BIBLE HILL - There's only one way to go for the Dalhousie Rams.
After disappointing seasons that saw both the men's and women's soccer squads finish near the bottom of their respective conferences, the Rams are looking forward to climbing the ladder in 2012.
"I'm really excited to coach this team," said men's head coach Keith Partridge. "They're all hungry, they're all athletic and they all want to be playing good soccer and they want the input on what they can do to make their soccer better as individuals and as a team."
That's the first step in rebuilding the face of a pair of teams that have lingered near the bottom of the standings for the past several years. The journey starts today as the women host the St. Thomas Tommies at 2 p.m. before meeting the UNB Saint John Seawolves Sunday at noon. The men play the same matches at 4 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.
This is the dawning of a new era for the school, which became the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture as of Sept. 1, shedding the former Nova Scotia Agricultural College tag. The Rams name may be the same but the uniforms have changed from blue and gold to the black and gold of Dalhousie, and with that comes a new optimism.
The men's side is also excited about five recruits who were scouted over the summer months by Partridge, especially Hants East grad Chris Morash and Valley United Tier 1 standout Josh Hamlin.
"These are guys who were serious soccer players and are looking to play some serious soccer as opposed to serious athletes who are taking on the role of soccer players," Partridge said.
They'll be joined by veteran centre back and co-captain Craig MacEachern, of Valley, and fellow Cobequid Cougars grad Chris Ross, forming a solid middle for the team.
"Straight through the middle we're not looking vulnerable, we're looking like we can play the ball and be dangerous," Partridge said.
MacEachern said he feels the Rams should be a solid defensive team and will need to play that way to be successful this season. That defence will need to be complimented by a quick-strike offence that can pounce on opposition mistakes.
"With young guys, we're not going to control the possession as much as other teams so we've got to try and use the counter attack and capitalize on our chances when we get them."
MacEachern said he feels the team is on the cusp of taking steps up the standings this season.
"I think we've definitely improved from last year in terms of the overall talent," he said.
Meanwhile, on the women's side, the Rams are also relishing an even mix of veteran and rookie talent.
"We're about half and half," coach Claude Caldwell said. "We've got some really good returning players who have a lot of experience."
Caldwell said he will be leaning on that experience from players like centre midfielder Leah Cook and strikers Melissa Bahri and Julie Poirier to help get the newer players accustomed to soccer at the college level.
"They've really done quite a good job of doing that for the past few days now and making them feel comfortable," Caldwell said.
Helping get the players relaxed and settled is of the utmost importance so they can concentrate on improving the team on the field. Caldwell said the Rams will need to exhibit better ball control than they did in 2011 to have any chance at success.
"We need to control the ball and have patience on the field," he said. "Those are the main things."
The coach said based on what he's seen thus far from his team, he feels the Rams can nab one of the four conference playoff spots up for grabs.
"Anything can happen after that," he said.
But their quest to make the postseason starts this weekend and the Rams will have to start playing for keeps right out of the gate.
"The season is so short you can't really afford to throw games away," Caldwell said. "So we're planning to win this weekend."
Dalhousie Rams soccer rosters
Melissa Bahri D/S
Danielle Bartlett K
Julia Beaton W
Alexandria Bishop D
Leah Cook CM
Aimee Cormier CM
Shelby Currie D
Nadia Davidson M
Emily Estabrooks M
Brittany Green S
Laura Harding D
Mikaela Jahncke S
Shelby Jamieson D
Brittany MacLean W
Janelle MacKeil W
Samantha-Faye Leslie K
Devon MacDonald D
Rebecca Parra M
Julie Poirier S
Jessica Trudeau M/D
Chelsey Whalen M
Chris Ross, Harmony
Craig MacEachern, Truro
William Hannah, Rosebud
Alyx MacDonald, Fort Ellis
Willem Schepp, Kentville
Robert Matheson, Bowmanville, Ont.
Joseph Gushue, Smith Creek, N.B.
Josh Hamlin, New Ross
Chris Morash, Enfield
Matt McMinn, Upper Stewiacke
Al Loureiro, Brazil
Jiri Hulinsky, Czech Republic
Ben Nelson, Falmouth
Jesse Sippley, N.B.
Cameron Arsenault, Summerside
Matthew Straathof, Westmouth, Ont.
Bobby Gordon, Port Williams
Mannfred Boehm, Truro