UW-River Falls teams load up on freshmen, knowing some will drift away

Posted September 26, 2016

Lot of freshman are found on this fall’s sports teams at UW-River Falls. While it might seem this is a product of the biggest class of incoming students in campus history, the coaches of those teams would disagree.

Freshman make up 40 percent of this year’s football team and 48 percent of the women’s soccer team.

Head football coach Matt Walker said that large freshman classes are a big part of football.

“It’s pretty typical of football,” Walker said. The word attrition gets thrown around a lot when talking about recruiting. “No matter how you slice it, whether it’s scholarship or non-scholarship, you just lose guys.”

Football teams have to bring in a lot of players because on average they will lose about half of those athletes before that group is seniors.

“The adjustment from high school to the college game, because of the physicality of the game, it just always isn’t for everybody,” said Walker. Since arriving at UWRF five years ago, Walker has brought in at least 55 players in every recruiting class knowing that he will lose a fair amount of those players.

One of the many challenges the coaching staff faces is having enough people to manage that many student-athletes. Walker gives credit to other members of the athletic office in helping with his team’s effort.

“Guys like Carmen Pata, our strength coach, our training staff and administrators. They help us with managing these guys so it’s become easier than it was when I first got here,” Walker said.

Walker said that the culture has definitely gotten more positive since he arrived and that his coaching staff can now be more selective in recruiting. They’ve also caught up with the top of the league talent-wise so River Falls has become a popular place for transfer recruits.

“We probably have six or seven Division II transfers on the team right now, and we’ve had three North Dakota State guys too,” Walker said.

Women’s soccer Head Coach Sean McKuras doesn’t typically go after large recruiting classes, but knows that situations arise where he will lose players.

“Opportunities change for juniors and seniors where athletics don’t always fit in the mix. Those kids are looking at what’s next,” McKuras said. When committing to an athlete, McKuras hopes that they stay for four years but understands the challenges they face.

The biggest challenge for McKuras’ team this year has been mixing the older students with the young talent that they’ve brought into the program and experiencing success.

“It’s varied how much playing time is available, but what’s not is how hard they’re working and what they bring to the team as a whole,” said McKuras. He added that “40 percent of our team hasn’t experienced a win. They’ve had a heartbreaking loss and faced a couple of Top 20 teams in the country.”

It’s a matter of experience now for this young group.

“You have to keep your head up and not only point out the flaws. Our program has been through versions of this through the years,” said McKuras. Once the players can experience what it feels like to walk away with a win, McKuras hopes they build off that.

For some sports, the nature of the beast is bringing in a lot of athletes knowing that some will move away from athletics. For others, it depends on the year and the current situation of that program.

Both UWRF teams next see action on Saturday, Oct. 1. The football team faces UW-La Crosse in an away game, while women’s soccer travels to UW-Oshkosh to take on the Titans.