Women’s Soccer Off to Hot Start

Cole Anderson

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This time last year, the Whitman women’s soccer team had a 1-4 record and was heading into a conference season that would prove to be subpar by their standards. The team would eventually end up with a lackluster 5-11-2 record and a season that didn’t go quite as planned.

This season the Missionaries look like a completely different team. They are off to their best start in over a decade, going 5-1. They have already amassed 14 goals for and only three against. In its first five games, the team already matched its win total from last season.

Photo by Tanner Bowersox

“We’ve come into this preseason and season with a much different mentality. We’re more competitive and the girls are playing hard day in and day out,” said Head Coach Heather Cato.

Senior team captain MacKenzie Hughes echoed Cato’s sentiments, indicating that players are leaving all they have on the field.

“I think our overall team mentality is a lot healthier and we’re going into games expecting to win this year, and it’s made a big different for the outcome of those games,” said Hughes.

The team’s new mindset has been a large part of why they have gotten off to such a strong start this season.

“I think this season has just been a progression of the last couple of seasons realizing that we were good and competitive. We just weren’t finishing off games, and the difference was not our ability on the field, but our mentality on the field. [The team] changed that in the spring and kept that going into the fall,” said Cato.

Each spring the team’s practices are run by the captains, not the coaches. These practices can play a large role in how a team comes into the summer and ultimately the start of its season. The captains for this year held the team to a high standard during the spring season, and over the summer all the players were committed to their summer training regimen so that coming back in August, everyone was ready to get off to a great start.

“We had three practices per week this past spring, which was more than usual for this team, and I think that helped everyone’s touch. And once we started back with Cato we were already much more prepared,” said Hughes.

The preseason summer training was also longer this year than in past years, which gave the team a large amount of time to bond and get closer. Mini golfing and an “Amazing Race”-style relay were among the bonding activities during preseason. With seven first-years and one transfer sophomore joining the team, getting to know the new Missionaries was especially important for the team’s chemistry.

Photo by Tanner Bowersox

“They’re all coming out every day and pushing the returners which is a good thing for us,” said Cato of this year’s first-years. “It’s good as a coach to have to decide if you’re playing a freshman versus a junior or a senior, and they’ve made us have to think about that as a coaching staff.”

Another addition to the team this year is the adoption of a few more specific team goals. Winning the Northwest Conference is at the top of the list, but the team has made other goals to strive for on the way to that ultimate goal of winning conference.

“One of the goals was to outshoot our opponents. We’re trying to score a certain number of goals on set pieces because last year we had issues with set pieces. And we’re doing pretty well with that. I think our goal was to score on eight set pieces and we’ve already scored on four. We also want to win every home game and always end on a win, so if we can’t sweep the weekend and lose on Saturday, we will win on Sunday,” said sophomore midfielder Clara Merlino.

The team is also continuing a system where each player has a notebook and prior to every game, each player writes down their goals for the game. After the game, they write down three things they did well, three things the team did well and three things the team needs to improve on. Finally, each player chooses a spotlight player of the game, and from those responses, Cato chooses a player deserving recognition for her play in that game. Last year the team had these notebooks but didn’t use them as much as they plan to this season. With small incentives like getting spotlight player of the game, there already seems to be some change in the intensity of play.

Women's Soccer

Photo by Tanner Bowersox

Whatever it may be that is contributing most to the team’s successes so far this year, it’s working, and confidence is high heading into a tough Northwest Conference season.

“Puget Sound has won conference the last 11 years and [is] just really consistent. Linfield is probably going to be the most competitive, and Whitworth is always in the top three. I think it’s just a matter of making sure that we realize we’re a good team and we play our style of soccer and not anyone else’s,” said Cato.

This weekend the team is away in Oregon facing Willamette and Lewis & Clark and then is back home again on Sept. 28 and 29 playing Pacific and Linfield for Family Weekend.

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