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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Women’s soccer looks to build on solid foundation in 2023

The Jumbos enter this season primed and ready to go.

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The women's soccer team is pictured huddled before a game on Sept. 11, 2021.

If you’re looking for an electric, nail biting, dramatic atmosphere in the Tufts athletics scene, women’s soccer is your place. The Tufts women’s soccer program has been one of the most exciting teams to watch over the last few years, and last year especially brought some intense contests to Bello Field.

Even though they placed seventh in the conference standings, their rank did not properly display the nature of the games they played. All of the NESCAC teams are very evenly matched, which resulted in games that stayed tight through the end of the 90 minutes. For the majority of the time, the Jumbos were able to pull off wins using stellar defense and possession of the ball.

“We’re a very possession-oriented team. So we’re going to try to keep the ball away from our opponent as much as possible. But definitely [also] look for the counterattacks,” senior forward Thalia Greenberg said.

Their record in 2022 stood at 11–6–2 overall, and 4–4–2 in conference, indicating the difficulty of conference competition. Of the six games that they lost, none were by a margin of more than two goals. Some of their regular season non-conference highlights included routing New England College 9–0 and Bridgewater State 6–0 in back-to-back games, and triumphing over No. 18 MIT 2–0. In the NESCAC, they beat rivals Wesleyan and Amherst respectively, earning enough traction to get a place in the conference playoffs.

As the No. 7 seed, the Jumbos faced off against No. 2 seed Williams in the conference quarterfinals and came out victorious by a score of 2–0. It was a very close game throughout, and stayed scoreless until well into the second half. In the 75th minute, then first-year forward Elsi Aires scored on a deflected shot to take the lead 1–0. A well-crafted insurance goal from then senior midfielder Maddie Pero made the score 2–0 in the 84th minute, and the Jumbos saw out the game for the remaining time to hang on to win.

This quarterfinal win set up a rematch with rival Amherst in the semifinals. The Mammoths are consistently a tough opponent for the Jumbos, creating close games each time they face off. This round of the battle didn’t fall the Jumbos’ way however, as they fell 1–0 in double overtime. As the No. 1 team, Amherst stood strong and were able to go back and forth on scoring chances. Tufts had a goal waved off for interference with the goalie in the first half, and the score stayed tied 0–0 going into extra time. Then senior goalie Hayley Bernstein had a great game, making nine saves to keep the Jumbos in it; but Amherst was able to break the deadlock in the 97th minute on a penalty kick, finally getting one past Bernstein. Although this loss ended the Jumbos’ conference championship hopes, they turned their attention to the NCAA tournament.

Since they made it deep into the conference tournament, Tufts received a bid to play in the national tournament and faced off against Denison University in the first round. Another stellar defensive performance backed by a goal from then junior forward Erin Duncan saw them through to the next round. Ultimately, they fell to No. 6 William Smith College in a tight matchup to end their season.

It was a very solid season for the Jumbos, with Bernstein posting the third best save percentage in the conference (85.6%), and Greenberg and Duncan in sixth and seventh place respectively, with each scoring seven goals. The defensive line for the Jumbos was never a question throughout last season, as the duo of then senior goalies Bernstein and Kaelin Logue ensured that the back line held strong. They combined for eight shutouts and earned Tufts vital victories. Going into this season, the Jumbos will have to rely on a goalie with less experience, as none of the rostered keepers have more than 90 minutes of playing time. 

“I think that the goalies have been doing really, really well in training. … I’m not worried about our goalie position. As long as everyone stays healthy, I think that our goalies are very strong this year,” Greenberg said.

Tufts will look to keep their defense as solid as it was last year while improving on their offensive game. They lost two key role players in the front in attacking midfielder Maddie Pero, a second team All-American, and forward Claire Wilkinson, who tallied 4 assists in 2022. The incoming class of first-years will look to bring in new energy and scoring presence to the team.

“The freshmen are very good, and they’re pushing us to become even better players,” Greenberg said. “It’s really nice to get some new faces on the team, so in terms of team chemistry, I think that honestly, we’ve been stronger than ever, and it’s just really nice to have such a positive presence.”

Chemistry is a significant part of soccer performance, as the key to being able to rely on teammates and trust fellow players. Preseason is not only a time for the players to get acquainted with one another’s playing styles, but also to welcome in new faces and generate new bonds.

“We’re off to a really good start so far, but you can always work on building the team chemistry, and creating those friendships will last a lifetime. So I think that’s one of the main team goals and focuses this year,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg also hopes to improve on her personal performance this season.

“I definitely want to score a lot of goals. I think I scored seven last season, I want to beat that this season,” Greenberg said.

Tufts opened its season against Emerson College out of conference on Wednesday, beating them 3–0.

The team’s first conference game is scheduled for Saturday at Connecticut College. After that, they will play Wesleyan and then rivals Amherst in two home matchups, adding a chapter to a storied rivalry. The Jumbos are currently ranked No. 24 in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches Poll.

“We have teams, in particular Amherst, who are really keen on beating this year, and that’s going to be one of our toughest competitions. … But eventually the main goal is to win our league, win the NESCAC and then win [the] NCAA,” Greenberg said.