Women's Soccer | Jumbos look to ride defense further into NESCAC playoffs
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 07:09
For two years in a row, the women’s soccer team has faced the lottery of a penalty kick shootout, and found itself on the wrong end of the proceedings. Heartbreak in two straight NESCAC Championship Quarterfinals, both to lower-seeded teams, has toughened the squad. Entering the new season, leaving things to chance again is simply not an option. In fact, scenarios involving penalties are simply not acceptable, even in practice.
“One of the things we’ve been doing in practice is that when we play games and they end in a tie, there is a punishment,” senior tri-captain Phoebe Hanley said. “We cannot accept a tie this year, we need to have more goals than the other team; it needs to be a win.”
The team’s determination to avoid penalty kicks is just a small piece of a complete outlook shift amongst the coaching staff, the captains and the players. Facing a four-year stretch without a trip to the NCAA tournament, the Jumbos’ longest since at least 1999, it was time to draw a line in the sand.
“We met with [Coach] Martha [Whiting] a week before the season to discuss what we wanted and what she wanted, and she said that it’s awesome to have a team that absolutely loves each other and has a great time, but there’s a time where you have to sacrifice hard work for fun,” said senior tri-captain Alyssa Von Puttkammer, who took a penalty kick in last year’s shootout. “There’s definitely been a change in tone to the season, and we are just as much on board with it as Martha.”
The effectiveness of such a major system overhaul likely had much to do with the leadership structure of the team. With only three seniors – Hanley, Von Puttkammer and tri-captain Rachel Aronchick – the squad values individual drive just as much as seniority, resulting in a network of leaders that spans ages and class years.
“Everyone on the team has something to offer as a leader,” Hanley said. “We had a freshman starting at center back last year, we’ve had juniors in the goal, and those are positions that have to be loud and lead despite not being seniors. There definitely is a little extra to do as a captain, but everyone on the team really shares the responsibility well.”
But a mentality change won’t be enough to singlehandedly earn the Jumbos a much-coveted conference title, especially not in a league as strong as the NESCAC is this year, with three teams ranked in the top 15 nationally in the preseason. Tufts will also need to rely heavily on its defense, which has become a hallmark of the school’s success. The Jumbos have been in the top three in goals allowed in conference play in each of the past three seasons, and have translated those numbers into top four performances each year.
This year’s defense is a mix of new faces and old. Sophomore Catharine Greer – who stands as one of the tallest players on the squad at 5-foot-10 – will remain as a stalwart center back for the Jumbos after starting every game in her first season. She’ll be teamed up in the middle with junior Bizzy Lincoln and freshman Nicole Campellone, both of whom are expected to see playing time.
On the outside, junior Blair Brady will likely return at right back, while junior Sophie Wojtasinski, a speedy winger as a freshman who missed much of her sophomore year due to injury, has been taking reps at left back, where she will likely be able to push up into the attack when the Jumbos are in possession.
While this Tufts backline is just as potent as any that the team has sent out in recent years, the key in the early weeks will be for them to mesh as a unit.
“We definitely have some new players [on defense], which is always interesting, because we have to work extra hard on getting our formation down and having the way we move feel natural,” said Hanley, who is expected to split time in goal with junior Kristin Wright for a third season. “We still have a really, really strong center back and some really speedy players coming out on the outside, so as soon as we go over those tactical steps at practice, it’ll be second nature.”
Aronchick will be tasked with giving the backline cover as the holding midfielder in the team’s usual 4-3-3 formation, while Von Puttkammer will be working with sophomore Carla Kruyff to pull the strings of the Jumbos’ offense as attacking midfielders. Kruyff, a new addition to the team after an injury ended her freshman season before it began, is expected to have an immediate impact as a starter.
Up top, players and positions remain more fluid. Tufts has struggled to find the back of the net at times in recent years, failing to score for six consecutive hours of play at the end of last year’s season. The search for a solution became even more difficult when junior Maeve Stewart, who has topped the team in goals in each of her two seasons at Tufts, went down with a season-ending injury during the squad’s first practice.
“We’re taking little pieces of Maeve and putting them off on other people to step up,” Aronchick said. “It’ll be a lot of the younger players that will be stepping up to fill her shoes.”
Two key players in filling Stewart’s role will be speedy 5-foot-3 sophomore Alina Okamoto and powerful 5-foot-9 junior Anya Kaufmann, who offer two very different threats for opposing defenses. Coach Whiting has also experimented with some of her veteran defensive players up top, including Greer and Brady. But regardless of who ends up in the front line, the most valuable players will be those that make their opportunities count.