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Q&A with new Arizona soccer assistant coach Sandy Davison

Davison joined the program in March after spending the 2018 season at Indiana

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

If you want to follow new Arizona assistant coach Sandy Davison on Twitter, her username is @soccrrunnr, a handle that fits her to a tee.

Born into a military family in Dallas, Davison relocated every three years as a kid and her professional life, centered around soccer, has been no different.

Davison coached at the youth level for nearly two decades, with stops in North Carolina, California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Arizona among other places.

In 2011, she made the jump to the collegiate level when she became an assistant at UNC Greensboro. That manifested into a four-year stint at Washington State, before a one-year layover at Indiana where Davison helped the Hoosiers score 33 goals in 2018, the most for the program since 2013.

“Unfortunately” the Hoosiers opted to make a head coaching change, forcing Davison to search for yet another place to call home.

That’s when UA head coach Tony Amato reached out to see if she was interested in replacing ex-assistant Kate Norton.

“I say unfortunately, but Tony kind of laughs and was like well, it was actually fortunate because we probably wouldn’t have gone after you if you were still working at Indiana and had only been there for a year,” Davison said.

Davison knew Amato and assistant coach Paul Nagy through recruiting circles, and had been impressed by the way they’ve turned around the UA program over the past six seasons.

“Obviously with the success that they’ve had and the types of players that they recruit, which are similar to myself, I definitely was interested,” Davison said. “So as I started talking to Tony a little bit, that’s how I ended up here.”

Davison joined the program in mid-March, allowing her to tag along with the Wildcats during the spring season.

I caught up with Davison to talk about how the transition has been, what her role is, her dog and more. Here’s the Q&A.

So you helped Indiana break several offensive records. What was your role there?

I worked with and coached, tactically and functionally, midfielders and forwards. Obviously, the players have a little bit to do with (those records), but considering that we didn’t have a lot of different players in those attacking roles, we just did a lot of functional and technical training in front of goal and just tried to make stuff as game-relative as we could so that they were finishing under pressure and doing it repetitiously.

So did you feel like you were a good fit at Arizona, knowing Paul works with goalkeepers and the backline?

I felt like that knowing Paul was doing that already that that probably would be a good fit for me. I know Tony was a forward and I was a midfielder, so it kind of allowed Tony to maybe do a little bit more floating between the two.

What has been your impression of this program now that you’ve been a part of it since March?

It’s been interesting to see the growth. Tony and Paul talk so much about what they had to do in the early stages of the program, and how with recruiting they’ve been trying to layer players in and continue to get better players into the program so that they can continue to play a little bit more the style that they would like to play, which obviously involves pressing, because our kids are all very athletic.

What was the perception of this program when you were at Washington State?

We hated playing against Arizona because they were gritty, they competed relentlessly, and it was tough to play against. They disrupted the rhythm with their pressing. And when you tried to play and your players weren’t Stanford or UCLA (caliber), it’s hard to manage that pressure and the goals that they created based on mistakes that they caused.

How does your past experience in the Pac-12 help you here?

I think the biggest thing that it adds is that I understand right away the level of players that we need to recruit. And with recruiting being so early, to have somebody on staff that understands that right away, and there’s not that learning curve, I think that’s the biggest thing.

What’s the difference between the Pac-12 and, say, the Big Ten?

I think (the Pac-12) is a better playing conference, that the players are technically more sophisticated. Because where you recruit players from, they play a little bit more outdoors than they do in the Midwest. So I think just athletically and technically (the players are different), and you’ve got to be big and strong and fast.

What kinds of things do you do to integrate yourself into the team?

I think the biggest thing is just trying to learn about the program as quickly as you can. Figure out, based on what you feel and what Tony feels my qualities are, how to fit in without disrupting what’s going on. For me, it’s being a great observer, really watching and listening and learning so that I understand terminology that Tony and Paul use that’s maybe a little different ... so that when I do talk to players I’m speaking the language that they’re used to.

How do you familiarize yourself with the players?

Obviously watching them as soccer players every day in practice. And just trying to get to know them a little bit as players is how I to try to connect with them, so that when we do talk about soccer, I at least know who they are and I know where they’re coming from. I know what they’re studying. I know how many siblings they have. And sometimes little things like that can teach you if you’re a good listener. Whether a kid’s an only child or she’s a survivor because she’s the youngest of six siblings, it teaches you a little bit of how to interact with kids.

How would you describe your coaching style?

That’s a good question. Like I said, I’m an observer. I’m not someone to jump in and yell and scream. I’m more of a teacher. I like to show examples. I like to have conversations.

How did you get into coaching in the first place?

Well, I got into coaching because I had a couple of ACL injuries and it kind of ended my playing career. So, I was working as a physical therapy assistant at the time and I had one of my clients say, ‘Hey, I coach a young kid’s team. Have you ever thought about coaching before?’ And I was like, ‘no’ and that’s kind of how I started. And I enjoyed it because I was never the best player on the team, but I was probably a thoughtful player when I played, and so I think coaching came a little bit more natural for me.

(Note: Davison played collegiately at Pfeiffer University, a Division II school in North Carolina)

What is the rewarding part about coaching?

For me, it’s seeing kids grow. Even just the little bit of time that I’ve been here, it’s so exciting to see some of our players take information from March to the end of April and just see the growth of them as soccer players. And then the other part for me is obviously the relationship piece of it. To keep in touch with players after they graduate, and to go to weddings, and to be a part of their lives like not only with soccer, but after soccer because you’ve had that kind of impact.

What are your early thoughts on the 2019 season and the potential this team has?

I think the potential for this 2019 season is quite good. There are obviously variables which impact that success but overall this spring, our team had a great amount of success and grew in areas we believed to be important, so that in and of itself is very exciting. We have a new 2019 class plus two transfers coming in July to add to the foundation of the spring, so that too brings excitement.

On your Twitter bio it says you have the best dog in the world...

Maggie? Yeah, 100 percent. She’s a Springer Spaniel. She has no idea she’s a dog. She’s 10 years old and she’s pretty much our little kid.

So if she’s 10 that must mean she’s been to a lot of places...

My husband (Dave) and I were talking about how many states she’s lived in. Because she was born in Texas and if you count how many states she’s traveled across, because obviously we have to drive when we move, she’s probably been to more states than most of the kids that play for us have.