REJUVANATING THE RAMS

By: Scott Day

One thing is clear about VCU Men's Soccer Head Coach Dave Giffard. He knows how to produce top-level soccer.

At his three previous stops as an assistant (UAB, Indiana and Akron), Giffard has helped guide his squads to a record of 141-44-30, including six NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years.

Need individual player development? Giffard's got that on his resume, too. During his tenure as an assistant, he's had a hand in coaching and/or recruiting 30 players that have been drafted in various professional leagues across the country.

Clearly, he has a little bit of knowledge when it comes to the pitch.

This spring, his new squad got a little taste of that knowledge with full-scale spring practices and several exhibition games.

"It was a good spring for us. My staff and I were very impressed by the all-around effort from our guys," Giffard said. "Every spring is different. At this level, all the games that count are from the end of August to early December. That's not enough time to develop the individual player as much as you need to and that's why this time of year is really important. This is when you make that push to take the program and every player to the next level."

With only 12 field players available during the spring season, the Rams focused on individual development, with an emphasis on the mental side of the game.

"A huge part of soccer, like every sport, is the attitude and approach that you bring to each practice and each game," Giffard said. "I've coached some of the best players in the country and how they approach each day, both on and off the field. We worked on it a lot with our guys this spring and I really think we made some big strides in that area."

Giffard and his staff want to play an attractive, aggressive style of play and in order to do that the weight room and fitness levels have become an instrumental part of the program.

"[Strength Coach] Ryan Horn and his staff did a tremendous job of instituting a plan to get our guys where they need to be fitness-wise," Giffard commented. "So far, we've made a lot of progress. We still have a ways to go, but we're definitely headed in the right direction."

The strides the squad made in the weight room and on the practice field were felt immediately in the exhibition games.

After a hard-fought battle with the defending USL-2 champion Richmond Kickers that resulted in a 1-0 loss, the Rams refocused and ran past in-state rival VMI, 4-1, for the first victory under Giffard.

"There were stretches of the VMI game that I thought we played really well," Giffard said. "We were communicating, pressing and really showed some signs of getting to where we want to be and playing the way we want to play."

The momentum from the win against VMI carried over to the 7-a-side tournament at UNC Wilmington, where the Black & Gold took home the title and went a perfect 5-0, with two wins over Duke and a win over defending CAA champion UNC Wilmington.

"The tournament down in Wilmington was definitely a big highlight of our spring," Giffard said. "It was a great opportunity for our guys to see how the hard work, organization, mentality and effort all came together. When you do things right, you're going to get results and have opportunities to win some games, and that's exactly what our guys did down there."

VCU wrapped up the spring by taking down Campbell University (2-1), a team that has won the Atlantic Sun Conference four of the past five seasons.

"I'm really excited about getting going again in three or four months," Giffard said. "I thought this spring gave my staff and I the opportunity to lay the beginning part of our foundation for this program. We feel like we have a chance to bring an attractive, successful style of play to our fans and the soccer community here in Richmond."

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