The past two weeks following the Wake Forrest tournament have flown by. These non-league games are our last and final preparation for the most important half of our season… the A-10 Conference schedule. We’ve had our share of ups and downs during this time and continue to learn about each other and hope to find ways to become the team that we need to be. We’ve learned that we can compete with the top teams in the country, but at the same time, we can lose to any team. We beat BU, proving that we can beat (not just compete with) good teams. We then beat UNH, in a game that was finally won with some legroom. It showed that we could win comfortably and manage a game until the very end. We then were knocked down by Brown; a team that we should have beaten. Give Brown credit, they did to us what we have done to others in the past. We are young - and discovered against Brown that even tiny lapses of judgment can destroy otherwise good play.
We determined after Brown that in order for us to be successful “something had to change.” What I have found in my years of soccer is that every team, at some time, will reach this point. The point where they have just suffered an inexcusable defeat or poor performance and their season is not shaping up to what they had expected and hoped for. This kind of unwarranted loss exposes all the flaws that are concealed or ignored by winning. We harp on the phrase “something needs to change” but no one specifies what that “something” is. I personally think that the attitude often exemplified by this phrase is the easy way out. Too often it is nothing more than focusing on vague and meaningless words, it is like talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
At some point, all this talk about change really becomes a mantra of missed opportunities. It’s not going to prevent that disappointed drive home from the A-10s at URI after losing in the first round or worse yet, being let down after missing the A-10 tournament by a few points. And although it’s a tough dose of reality, on the ride home from Brown, that is where I felt this team was headed. It’s the first real lack of confidence I’ve had since coming to Amherst!! We missed the opportunity to earn a point against our top opponents – although we had chances to do so in all three games. We missed the opportunity to earn a solid non-league RPI with losses to good (but not great) opponents in Harvard and Brown. 5-5 is ok, but not where I want to be, and certainly not where this team should be.
I (like all my teammates) can say that I am going to go out to every practice with the mindset of working harder at getting better and improving - and I’m sure we believe we will. But, what happens on the day that I’m bummed because I get a bad test grade or something goes wrong off the field? What happens two weeks from now when the “sting” of the Brown loss has subsided and it’s easy to fall back into a routine of going through the motions? This is something that I think our team needs to be better at - but also I need to personally be better at. So what needs to change? A lot – but it’s not that simple!
On past teams that I have played on, this moment that requires a change to occur would be reached, not due to a lack of talent (we had plenty of that), but because of work rate and team chemistry. However, I do not think that this pertains to our team this year or that this is our “something”. The effort is there at every practice, but focus is sometimes lost. I think that we have great team chemistry, but at times we are still trying to get to know one another on and off the field. We use the excuse that we are young and cling to the belief that our mistakes will magically be corrected through experience, but the simple truth is that this experience requires time that we do not have. I think that our “something,” that elusive change that will prompt immediate success and beget wins, is desire, and more specifically, the passion and the uncontrollable NEED to win. Not a fear of failing (all college soccer players have plenty of that) but the desire to win at any cost. We need people to step up and change the flow of games. We need big plays at important times in games. We need players that not only want to be that hero who scores the winning goal – but who needs to be that hero.
This is what was the difference between the Brown game and the game against Siena last weekend. We found ourselves in a very familiar place being 0-0 at halftime. Both teams had good chances, but no one had stepped up and scored. In the past games that we were in this situation, we had lost focus on a set piece and got down 1-0. We gave up a goal because we lacked enough desire and passion to win every ball and sell out everything to keep it out of our own net. That is all a set piece really comes down to… who wants it more! At Brown, we basically got down and then rolled over and didn’t respond enough to get it back. However, against Siena we stepped up and controlled the game and eventually scored. We had everyone going forward with that combined desire to score and win. Everyone was emotionally invested, from the players on the field to the coaches to the bench, and our passion and spirit is what won us that game.
If we continue with this type of motivation, not just a refusal to lose, but need to win - we will be successful in the latter part of our season. You can talk about how technical and talented a team is all day, but what it really comes down to in a league like the A-10 is who wants it more on that day. The team that comes in better prepared tactically and then better executes their plan will be the winner. It’s only right that our first A-10 challenge is against Dayton. After the past two years, we owe them a tough game. Games like the upcoming one with Dayton is why we play the game of soccer. We are back to where we were last year against La Salle. None of the experts expect UMass to win. But that doesn’t matter as long as the people in our locker room believe it. Furthermore, this year we can’t just believe it, but we have to play like we NEED to beat Dayton. So, we may be the underdogs going into Friday’s game, but I wouldn’t count us out. We’ve proven we can play with the best and now it is time to prove that we can beat the best.
After writing this blog for over a year now, I feel everyone has gotten to know me well and has followed the lives of the Umass Women’s Soccer team. I’ve written about my personal struggles with soccer, injury, and schoolwork and as a general rule, also about the experiences of the team each week. However, I am still only a sophomore and have not even completed half of my journey here at UMass. I still have a lot to learn and to experience in the next couple years and I feel like this is a defining time for my teammates and I.
People have been telling me for as long as I can remember to cherish my time here in college. They say that soon enough I will be in the “real world” and these years go by all too quickly. It’s hard to comprehend this when I am so young and caught up in my day-to-day struggles. Right now, my season and career can go one of two ways. I just got back from my injury and things aren’t exactly going as I had hoped. Our team is on a three game losing streak and I am not playing. At the start I just wanted to get back out there and this excitement and eagerness to play was enough to keep me focused and motivated. However, after over a month of working as hard as I can not only in practice, but working out on my own as well, it is frustrating to see how little I have improved. I feel like I will never get my chance in a game and this is disheartening. It would be so easy to become complacent with my position on this team with where I stand right now. I have the excuse that I am still coming back form my injury and that it takes time, but I am so sick of this excuse. I want to get my starting spot back and actually get an opportunity to help my team win from ON the field, rather than the bench. This weekend and week in practice only intensified this desire and I refuse to let my team and myself fall into a pattern of disappointment and contentment.
After falling to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech this weekend, we find ourselves with a 2-4 record and on a three game losing streak. All the success of last year’s team came with the unfamiliarity to losing. In order for us to accomplish what we want to this year, we will have to find a way to come together and figure out how to win. We are a very young team that’s still evolving, but the guidance of the upperclassmen we do have is becoming more and more evident. I look to these upperclassmen at every turn and their leadership is what I think will turn our season around. For this reason, this week I asked one of our upperclassmen to write about the season thus far and record her thoughts for a different perspective on the year and the team. The below entry is from Britt Moore, a junior who has seen the program improve and blossom into the team we are today. Her personal struggles are a lot like my own, where she has been plagued with injury after injury and only wants to be healthy and see our team reach the potential we know it can.
With conference games starting and a record not exactly one I’d consider ideal, as a junior on the team I’ve started to understand that time moves all too fast. Last I knew it was a week before preseason freshman year and I was nervous beyond belief. Now these practices, team bonding, and trips are beyond familiar. It’s never a great feeling walking away from a weekend with no wins under your belt, nor does it feel good to watch your teammates walk off the field disappointed and frustrated.
I have to ask myself; why do we fall? Is it simply so we can learn to pick ourselves up? A loss either overcomes us or lights a fire within us to strive for something better. Our coaches have said this in too many ways game after game this season. It’s beginning to feel a little too repetitive and this certainly wasn’t where I pictured our team to be sitting. After our performances this weekend, I’m not disappointed in our team. The fault is simply that this business is just a game of numbers. It doesn’t matter that we scored on #2 ranked UCLA or that we are holding these nationally ranked schools to just one goal losses. When it comes to being selected for the NCAA tournament, they won’t watch our game tape; they look up to see if we won or lost. Right now, those results don’t shine the best light on our team.
With time narrowing down in my college career, it seems like a higher force does not want me to play anymore. In my younger years, I luckily never suffered a serious injury. A broken nose and arm, but nothing prevented me from playing. Sophomore year I came into preseason with a torn MCL and watched my team for a month working hard and running as I just looked on. This summer I found out that I have patellar tendonitis that causes my knee to give out far too often. This weekend in the game against Wake Forest, I walked away with a bruised intestine. Yes, that is possible. It just seems like it’s one thing after another and I can’t catch a break. Of course it’s all happening while I’m an upperclassman and I’m becoming aware of the little time I have left of what I consider my childhood.
I’ve done the math and I don’t even have two years left of playing. I have thirteen months until everything I sacrificed since I was five will mean nothing. Every dance, sleepover, party, wedding, track meet, prom or vacation I missed will have been for nothing unless I make it mean something now. I realized as a senior in high school that time flew by, now it’s a little too scary to think about. If it were up to me, I’d still be in Emerson dorm, third floor, room 333. To be honest, I’d actually want to be eight years old on the co-ed town team running in circles having the time of my life. I can only hope that in these last two seasons here at UMass, my teammates and myself make everything count and cherish every moment we have left.
This week was huge for all of UMass Athletics. Men’s soccer is on a three game undefeated streak, field hockey had two huge overtime wins on the road and another against BC and Football had their FBS debut against UConn. A few of us girls made the trip to Connecticut to watch the football game and I was overwhelmed at my first experience with “big time” college football. Their games are sure different than ours on Rudd Field (or even football last year at McGuirk). The stadium was packed with people from both schools along with the bands, dancers, cheerleaders and TV crews. Despite UMass losing 37-0, we did get SportCenter’s number one play and the night was a fun road-trip away from campus.
Athletics aside, perhaps the most exciting thing by far to happen to the UMass women’s soccer team was this week’s return of Pumpkin Ice Coffee at Dunkin Donuts. With the stress and hard work of moving into our real dorm rooms, and decorating them to perfection, the extra kick of our favorite Autumn Elixir was just what we needed. Last fall, Pumpkin Ice Coffee may have been the only thing keeping us attentive and present in class during the season - so its homecoming is clearly vital for the start of classes this week. We may have actually given the Dunkin Donut’s employee temporary hearing loss after she told us that our beloved flavor had returned. Its arrival is another signal that the beginning of fall is just around the corner. Even more exciting is that fall brings with it the promise of brightly colored leaves, the start of our A-10 schedule, and the arrival of the rest of the UMass population.
Our regular season schedule is now in full swing and we already have 4 games under our belts. After the loss to UCLA, we bounced back with wins over Bryant and Albany University. Both games were close but we were able to hold out for two important wins getting our record above .500 at 2-1. Our next game was against Harvard and no returner had forgotten last year’s final minute defeat. However, the taste of revenge wasn’t apparently strong enough and we were unable to come away with a win. Last year, the loss to Harvard signaled a turning point in our season, hopefully the same will be true this year! This week of practice and our next three games will likely define what kind of team we are and what kind of year we will have. Unfortunately for us, the road does not get easier. This upcoming weekend is our first away trip and Wake Forrest and Virginia Tech will both be very difficult tests against Top 15 opponents. If we don’t come together and get a result in both, we will find ourselves with a losing record going into the BU game. BU is a strong team again this year and we have to play them on their home field. This is our toughest stretch of the year, 3 strong opponents away from home, and a make it or break it series of games if we want any chance at an at-large tourney berth!!
Despite the disappointment of losing to Harvard Friday afternoon, the day was still one of excitement for me. I had my last doctor’s appointment and was finally cleared for full action. I have never had such a thrilling feeling of relief and anticipation. It has been a long time coming and couldn’t have come at a better time. I had started to become very frustrated with the limited participation I was experiencing at practice (and my helplessness at games) so the feeling of being back is indescribable. No longer will I have to sit out of drills or wear that injury pinnie. I celebrated Friday by running a few miles on my own – it seemed great to have a legitimate purpose to that run – and no medical restrictions!! All the hard work and frustrations I have endured throughout my seven months of rehab now all seem worth it. I still have to wait for that first real hard challenge or the first time I leave my feet to compete for a header and I know that it can still take some time to get mentally 100% back into the game. But my guess is that with all the adrenaline running through me the first time I enter a match, I wouldn’t want to be the girl playing against me.
Hopefully I am able to have a good week of practice and get the privilege to travel this weekend with the team. I know I can help us against Wake and VT whether I get a chance to play or just to continue to support my team. Some of my favorite memories of last year happened on away trips and being left behind after the thrill of being cleared will be hard. However I have learned a lot from my injury and accepted that some things are out of my control. Sometimes you can do everything right and work as hard as you can, but in the end the decision is not up to you whether you play or stay healthy. Getting injured and having to have surgery was never something I wanted to have to go through, but I am ready to put it behind me and move forward with the rest of the season and my career at UMass … lets hope it stays injury free.
It has now been just a little more than 2 weeks since the start of preseason and a lot has happened. We have officially started our regular season, this feeling both surreal and exciting. The dreaded Illinois fitness test feels like months ago and the school year is fast approaching. Our sheltered life simply filled with practice, lift, and meals will soon be over once classes resume. I plan on cherishing this time because soon enough my nights will be consumed with homework and my days with classes. However, classes starting back up also mean friends will be moving in and the campus will be loud and lively. Everyone is starting to become stir-crazy locked up in the dorms and could use some commotion.
As much as we have been consumed with soccer these last few weeks, there have also been some great team events. When the Special Olympics came to UMass late last week we played a special role in the opening ceremonies. Along with the football team and ice hockey team, we helped to run out the torch and met all the athletes. The experience was heart warming and gratifying for all the UMass athletes, but particularly special for me. My brother participates in the Special Olympics so the experience really hit home. He is a huge supporter of the team and I so to get a chance to support the Special Olympics and the program he plays for was something I'll never forget. Just to see how excited all the athletes were to meet and dance with us was amazing. As I am reminded everyday with having my brother in my life, the athletes in the Special Olympics are the true role models and inspiration. Events like these remind me that it is a privilege and great blessing that I am able to play soccer for UMass everyday.
Another great team day last week was our trip to Six Flags followed by a cookout at Coach Matz's house. While those of us who like roller coasters went one way, the rest of the girls enjoyed a relaxing day at the water park attempting to fix their developing soccer tans. I fell into the roller coaster loving group, mostly because my Irish skin will only burn during a day in the sun. A dinner at Coach Matz's house preceded and as tradition, the junior class cooked everyone dinner. Although the burgers and chicken were good, I think it's safe to say we don't have many chefs on the squad. Next year it's my class's turn and based on my cooking, I don't think the expectation should be too high.
Although just a scrimmage, our first competitive game was against Boston College. Being ranked #11 this year we knew that BC was a very strong team and that the game would be a good challenge for us before our home opener against UCLA, ranked #6. Our schedule is extremely tough this year, but a great way for us to prepare for the NCAA tournament, our ultimate goal. The final result of 5-0 was disappointing however we learned a lot from the game. We have a very young team this year and every day we are constantly improving and molding into the team that we will ultimately be. I think that our coaches put it perfectly when they said that come November, we will be a much better team than we showed at BC on August 10th. Hopefully we will be able to prove this come November and maybe get another crack at Boston College.
We left the BC game with a lot to work on if we wanted to even dream about competing with UCLA. We had a week of practice to do it and everyone worked extremely hard at every session to do so. It seemed like things were starting to come together and practices improved day by day. With a good week of practice under our belts, everyone was confident that we could compete with UCLA and even beat them. The Alumni weekend kicked off with our Golf Tournament Fundraiser on Friday and on Saturday all the alums were back on campus. It was great to reconnect with all of the girls again and to know that we had their support in the game. A top 10 team has not come to UMass to play in a long time and it could be the last and only chance we have in our 4 years so there was no denying just how big the game was.
Come Sunday, everyone was nervous, but also excited to kick off the season with a huge win and statement to the rest of the country that UMass soccer is a competitor. For me the game was bitter sweet because a part of me was so excited for my team and the game, but the other was extremely disappointed that I wouldn't be playing myself. My goal is to see this program grow so that these games are not so rare because I may never get another opportunity to play a team like UCLA in my time at UMass. We competed until the very last second, but eventually lost 2-1 in a close game. Despite losing, I guarantee not one of the hundreds of people at the game walked away doubting the potential and strength of this team. If I wasn't motivated to get back on the field before, I am after watching my teammates in the UCLA game. I think we could have a very special year if we continue to progress and work hard in practice. Our next opponent is Bryant, who any returner knows, we owe in a big way from last year. Our goal is to make UCLA our one and only loss of the season and to see them, just like BC, again in November.
A lot can change in just a year. This time last year I was preparing to embark on my freshman year of college and first preseason as a UMass Minuteman. I had played all summer with my club team and I felt confident in moving to the next level. However, I had no idea what to expect and on one hand the transition was filled with a lot of anxiety, but also with plenty of excitement. I knew a few girls on the team, but the majority I had never met before. Having played with the same girls - and for the same coach - for almost half of my life meant that this was a change that I had to get use to. I also had never lived away from home and saying goodbye to my family and friends was very hard. It didn’t help that I was the first to leave that summer and all my friends were still at home enjoying their last August before college.
In contrast, this year it seems like I’m prepared for every aspect of school - apart from soccer. Tearing my ACL in the winter makes this preseason intimidating in an entirely different way. It is definitely overwhelming to go into the season after having not played soccer in over 6 months. Any other athlete that has come back from an ACL (or any other serious injury) can sympathize with my fear of getting back on the field. However, I think the best part of going into this year, as opposed to last, is that I know that I have a great group of teammates and coaches and therefore I have the best support system anyone could have and they are really helping me get back.
I cannot tell what has gone by faster, this summer or my rehab? Although it now seems overly dramatic, at times it felt like I would never play again. Yet now I can finally see that light at the end of the tunnel - and it’s only getting brighter. It only took hundreds of hours of painful rehab, chasing down hundreds of over-kicked balls and a few tearful calls home but I’m finally almost playing again!! This makes the upcoming season all the more special to me and I can’t wait to get back on that field at Rudd. Of course there are still times of frustration, especially when it comes to getting back in shape. My “new” knee can still only take so much at any one time, which is a little disappointing because I’m use to being able to pushing myself much harder. It’s amazing how much damage 6 months and surgery can do. The road to getting back to soccer shape will definitely continue to be a difficult one going into preseason.
Two weeks ago my roommate Kristen and I got a small taste of being back on campus and in the college and soccer routine. We both helped out at the Matz Soccer Academy camp on the UMass campus and were able to get to know the next two incoming classes. Not only did we love the new girls but also realize that the potential for the future of the program is endless. Last year we did well; but every returner got a taste of the A-10 championship and I don’t think anyone will be satisfied until we finally bring that hardware back to Amherst! Likewise, we need to make sure that all the incoming players share the same goal and will commit themselves to helping us ALL reach it. The exciting and motivating thing about college soccer is that every year, every team and every schedule is different. No season is the same because players graduate and new players join the roster. This encourages you to improve your team by using the off-season to make yourself better and increase your role and the quality of your play.
It was really gratifying to be able to answer any questions the girls had about UMass soccer, the school’s academic rigors and campus social life. Kristen and I shared all of our college tips and even a few funny stories about the team and coaches. I think it was nice for them to hear that we do have a lot of fun - despite all the soccer we play. Some of my favorite memories of the year are during preseason where it was just us girls living together in the dorms where we were forced to find any form of entertainment we could. It’s safe to say we have watched almost every YouTube video and painted our nails every color imaginable. Preseason is tough, but it is also a great bonding time for the team and I expect the next 15 days to be no different.
A lot has changed since I entered preseason as a freshman, but now I know that I can survive it. I know what to expect when it comes to training and traveling and when it comes to juggling soccer, school and a social life. I was able to secure myself a spot on the team while doing well in school. I might have been injured a few times too many but I’ve also healed and learned what it takes to come back. Most importantly, I learned that the season and year fly by. I can’t believe that a year has passed and I’m already packing my things to go again. This year has a lot of potential and I know it will fly by fast, so I plan on cherishing every second of it.