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Willamette hires third women's soccer coach in school's history

Jett Starr

Sports Editor

Lisa Ljubicic. Courtesy of the Willamette website

There’s a new binturong in town. Lisa Ljubicic has been appointed the new head coach of the women’s soccer team. The previous coach, Hilary Arthur, stepped down in January due to dissatisfaction and unrest from players. Ljubicic is Willamette’s third women’s soccer coach since 1994.

Ljubicic brings a lot of experience to the program, having worked in other athletic programs at institutions such as Santa Clara University, California State University, Northridge and Coastal Carolina. Ljubicic also played Division 1 at the University of Montana where she was a defender. Leslie Shevlin, associate athletic director, said of the hire: “When you've coached as long as she has, and this is the type of place you apply to coach at, you’re not just applying to coach anywhere. When you make the conscious decision to go from D1 in South Carolina to coaching division three in Salem, Oregon, she wanted to be in Oregon, she wanted to be at Willamette, she wanted to coach division three student athletes specifically.” Having a coach that is invested and excited about the place and the athletes they are working with will be incredibly beneficial and seems to hold a certain weight with this job in particular. This is only the third time ever this position has opened up, which means that when women’s soccer coaches have been hired at Willamette, they have historically been hired to stay.

The previous coach, Hilary Arthur, had been at Willamette since 2009. Arthur had been the long standing face of bearcat women’s soccer, but the relationship between the players and their coach had grown stale. An eleven page document was submitted by the team to the athletic department outlining the values they felt weren’t being upheld and exhibiting their hopes of a more competitive team. The document said: “We want to call attention to Coach Hillary Arthur’s failures to both adequately prepare the team to compete successfully in the Northwest Conference and to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and positive leadership.” Center back Joliegh Miller (‘22) said, “Generally speaking, the way that our program was going had been very stagnant in the years past… we had generally been average in our conference, getting third or fourth out of eight teams…we just kind of felt stuck.” There’s a quote often attributed to legendary soccer coach Pep Guardiola, that the [natural lifespan] of a soccer coach is three to four years. The time had come for a change, and the players took action which led to Arthur stepping down after thirteen years. Somewhere in that time, the program reached a point where players felt stuck and were seeking change.

Here’s what bearcat women’s soccer fans can expect as far as watching a team under Ljubicic: a pragmatic, results-oriented style of soccer. Ljubicic said: “We lose one zero, two zero whatever it is but we played the better style of soccer like, is that really our goal?” What this means is that the team will not sacrifice winning for style. Some people would rather look good losing than look bad winning; that won’t be Ljubicic’s way of doing things. They will try to do whatever works to get a win. “There’s nothing wrong in my opinion with playing direct as long as you’re not sacrificing possession.” This points towards a style where the team will be going to goal as quickly as possible, not waiting around if they don’t have to. A fan can be excited about going to goal when they have the ball, with a team that won’t wait around to put the opponent on the back foot. “The kind of soccer I like is organized,” said Ljubicic, putting a priority on tactical discipline as a notable part of her thinking.

Most importantly, her excitement to be here will hopefully shine through on the field. Ljubicic said, “I’m excited to be here at Willamette. I think this institution just in general is fantastic. The reputation it holds in the region and state is pretty phenomenal and so to be a part of that is really exciting.”

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