Creighton's soccer team next month will begin preparing physically for the task of chasing a third straight trip to the final four.
The Bluejays also will start gearing up mentally for the challenge.
Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich said a top priority as his team heads into the offseason is changing the mentality within the program.
“We've been to the semifinals each of the past two years and we have come away without a result,” Bolowich said. “Twice we have not scored a goal. Twice we've played almost with more of a fear of failure instead of the outlook of success.
“I want to change that mentality. We have to come out with more courage in games in general.”
Creighton's 2012 season ended Friday with a 1-0 loss to Indiana in the semifinals of the College Cup. The previous season, the Bluejays played Charlotte to a 0-0 tie in the semifinals but were eliminated in the penalty-kicks shootout.
Creighton will return all but four seniors off this season's team. Refining the program's mental approach, Bolowich said, is not only important for the 2013 season but for future campaigns as well.
Part of the process is tied to recruiting.
“There is no question we have to recruit strong players,” Bolowich said. “Some of it has to do with personality.”
The transformation must start with the players already in the program, Bolowich said.
“If you change their mentality,” he said, “then recruits will adapt that mentality.”
Creighton started this year having to replace most of the key cogs that produced one of the program's finest seasons in 2011. The Bluejays returned just four starters and three other players that had played in the final match of the 2011 season.
This season got off to a rough start as the Bluejays lost three of their first 10 matches and tied two others. They righted the ship at midseason, running off a 14-match unbeaten streak that carried them into the national semifinals.
The streak included an unbeaten run through Missouri Valley regular-season play, a repeat championship at the conference tournament and clutch NCAA tournament wins on the road at No. 1 Akron and Connecticut.
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The team's four seniors — Andrew Ribeiro, Brent Kallman, Jose Gomez and Jake Brown — contributed greatly to the turnaround once they embraced new roles.
“In the beginning, it was a little rough for them,” Bolowich said. “Leadership can't be appointed; it has to evolve and emerge. About the middle of the season, when we made the turnaround, it started to emerge.
“Not only did it emerge in off-the-field-slash-on-the-field positive leadership, but also in terms of the seniors putting out results such as scoring goals and being strong defensively and organizing the team from within.”
The seniors managed to accomplish the task, the coach said, by stepping outside their comfort zone. That's something he'll ask his players to do in the coming months.
How does one go about that?
“By making them uncomfortable, and seeing how they deal with it,” he said, a chuckle in his voice and a glint in his eye.
Bolowich said he envisions certain players, such as senior-to-be Zach Barnes and junior-to-be Eric Miller, stepping up to the challenge, but also that the entire squad will be willing to embrace the change.
“I think this is what they want and what they need,” Bolowich said. “Some of them probably don't know how, but that's my job to convey how to change and how to approach games and compete.
“Again, a lot of it will be to get guys out of their comfort zones. Winning a championship is not comfortable. If it were, everyone would win one.”
Creighton will begin its offseason conditioning program when the players return in January from holiday break. The Bluejays will play a spring exhibition schedule, then take a summer trip to Germany to prepare them for the coming season.
Bolowich said his desire to get the players to make some changes in their approach is not meant to downplay the accomplishments of this season's team. The Bluejays finished 17-4-3 and made the program's first back-to-back appearances in the College Cup.
“I'm not saying that this year's team fell short of anything,” Bolowich said. “With the group we had, what we did this season was outstanding. I'm not shortchanging that, but I'm just saying that for us as a program to win a title, we have to change our mentality.”
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