Women’s soccer program begins new chapter after SIU hire coach Craig Roberts – The Daily Egyptian
The Salukis have hired former Grambling State coach Craig Roberts. Last season, Roberts posted a 9-7-3 record as Tigers head coach.
Roberts said he was thrilled to take this new opportunity.
“This school has an excellent reputation throughout the country. We have great facilities and athletic support, not only from the fans but also from the athletic department,” Roberts said, “Plus the opportunity to put my stamp on the program is really inviting.
Last season, the Salukis women’s soccer team went 0-15-1 under former head coach Grant Williams. After two straight seasons without a single win, SIU executives fired Williams on November 10, 2021.
Sophomore forward Sam Dodd said last season was demoralizing at times.
“It was really tough overall to stay positive for most of the season,” Dodd said.
Not only did the Salukis have a tie, but they finished with 15 straight losses. Junior midfielder Sam DeJulio said the SIU players knew they were capable of more.
During the season, Williams was caught up in an investigation regarding numerous women’s sports programs. He was placed on administrative leave towards the end of the season. Dodd said questioning what was going on within the program was another reason for the Dawgs’ lack of success.
DeJulio said, “There [were] many factors added last year. But I think our team has a lot of potential. In just a few workouts, our new trainer was able to unlock some of that.
Both players said they wouldn’t blame it all on Williams, but agreed it would be nice for a change of scenery.
“When Grant got fired, it was bittersweet for some people,” Dodd said. “But when we heard there was a national search for our new coach, we were all very excited. It felt like we were starting a new chapter.”
The SIU has only had a women’s soccer program for three years. Roberts said he wants to develop a strong culture at SIU for a program that is always trying to find itself.
“We have to excel on and off the pitch. That’s something that’s very important to me,” Roberts said, “I also want our driving to be at the highest level. When someone talks about an SIU soccer player, they should know that this person is a talented individual with great intelligence who is also highly respected.
On the field, Roberts said he will work to increase the team’s stamina. After watching the team film last year, he felt the players would lose their relentlessness late in games due to their lack of energy.
DeJulio said trying to build from scratch can be difficult. SIU does not have some of the advantages that other programs have due to their launch.
“We were a young group coming in. A lot of our girls were inexperienced and we’d be playing teams that had already had established players,” DeJulio said, “But because we got older, we we have a lot of potential to be really good next season.
That could be considered an advantage, according to Roberts. Although the program is very young, so are the players, which means a lot of players have a lot of experience for the upcoming season.
“I feel like these girls are hungry to change the course of our team. They want to put the SIU on the map as a successful and winning program,” Roberts said.
Dodd agreed with Roberts. She said the players are leaving their past behind and ready to rally behind their new coach.
“We met him almost directly after he was hired as a new coach. You could tell he was looking forward and excited to be here, he left a great first impression on me,” Dodd said, “I know my teammates and I’m really happy that we have someone who is so ready to come here and overthrow this culture.”
Southern Illinois hopes to win a few games early next season to keep the excitement high and build momentum for the team heading into conference play.
“We all want to win games and fix that narrative about us. But ultimately, the goal is to redefine the term “winning,” Roberts said. “It’s not just about winning the actual game, it’s about our game and correcting our mistakes.”
The current players and the new coach said they have a common goal in mind for next season.
“We want to publicize this program. With more new teams coming into the conference, he (Roberts) just wants us to get into this next season and blow it out of the water,” DeJulio said.
But a good season will not be enough to sustain an entire program. While it’s important to build a strong base, Roberts wants his team to be on top of the mountain in five years.
“I’d like to think we’re competing for a conference championship on a consistent basis. Not only that, but also push it even further and make an appearance in the NCAA,” Roberts said.
Sports reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at cdaily_de. To stay up to date on all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter