Led by an experienced core of upperclassmen, the 2013 women’s soccer team pulled off a huge upset of defending national champion Messiah College en route to its first appearance in the Elite 8 since the Bombers advanced to the Final Four in 2011.
An integral part of the Bombers’ run that ended in a tight 1–0 loss to William Smith College was their 10 seniors, including a solidified backline that allowed fewer than half a goal per game on average.
After graduating over half of their starters, the Blue and Gold are left with just five upperclassmen for the 2014 season, including last year’s leading goal scorer junior Kelsey King and the D3Soccer.com Goalkeeper of the Year junior Beth Coppolecchia.
However, while the five upperclassmen, which also include senior midfielder Jessie Warren, senior back Kelly Pantason and junior forward Sarah Woychick, are all experienced on the playing field, they are currently adjusting to the bigger leadership roles that come with having so few upperclassmen.
Though the senior class is often construed as the primary leaders ofthe team, Warren said she and Pantason have joined forces with the three juniors to establish a bigger core of leaders. She said during the team’s preseason all five upperclassmen worked together to ensure the first-year players were adapting to their new team.
“We have been going out of our way to make sure [the younger players] are well adjusted,” Warren said. “We did a lot of bonding during preseason to make sure everyone is comfortable and to make sure everyone knows everyone because it’s hard getting to know so many new faces.”
During the squad’s 10-day preseason, the upperclassmen implemented team bonding outside of the Bombers’ mandatory workouts. Among other activities, the team gathered for a pasta dinner, a trip to Purity Ice Cream and a televised United States women’s national team game.
Additionally, head coach Mindy Quigg said at the beginning the team slowed down its practices to walk through drills more in an effort to increase comprehension and retention among the younger players.
“As a coaching staff, we have to teach a little differently than we have in the past couple of years,” she said. “We have to break things down more, we have to play to our personnel differently, but it has been fun.”
In the process, the 12 incoming first-year players have gotten to know their new teammates and become more comfortable interacting with them. Freshman midfielder Kristyn Alonzo said the older players helped integrate her class both on the field and off.
“They’re very disciplined and welltrained, so it was a little intimidating for us at first, but they let us all in with open arms,” she said. “They’ve helped us understand the new concepts and the dynamic of this team. For me, it was easy to fit in because they were so helpful.”
The off-the-field bonding created chemistry on the field for the young team, which won its first three games of the season with 1–0 victories over Kean University and Stockton College, and a 2–0 win over Farmingdale State College. Six freshmen saw playing time over the weekend, and freshman back Kendall Cirella started and played all 90 minutes in each contest.
Quigg said she has also been looking for the 10 sophomores on the team to step up and fill leadership roles that would normally be taken on by upperclassmen.
“This year we are putting a bit more on our sophomore class as far as leadership and being more vocal,” she said. “They’re accepting the challenge; they’re doing a great job with it.”
While technically still underclassmen, the sophomore class played beyond its years to begin the season. Six sophomores started in the Blue and Gold’s three wins, and sophomore forward Holly Niemiec contributed the team’s only assist in the young season thus far.
The team’s starting lineup features five players who have never previously started a game for the Blue and Gold, including two who donned a Bomber uniform for the first time in the team’s season opener Aug. 29. Quigg added that the dynamic of the team is completely different from last year’s squad, however, the core principles remain the same despite different personnel.
“It’s totally new personalities; it’s youth,” she said. “The Bomber stuff is still there, though. The tradition is there. The work ethic, the pride is still there. It’s just with younger players.”