The Lady Demons will have a large freshman class this year with 11 true freshmen joining the squad and two redshirt freshmen from last season.
While some teams or coaches may view the number of young players as an obstacle, Van Linder sees the ways in which it can benefit the group.
“I think with all of the new players this year what we really want to emphasize is competition and that we all compete for positions,” said Van Linder. “We wanted to make it more competitive so that everyone is kind of, in a positive way, looking over their shoulder and bringing their best every day.
“They are going to know that there is somebody right behind them who is hungry to fill their shoes. I think that when you have that kind of environment in practice, it really translates onto the playing field.”
Of all of the adjustments being made this preseason, Van Linder believes that the greatest change thus far has been in the attitude of the veteran players.
“I thing a big thing was that the players really felt that they could do better than the record has shown in past seasons, so one of the biggest things was maybe the attitude change with them. It is not so much the players that have changed, but the attitude they bring to the field,” said Van Linder.
The 2011 season saw the Lady Demons finish 8-10-1 overall and 2-6-1 in Southland Conference play, just falling short of an opportunity to play in the conference tournament. This season, Van Linder has higher expectations for the program.
“We have not been to the conference tournament since 2008, so making it there is our first and foremost goal,” he said. “At the same time, I think, why not pursue the tournament championship? So, let’s first get to the tournament and then maybe we’ll get a little bit lucky, make a run and create some excitement.”
The team will begin practice this week with two-a-days as they prepare for their preseason scrimmages against Houston and Louisiana-Monroe.
Through the scrimmages they hope to both introduce new ideas as well as build upon details that the returning players worked on in the spring.
“There will probably be some moments which are not too pretty but the idea is that they are more of a learning experience,” said Van Linder.
The 2012 squad will kick off the regular season at Baylor on Aug. 19.
The Baylor Bears come off a great 2011 season, advancing to the NCAA Tournament, and Van Linder is excited to see how the Lady Demons will compete against them.
“I think that playing Baylor will be a good test for us,” he said. “We are excited about the opportunity and I think that playing a team like that will give us an idea of what we need to work on when we play the rest of the games and especially in our conference season.”
Looking forward to Southland competition, Van Linder notes that some of the biggest competition comes from Texas rival Stephen F. Austin as well as the in-state rivalries.
“Our close rival SFA, I think, is one of the favored teams in the conference so that game will be a great measuring stick,” he said. “The local in-state rivalries are always big and that will kind of be our focus. Recently we have not had a lot of success in the conference, so right now every game is a big game for us.”
The Lady Demons will take part in the annual Fall Sports Media Day next Wednesday. They will host Louisiana-Monroe the following Wednesday, Aug. 15, in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. at the Lady Demon Soccer Complex.