Inside the NESCAC | Addition of Hamilton College means Continental drift in NESCAC schedules

On Saturday, the men’s soccer, women’s soccer and field hockey teams all traveled to Amherst, Mass., for NESCAC showdowns with the Lord Jeffs. All three teams lost.

In past years, the Jumbos would have had the rest of their weekend to recover and regroup upon returning from the trip. But because of the conference’s new scheduling format — which includes two Saturday−Sunday doubleheaders per team — each Tufts squad had another conference tilt with Trinity looming less than 24 hours later.

“Obviously, it’s not ideal during the season to have to play on back to back days,” Director of Athletics Bill Gehling said. “Especially with soccer and field hockey — those are some of the more physical games — and especially with the muddy conditions this weekend, they certainly place more of a focus on physical fitness.”

The Jumbos were up to the challenge in each of their Sunday games, earning weekend splits across the board by defeating the Bantams.

That was attributed to the teams’ offseason conditioning, and their ability to turn adversity into a competitive edge.

“We lost a few games in overtime last year, so we knew that fitness was going to be a focus in improving this year,” men’s soccer midfielder Scott Blumenthal, a sophomore, said. “Our assistant coach, Bobby Thompson, put together a really rigorous training program for us, and that definitely helped us get through this weekend.”

“More than anything, it’s a mental battle,” senior women’s soccer midfielder Lauren O’Connor, a co−captain, said. “We wanted to look at Sunday as a completely different day, but we also didn’t want to forget the feeling that we left Amherst with. We really wanted to channel that and make it an advantage.”

One key factor for the Jumbos was remembering that the Bantams, too, were in the midst of a back−to−back weekend, having hosted and defeated the Colby Mules in all three sports the previous day.

Having gone through the experience once already, the Jumbos are now better prepared for future doubleheaders. There is one more left during the fall season: on Homecoming weekend, most teams will host Williams on Oct. 15, before traveling to Bates on Oct. 16.

“We played hard on Saturday, but I think we could have fought a little harder knowing that Amherst and Trinity were going through the same thing,” O’Connor said. “I think knowing that we had another game to get through Sunday may have played a role in that. Next time, we really need to leave it all out on the field Saturday, and still be ready to go out there the next day.”

Ensuring competitive equality was a top priority for NESCAC coaches and administrators when Hamilton College became a full−time member of the conference, necessitating schedule changes.

The weekend doubleheader format could not be avoided, because midweek road trips would have resulted in excessive missed class time for student−athletes.

“One other issue has to do with how far away we are from each other,” Gehling said. “[Tufts is] fortunate to have the central location that we have, because we’re able to get to most schools within a couple of hours. That’s not the case for Hamilton (Clinton, N.Y.) and Colby (Waterville, Maine). It’s unfair competitively to have some teams play back−to−back games and not others.

“Clearly, adding Hamilton was not an easy thing to do. It took a conference with an even number of schools and made it an odd number. Now, every Saturday, somebody has a Saturday off.”

But Gehling noted that the presidents and trustees of the existing NESCAC schools believed the benefits of adding Hamilton — a charter member of the conference — outweighed the physical and logistical challenges that would ensue.

The Continentals already had several teams involved in NESCAC competition, including football, softball and baseball, although the Jumbos rarely faced them in the latter two sports because they are in different divisions. In addition to the fall slate, Hamilton will also become a regular foe for Tufts’ basketball and lacrosse teams.

“I saw positives and negatives to [adding Hamilton], but at the end of the day, it was the presidents’ call,” Gehling said. “Once they made that call, it was my job to do it in the best possible way. Hamilton has some great teams, and it’s great to add them to the competitive mix in the NESCAC. And while I’m not crazy about the Saturday−Sunday schedule, it worked out great this weekend — we turned a negative weekend into a positive one.”