At the end of last season, Sam Houston State soccer only expected to lose one leader between then and the opening of this season: Tricia Mallory, the lone senior of the 2013 squad.
The Bearkats ended up losing two more leaders with her: assistant coaches Meredith Flaherty and Keaton Henson.
However, SHSU has hired on two assistant coaches who have fit right into the program, giving the team a new vibe.
The Bearkats added assistant coaches Matt Armstrong and Gus Mota to the squad.
Armstrong joins SHSU after a season on staff at Oklahoma. Previous to coaching, Armstrong played at Notre Dame and University of New Mexico before playing professionally for HFC Haarlem in the Netherlands and Brazil’s E.C. Vitória.
“[Armstrong] has a strong technical background, and he’s been able to come in and help the player with their techniques,” head coach Tom Brown said.
Armstrong’s forwards and attacking midfielders have seen improvements in their game and technique upfront, sophomore Allie Johnson said.
Johnson had the lone goal in the Bearkats 2-1 loss to University of Texas – San Antonio off an early cross from sophomore Jordan Jarzombek. Johnson accredits the opportunity created to score the goal to Armstrong’s ability to open up the bigger picture, she said.
“He’s focused on the more mental aspect of us playing,” she said. “He encourages us to really think more about our passes.”
In drills, Johnson says Armstrong will have his team redo drill after drill until its perfect. This has translated well for the players into the game, she said.
“When it comes to the game, we know what to do in that [certain] situation,” she said. “He’s [tougher] and that’s something we definitely needed.”
Armstrong doesn’t stop pushing his players until each and every drill is right, because he believes it’s all about the tiny steps forward that leads to progress, he said.
“I was brought up in that system of you having to do every little thing to the best of your ability,” Armstrong said. “What will happen in the end is the accumulation of that will become a much bigger, better thing.”
Armstrong tells his players if something is not up to standard in training right then and there. He doesn’t let problems skim by thinking it will fix itself with time.
“Sometimes it’s not always the [most fun] thing, because you’re getting told by your coach that you’re not living in to what you’re capable of,” Armstrong said. “They deserve to know what the standard is and what they’re capable of so they can be the best.”
Although the Bearkats haven’t had a plethora of goals up top, Armstrong knows once his offense works out the last kinks upfront, goals will come one after another.
“We’re well on our way to that,” he said. “We just got a couple of little things to sew up, and I think we can be really dangerous.”
Mota is training with SHSU’s goalkeepers, starting junior Kylie Hambleton and junior Magen Ross.
Brown has seen the difference between former coach Flaherty’s style and Mota’s strategy in training.
Both have improved the keepers’ performance, he said.
“Between the two of them, not one philosophy is wrong,” Brown said. “[Mota] has done more repetition and more pressure activities to help the goalkeepers in that aspect. Meredith was more technical. Neither is right or wrong, just different approaches.”
Mota also focuses on the mental aspect of the game and knows it’s vital to success on his keeper’s goal line, he said.
“When goalkeepers makes that one mistake, it can cost the game,” he said. “A lot of my training session goes with knowing the game and being mental tough.”
This doesn’t keep him from highly physical training.
“Intensity for the game transitions to my goalkeepers working out,” he said. “I always bring that high level of intense training.”
Before becoming staff at SHSU, Mota worked with Southland Conference opponent Southeastern Louisiana. At SLU, he helped bring in a recruiting class that won the Southland Conference tournament championship.
Him and Brown hope to see that same success in bringing talent to Huntsville.
“If you want to win, you come here,” Mota said. “We don’t recruit players that can fit in the SLC but can compete in the best of conferences.”
Brown knows as the players continue to move into the new styles of Armstrong and Mota, the team will grow and extend its success in the games.
“I look at teams like Baylor; they had bigger, stronger players but not better soccer players,” he said. “In the long run, it will helps us a lot tremendously.”