Oct. 30, 2002
Head soccer coach Nick Cowell sat down Wednesday afternoon and chatted with fans online. The following is a transcript of the chat session.
For archived transcripts of earlier chats, click here.
Dallas: How is it decided what conference a school joins? Also, does the conference a school plays in determine rankings? I noticed schools like UTEP with a 15-1-0 is not even in the central rankings and they are in the WAC.
Nick Cowell: A university joins a conference based on a number of factors, including geography, school philosophy, history. Those decisions are made at the Board of Regents level. Being in a tough conference affects a team's strength of schedule, and therefore the stronger conferences tend to have more teams regionally and nationally ranked. If you are not in a strong conference, you have to schedule stronger non-conference opponents in order to build up your strength of schedule index.
Jim (Dallas): Coach Cowell: During your tenure at Baylor, our soccer team has gone from defending Big XII Champions to a team who has won one Big XII game and is a longshot to even make the Big XII Tournament. During your time here, we have heard the excuses of youth, inexperience, and injuries. Do you think that coaching might be a problem as well?
Nick Cowell: I think that there are no excuses for our performance level, and I am certainly willing to take responsibility for the results of the team. When you look at a successful or unsuccessful season, there are always factors and reasons behind the results. We are in the process of conducting player evaluations of coaches, and we will find out from our players what the problems might be.
John (Dallas): This season looks like it will result in the fewest conference wins in recent memory. Why the drop off in wins and what can be done to turn around the program.
Nick Cowell: As a famous football coach states, in order to win, you need talent and attitude. Without one or the other, you might as well have neither. I feel like we have a good attitude on the team, but it is evident that we need to strengthen the overall talent level. We do not feel that a complete overhaul is necessary, but an improvement in certain key positions is necessary. If you look closely at our Big 12 results, you will see that we actually led in seven out of the nine games. We are close, yet have not developed the 90-minute mentality.
Adam (Waco): Are you planning on staying at Baylor?
Nick Cowell: Yes.
Jill(Tyler): Why is it that Baylor has went from 4th to 7th and now to 11th? Do you think that it has anything to do with the coaching staff? Do you think that you are being effective when it comes to recruiting? Don't get me wrong you have an amazing level of talent on your team...Do something with it!!
Nick Cowell: I'm not sure whether you are complimenting me on our recruiting or criticizing me. We certainly feel that we have some great Big 12 players at Baylor, but we feel like we need to compliment those players with some additional strength.
los98 (DC): Okay, last year's results could be attributed to numerous injuries that affected the team, but what about this year's poor record and the fact Baylor will be out of the Big 12 tournament for the first time since the team's inception?
Nick Cowell: After the 6-2 start to the season, I don't think anybody expected the Big 12 results. We have tried numerous attempts to resurrect the Big 12 season, and yet it seems like all of our efforts have been futile. The coaching staff takes full responsibility for the ultimate success and failure of the program. You can be assured that we are working diligently to put right what needs to be put right.
William (Waco): Do you see any of your players going further and playing pro soccer someday?
Nick Cowell: Obviously, Baylor soccer has a history of players turning pro, with Dawn Greathouse and Courtney Saunders getting drafted. With this year's senior class, we have had talks with WUSA teams about the availability of Tamura Crawley. In addition, players like Ginny Rosario-Tull and Tiffany Boshers have expressed a desire to play pro soccer someday. Both players have the work ethic and talent to do that.
janice (Bellmead, Tx): Who do you think has been the team's most valuable playr this year?
Nick Cowell: I always find it hard to choose one specific player in such a team sport. All I can say is that Melissa Humke has been a very consistent defender and leader of the team. Tiffany Boshers has had major impact in a number of games this fall. Kristin Ruef has improved her scoring record from her freshman year. To be an MVP, one would have to include a lot of the intangibles that go on in practice and off the field, in which case you would have to include players such as Whitney Barrett and Candace Reilly.
Alice - Waco, TX: I've been a big fan of Baylor soccer since it's beginning, and this year has definitely been the toughest year for us fans to watchj. What signs do you see that suggest things could be better next year?
Nick Cowell: Our recruiting class for next year already looks to be one of the best. We can't talk about individuals, but we can say that there is at least one international player who plays for her national team. We are waiting for one or two more to commit. In addition to the international flavor, we have five other excellent players already committed from the USA. I don't feel like this year's team is that far away.
Ron, Waco: What is the deal with this team and goalies? We seem to get good players, but can't keep them healthy. Is Tanya Sena's hand troubles something that will continue to bother her, or was it three consecutive fluke injuries?? Also, has Monica Housden benefitted Tanya's training the way you hoped?
Nick Cowell: A quick scan of the recent history of the Baylor goalkeeping situation will show you that Emily Koch was forced to retire because of back problems, Mel Pannell was forced to retire because of shoulder injuries. Tanya Sena had three separate injuries (two breaks and one torn ligament) to the same thumb. Monica Housden was brought in on very short notice to solidify our goalkeeping situation. Tanya has really not benefitted yet from Monica's training because she hasn't been healthy. We hope that the competition will intensify during the spring.
Henry: What is it going to take to get this team back to where it should be, and where it was - at the top of the Big 12 and in the NCAAs??
Nick Cowell: As I already said, talent and attitude are the most important factors in a successful college program. Recruiting will be key.
George (Florida): My brother plays high school soccer here in Florida. What does he need to do to get his play noticed by colleges for possible scholarships?
Nick Cowell: While Baylor does not field a varsity men's soccer program, it's important for your brother to start to write letters to colleges that he is interested in, and he should make sure that coaches know his tournament schedule so that they might see him in a competitive situation. Failing that, he might want to consider making a short video tape to send out to prospective universities.
jday (knoxville): How do you think the Baylor women's soccer program is perceived on a national level and how would you characterize the current state of the program?
Nick Cowell: Our current national computer ranking is #77 out of 287 Division I schools. While this is unacceptable for a program with the successful history of Baylor, we are still considered one of the better programs in the country.
Eddie (Shreveport): Nick what is the one area your team most needs to improve on for next year? What does your recruiting class for next year look like?
Nick Cowell: We feel like the team needs to improve in defense. If you look at our results, there were very few teams that could shut us out. However, when you concede four goals, it's tough to come out with a victory. Our current players agree with this assessment, and we will be addressing these areas in our recruiting class.
Houston: How do you feel about the defense this year? I see you've had a new freshman on the field who has had a lot of playing time this season. What changes do you see for next year?
Nick Cowell: We did not plan on having a freshman play so many significant minutes. This was a result of a player deciding to concentrate on academics, which was a significant loss to us so close to the beginning of the season. The number of minutes that our defenders were forced to play contributed to their fatigue and our inability to close down opponents towards the end of the half or the end of the game. Next year, we intend on having adequate substitutes in order to keep our defense fresh.
Jill: Why does the program continue to slide? Is it a coaching problem? Or is there a lack of committment from the team?
Nick Cowell: If you look solely at the Big 12 rankings, then you would see that our position has dropped each year. However, there are many positive things that are going on within our program that ultimately will help us produce great soccer players, good citizens and people who will be successful in life. The team is committed, as are the coaches, to fix any problems that we have. For many of our players, this is the first real adversity that they have had to face. We are all searching for the answers, and I am optimistic that we will see improvement in the areas you are talking about.
CARLA: WHAT WAS DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? MANY NEW PLAYERS? DID YOU LOOSE A LOT OF pLAYERS LAST YEAR?
Nick Cowell: We graduated two starters (Rachel Kacsmaryk and Alyson Miles). We lost Mel Pannell and Emily Koch to injury, Lori Viggiano to academics, and Amber Cole (our top incoming freshman) to an ACL injury. It is much harder for a private school to absorb unexpected losses because we are unable to attract the same numbers of walkons that state schools are able to attract because of their lower tuition costs.
Grant, Fort Worth: In the last four seasons the teams success has dropped dramatically. This year they will not even be attending Big XII. Do you think that it is time for a change? The girls seem talented enough for the change, but it may just be the coaching staff at this point. It does not seem that you prepared your team in the right way for a winning season. The team seems to be headed for a change in staff and the way things are run. Do you think that would be a good change for the program?
Nick Cowell: I don't feel that it is time for a change. I feel that we are in the process of rebuilding this program from the inside out. To an outsider, you may not see a lot of the positive things that go on within our program. Ultimately, the decision on a coaching change will not be mine. However, I will state on record that I am confident in my abilities as a soccer coach and am committed to the Baylor University mission.
Joshua (Ft.Worth): I noticed that you said that the team was in the middle of conducting player evaluations on the coaching staff. What happens if players feel that it is a coaching problem? What do you as the coach of the 2002-2003 Baylor squad do? From my observation you have the talent to do great things.
Nick Cowell: Thanks for your recognition of the talent in the program. If the players have issues with the coaching staff, we will address those issues individually. We are all in a continuous process of self-betterment, and we expect our players to also continually strive for bigger and better things. There are always things that we can do better.
Mike (Houston): Did fitness or lack of fitness play a role in this seasons results? Are the girls working well as a team?
Nick Cowell: This fall, we increased the fitness levels of our team again, and we were very impressed with the overall fitness levels of our returning players and most of our freshmen. The reason that fitness is so important is that it factors into the self confidence of the individual. Soccer is a sport which relies on several different components of fitness: speed, anaerobic endurance, and also aerobic. We feel that our team was the fittest they have ever been since I have been at Baylor. There is a tremendous commitment from the team to maintain their fitness levels. This is a very strong platform from which to build a program.
Dan ( Waco): You stated earlier an improvement was needed in certain key positions, What positions would thoses be? Do you plan on cutting current players to hlep better the team?
Nick Cowell: We feel that our team needs to be strengthened defensively. Contributions of current players will be evaluated in the coming days, after the season is over. If the coaching staff feels that current players are not up to the level of success in the Big 12, then we will have to make changes. This is a competitive business. We are committed to success.
Sandra, Austin: Would you rather have a player that is less skilled, however is fit, or a player that is not totally fit however reads the game well and has skill?
Nick Cowell: There is little place in the Big 12 Conference for a player that does not read the game well or is not fit. Soccer is such a hybrid sport; you need high levels of skill and fitness. In some situations, you might want more skillful players; in other positions ,you might require more fitness. Certainly there is no excuse not to be fit when you're in a fulltime training environment that we offer at Baylor. If you look at the best teams in the country, you will not find any players who are not fit.
Tonya - Dallas, TX: Do you feel you have a good rapport with the team, seems most recently your players may not have the confidence or respect they once had?
Nick Cowell: Respect is certainly something that you earn, and our team is well respected by many. Confidence is probably the most important factor in a player's performance, and confidence only comes from experience. You can't wave a magic wand and give somebody confidence. You have to give them situations in which they succeed through hard work.
Sue (Georgia): Why rely on recuiting so heavily? You seem to have a very talented team now, just no chemistry.
Nick Cowell: We actually have good team chemistry. We also have talented players. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any collegiate program. All coaches are continually trying to upgrade the talent level within the team. This is a normal phenomenon for a competitive program.
jj: Nick, what state has the best reputation for producing quality players?
Nick Cowell: Southern California and North Texas are considered to be prime areas for youth soccer players. However, there are many hotbeds for women's soccer, including Florida, south Texas, New York, Ohio, and Michigan.
jj: As a soccer coach myself, I've always felt that the #1 skill a coach has to have is the ability to identify the real players from the pretenders, would you agree?
Nick Cowell: Identification of talent is important, and that's why we have a complete evaluation system in place to identify all the areas of a potential recruit's impact on a program. This includes technique, tactics, fitness, psychological dimension, character, academics and ability to succeed at Baylor.
YM-Dallas: How do you feel about your Midfield?
Nick Cowell: We have excellent ball-winning strength in the midfield, with good passing ability. We have recently inserted Ginny Rosario-Tull into the midfield to provide us with some extra mobility and aggression. This seems to have paid off. We already have committed an international player who will be able to help us control the speed and structure of the game.
jj: Coach, what kind of formation do you play on defense? Might I suggest that a flat back four with zonal marking is an easy way to cover for lack of talent at the back.
Nick Cowell: We started the season playing a flat back four, and this was successful early in the season. The negative of playing four in the back was that we lacked width in the midfield (since we are committed to playing with four forwards). The other reason that we switched from four at the back was that our backs were not getting any chance to rest, and individuals were committing serious mental errors when they got fatigued. When we went to three at the back, we were able to substitute players at key moments. This also made our defenders more accountable for their position. Obviously there is no one formation that is the magic answer. We play whatever formation we feel is going to give our team the best chance for success in a particular game.
Kenny (San Antonio): I have followed the program at Baylor since your arrival four years ago and I must admit I have heard nothing but positive comments about your coaching abilities and management style. I also feel that four years is not enough time to establish the direction and success of any entity, least of all an athletic team. How long do you feel that you need to establish a consistent top level Division One program? Is it possible given the growth of the womens game across the country to be successful at a relatively small private institution?
Nick Cowell: We inherited a successful soccer program here at Baylor. As crazy as this may sound, this actually hindered the development of our program. When you inherit a successful program, it is hard to make philosophical adjustments. Conversely, when you inherit an unsuccessful program, you tend to be given carte blanche with changes. We have made a number of significant improvements to this program. Obviously at some stage, the results have to appear. Right now, we have a highly-motivated team with a lot of talent. With strengthening in a couple of key areas, we will be back where we belong. The foundation of the program is there. We have quality individuals who represent Baylor University very well. Our team has an awesome GPA. Our players are involved in many community activities. On the soccer field, we are not far away from experiencing the success that we all want. It is possible to be successful at a private institution.
Nick Cowell: Thanks for your comments. Gotta run to practice.