This is going to be a pivotal season for Graham Winkworth. But the Arizona State women’s soccer coach doesn’t know if he’s even going to have time to prepare for it.
Winkworth’s Pac-12 program is coming off a very disappointing season, one that has basically sidetracked his efforts to breathe new life into a moribund program. The Sun Devils finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 6-11-3.
But the worst part of the losing record was the team’s performance against Pac-12 teams. The Sun Devils spent the entire conference schedule unsuccessfully hunting for a single win, eventually ending up 0-9-2.
Winkworth has just a dozen weeks to get ready for the first game on the 2020 schedule in late August, but he has no idea when the NCAA will allow teams to begin practicing again, following the mid-March shutdown that resulted from the COVID 19 threat.
This will be the fourth season since the native of New England was hired in December of 2016 to rebuild a sagging program that had posted two losing seasons over the final three years of Kevin Boyd‘s tenure as head coach.
Boyd led the program for 10 years, but took his teams to just four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Winkworth’s six wins last season mirrored the six wins Boyd managed to collect in his last season. That’s not what ASU administrators were expecting when they hired Winkworth away from University of South Alabama.
Actually, his teams over his three years at ASU have averaged just seven wins a season, although they did appear to be on the upswing in 2018 when the Devils went 10-7-1. That optimism quickly faded, however, as the 2019 schedule unfolded.
The Devils got off to a hot start that began with a season-opening 4-1 rout of Cal State Fullerton and back-to-back wins with identical 7-1 scores. That pair of games with seven goals each matched a program high for goals in a single game, and marked the first time since 2012 that an ASU team posted seven goals.
They went on to start the season with five straight wins, only the second time that has happened in program history. There were high hopes and high-fives all around.
But the celebration ended there as the Devils suffered back-to-back losses and were able to collect just one more win the rest of the way, ending the season with six straight losses.
Winkworth’s success at rebuilding the South Alabama program certainly gave him the inside track for the ASU job. He took over a Jaguar program that had posted two losing seasons in the last three years (sound familiar?) and one season above .500 in the previous five. He took that program to three straight regular-season conference titles, four conference tournament titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tourney each of his four years directing the program.
And that’s what the ASU bosses were expecting him to do in Tempe.
Success in recruiting in the international marketplace may be the panacea Winkworth will need to cure his ills. Four of those joining the program for 2020 are international players: Vildan Kardesler (Germany), Tahlia Herman-Watt (New Zealand), Jazmine Wilkinson (Canada), and Pia Bozic (Slovenia).
Kardesler, who Winkworth tried to recruit at South Alabama but lost to University of Pittsburgh, and Herman-Watt are outside backs; Wilkinson will add depth at center midfield; and Pozic is a goalie who will back up last year’s freshman starter, Giulia Cascapera.
ASU will also have three of its top four scorers returning from a 2019 team that ranked No. 95 in the nation in scoring: Nicole Douglas, who led the team in scoring with 20 points, will be joined by Eva Van Deursen (12 pts.) and Dai Williams (12 pts.)
So Winkworth might have the horses he needs to get back on track next season. He just needs the NCAA to tell him when he can let them out of the stable and back onto the field.