Wildcats prepare for soccer-less fall with first-year coach Sandoval

Travis+Nelson%2FNW+SILENT+STADIUM-With+the+cancellation+of+6fall+sports%2C+including+both+Men%E2%80%99s+and+Women%E2%80%99s+Soccer+for+NMU%2C+the+field+will+remain+quiet+until+the+potential+spring+season+in+2021.

Travis Nelson/NW SILENT STADIUM-With the cancellation of 6fall sports, including both Men’s and Women’s Soccer for NMU, the field will remain quiet until the potential spring season in 2021.

Travis Nelson

One half of a year can make all the difference, and by looking at what our country is going through right now, things couldn’t be more different. NMU Women’s Soccer Head Coach Jon Sandoval couldn’t have imagined that his first six months on the job would look like this. 

“It’s been a crazy six months. It’s tough to be a head coach, to begin with, it’s a little bit tougher to be a first-year head coach, but it’s also very tough to be a first-time head coach during a pandemic,” Sandoval said.

To add to the turmoil, the GLIAC announced on Tuesday, Aug. 12 that all fall sports were canceled through the 2020 calendar year. A lot of questions are left to be answered until that point, what does this mean for eligibility? Will there be a spring season of sports? Will fall sports transition to spring? Currently, without anything official from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), there aren’t any answers.

“There are a lot more questions with that than there are answers at this point, what we’re trying to do right now is gather more information from our incoming recruits at the 2021 level, and those seniors that are supposed to be graduating,” Sandoval said. “Because at the looks of it, I don’t have a crystal ball in front of me, but I do believe that there’s going to be some avenues available for a lot of our players to get their eligibility back.”

That’s a hope and sentiment that won’t become a reality until the NCAA makes it one, but until then, everyone will be waiting. Not only waiting for an NCAA ruling but if soccer and all sports will take place in 2021. There’s going to be a lot of challenges with soccer such as the battle for turf space between NMU’s teams, and some teams might not be playing in the spring due to weather or just starting up fresh for 2021, Sandoval said. 

“There’s some concern, I think it’ll come down to the coaches in the conference to make a competitive, creative and fun way to make this thing work,” Sandoval said. “There’s still a lot of moving pieces to come up, but what we’re trying to do at Northern right now is come up with a creative solution to give our student-athletes a good experience in the spring. It might not look like a normal conference schedule, but we’re looking at different ways such as making a U.P. cup with playing Tech, Finlandia and Stevens Point.”

That’s just one of the possibilities for the potential spring season, Sandoval said, and now he’s turning his focus on his team during this historic fall semester with no competitive soccer. As a first-year head coach, Sandoval feels like he needs to show the incoming players what a good culture and program looks like. 

“We brought in 13-14 new players this year, and one of our very important roles is to establish the right culture. Anytime you bring in that large of a recruiting class, you have all different individuals and personalities trying to adjust to life as a student-athlete here at Northern,” Sandoval said. “So one of our major goals, which isn’t necessarily playing or on-the-field type of stuff, is fully just making sure we’re creating the right environment within our locker room and with our culture.”

The players have been on campus for the past few weeks, and all that Sandoval can think about is making sure his players are healthy, both mentally and physically. With the NMU passport testing and all of the roadblocks that come with COVID-19, there’s a sense of relief coming from the rookie head coach about having his team back in Marquette.

“The previous couple of weeks have been such a better feeling to have them back on campus again, I just feel so much better that they’re here,” Sandoval said. “Even though they’re not playing, at least we can have some interactions that’ll hopefully make sure that they’re healthy, mentally and physically. Because right now, I think that’s the most important thing.”

There’s no fall soccer this season, and potentially no spring season for the Wildcats. However, for Sandoval and his club, building a good culture seems to be in the works.