Changing the culture

By Chris Bils

The 2012 season of Ashland women’s soccer was full of frustration. After getting all the way to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in 2011, the team got back to work in August with high hopes. Most of the pieces were in place from the year before, and head coach Glenn Francis had put together a recruiting class with players he felt would make the team even stronger.

Then everything fell apart. It started when sophomore center midfielder Lexi Gruich – who had a spectacular freshman campaign in 2011 – went down with a knee injury in preseason. The team, already faced with a brutal stretch of seven of eight games on the road to start, never really came together.

By October, the Eagles had lost nine of their first eleven. Five wins down the stretch saw them fall just short of the conference tournament with a final record of 6-6-1 in the conference and 7-10-1 overall, but it still seemed like something was missing.

The fun was gone. Players like Kathleen Demaree and Kelly Krispinsky, who before seemed most at home on the pitch, looked nervous and anxious with the ball at their feet. Francis prowled up and down the sideline, asking his players for more but never really putting definition to his demands. His team was stuck in a slow defensive style that was difficult for the players to enjoy on the pitch and impossible for fans to admire from the stands. A team with the potential to compete for a conference crown never came close to chasing one.

Meanwhile, just down the road at Community Soccer Stadium, Danny Krispinsky’s 2012 Ashland High School boys’ soccer team was the exact opposite of the team his sister was playing for at AU. The Arrows were always on the attack. When they had the ball, every pass had a purpose. When they didn’t, they pressed high and tried to force a mistake out of their opponents.

By the end of the season, Krispinsky – a first-year head coach – had instilled the principles of the beautiful game. His team, led by three seniors who will continue their careers this fall at Walsh University, played with rhythm and passion, sometimes scoring at will. The Arrows finished the year undefeated in the Ohio Cardinal Conference and outscored their first three postseason foes 21-0 before falling 2-1 to Anthony Wayne in the District final.

So when Francis resigned after the season, AU Athletic Director Bill Goldring didn’t have to look far for a successor. Krispinsky took over the program in early March.

As long as he has been able to kick a ball, Krispinsky has been involved with soccer in Ashland. Starting in the youth programs, he went on to have a successful high school career with the Arrows and was recruited to play for the AU men. He was the leading scorer on the school’s first GLIAC championship team in 2005 and graduated in 2006.

He came on as an assistant coach on the men’s side when Jon Freeman took over the program in 2009 and was part of the first GLIAC tournament championship for the program in 2010.

With the cancellation of the men’s soccer program in May, Krispinsky is now in the top position at the top level of soccer in his hometown, something he never saw coming a year ago.

“It is a privilege,” he said. “I grew up watching a lot of really good high school players and I’ve watched some really good college players and learned a from a lot of great coaches, and it means a lot that I can take something from everybody who has helped me along the way.”

His first task with the women’s program has been to change the culture. He had to make soccer fun again for a group of women who had seen practice turn into the worst part of their day. Krispinsky had a total of 15 days to work with the team in the spring. In 12 practices and three days of competition, he took them out of the defensive style they had played in the fall and got them to play his way.

“I saw a lot of change within the girls which is great and it’s exciting for me as the fall season approaches,” Krispinsky said. “I just hope that we can continue to grow and to follow this type of a style because it is tough.”

Krispinsky demands that his players be physically fit and mentally tough. In order to play an attacking style for 90 minutes, all 11 players have to be committed to pushing their bodies to the limit. Instead of sitting back, Krispinsky’s teams take the game right at their opponents.

Even though his players left in May, this summer has been a busy one for Krispinsky. Between recruiting, emailing current players and preparing for the upcoming season, he also got married and took a honeymoon to the Cayman Islands. Now the clock is winding down and Krispinsky can’t wait to start his first season with his new team.

“I see a group that is hungry to win and hungry to compete at a high level,” Krispinsky said. “Also, we have some talented players, and any coach will say that you’ve got to have the players to compete. It’s really up to them to see how far we can take this thing.”

Leading the team are six seniors, including Krispinsky’s sister Kelly, who was voted to be a captain by her teammates. As her older brother, Danny has been coaching Kelly since she was young, but never like this. For Kelly, it is a chance to start over under a coach she feels comfortable with.

“It’s her platform to do what she wants with it,” Krispinsky said. “She knows clearly what’s expected of her and what her role is to be. I’m expecting good things from her.”

Another player who Krispinsky is leaning on is junior forward Demaree, who tied for the team lead with four goals as a freshman in 2011. She went through a sophomore slump last year, starting just 10 games and scoring twice.

Krispinsky wants to get her back playing like she did her freshman year, when she was a creative force in and around the box who wasn’t afraid to take on any opportunity to score.

“For us to be good, Kat has to be good,” he said.

Gruich will also be looking to fall back into her role as the link from defense to attack the team sorely missed in 2012.

The Krispinsky era officially kicks off Sept. 6 at Indianapolis. The Eagles will play their first home game 3 p.m. Sept. 20 with the GLIAC opener against perennial power Grand Valley State.