game against Syracuse Aug. 22.
Reid has plenty of motivation for the season.
Last fall, UConn missed the postseason for the time in 17 years after a crushing loss to South Florida on penalty kicks in the American Athletic Conference semifinals.
"I just want to get playing right away and hopefully we're ready for it; they're going to be tough games," Reid said.
The defeat forced Reid and his players to take a fresh look at the program and what they were doing. And nearly a year later, they seem better for it.
"Right after [we missed the NCAA tournament last year] we kind of all got together without coaches and we were just like this can't happen again and this won't happen during our time," junior Jakob Nerwinski said.
The Huskies enter the 2015 campaign young, but not quite as naive as they were those few weeks last year.
"We have to make a statement [at the start], and we have be much sharper in the preseason and much tougher [than last year]," Reid said.
Despite just four seniors on the roster, Reid feels the group has grown up.
"We're happy with the commitment our guys were making in the offseason," Reid said. "I think we've always had good commitment here in the summer, but it was even better this year."
When Reid and his coaches looked at the program after last year's 10-6-3 mark, they looked at a variety of things, but most important were the character and chemistry of the group.
In the spring games the team played in May, he noticed they were working well together.
Still, the spring session is a long time ago. And Reid is quick to point out that those games don't mean much at the end of August.
Reid has turned the leadership of the team over to a pair of juniors, Kwame Awuah and Nerwinski. They were named captains during the offseason.
Nerwinski spent some time this offseason with the U.S. Under-23 men's national team at its training camp in Carson, California.
"We have great leadership," Reid said. "Jake Nerwinski is doing a great job as a leader. He's a very focused guy, a very mature guy, he's a leader by nature. He's exactly what I need [this year]."
Along with Nerwinski and Awuah, the group returns plenty of key players from last year's team, including defender Elliott Ackroyd, midfielder Nicholas Zuniga, goalie Scott Levene, defender Dylan Greenberg and midfielder Stephane Cheikh Coly.
Reid is expecting help from a talented group of newcomers, but the Huskies also need improvement from the veterans. The group lost its top two scorers when Cyle Larin was drafted by Orlando City with the first pick in the MLS draft and Ethan Vanacore-Decker transferred to Louisville.
"Hopefully we'll get [offense] from a bunch of different sources," Reid said.
Reid said the starting goalie position is still undetermined. Levene will compete for the job with freshman Alejandro Cubillo and redshirt senior Jacob Wagmeister.
"I don't have a pulse [on the position]. We're going to see how they look in preseason," Reid said.
The defense will also have to improve. In UConn's first four games last year, it allowed eight goals.
In past seasons, UConn had a team goal of allowing eight goals all year.
Reid hopes his guys remember that.
"I think last year's team came into preseason and the end of the season and just thought it was going to happen because it was UConn," Reid said. "Hopefully, we've learned [from that]."
This article was written by Matthew Conyers from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.