Strong sophomore class bolsters women’s soccer season

First-year forward Mariah Harvey-Brown fights for the ball in a 1-0 loss to Williams College on Oct. 18. Alex Knapp / Tufts Daily

The women’s soccer team’s season came to a close this past weekend with a 4-0 loss to Bowdoin in the first round of the NESCAC Championship tournament. The loss marks the end of a challenging season for the Jumbos, who, despite posting a 7-7-2 overall record, finished just 3-6-1 in their conference.

But the record alone does not begin to describe the team’s tumultuous journey throughout the season.

Tufts started the season with a five-game undefeated streak, including a 6-0 blowout of Bates in their season opener and a 4-0 thrashing of MIT — a team now ranked in the top 20 in the nation. The Jumbos set a program record by scoring 24 goals during those five games, surpassing the previous record held by the 1985 team, which scored 20 goals during that timespan. The team’s dynamic, well-balanced attack featured an even distribution of scoring opportunities, with eight different players finding the back of the net in the team’s first four wins.

Arguably the turning point of the season came in a home game against a weak Suffolk team on Sept. 23rd. Ten minutes into the game, senior Alex Farris collided with Suffolk goalie Melissa Brouillette, suffering what would be a season-ending injury. The game clock was stopped for 20 minutes as players from both sides waited for Farris to be carted off the field.

“The first 15 minutes of play after Alex [Farris] was taken off the field, we were bad,” coach Martha Whiting said. “We were bad to the point I was nervous and that really shook us up.”

But the team stepped up, with sophomore Jess Capone breaking the goalless stalemate with her fourth goal of the season and adding another in the second half. Classmate Brooke Fortin put up a hat trick, and the game became a 10-0 rout. 

Despite the seeming invincibility of the Jumbos’ offense even without Farris, their 10 goals in that game were followed by only 11 more total throughout the remaining 11 games. The team went on to lose five consecutive NESCAC games, with three of which were decided by just one goal. This story would become a familiar narrative for the team: a high-intensity offense simply unable find the back of the net, followed by brief lapses in defense that opponents capitalize on. With each loss, the Jumbos found themselves playing catch-up, both in games and in their conference.

“[After Suffolk], we entered the meat of our season and played a number of highly-ranked teams in a row,” Whiting said. “I don’t think we ever got it all together against those teams. There would be certain NESCAC games where we got it together defensively, let in one goal but then couldn’t score one. And then there were times when we were creative attacking wise but just lost our focus defensively.”

In the team’s penultimate conference game, however, something finally clicked. Down a goal at halftime against Hamilton in the final home game of the season, the team rallied to score three goals in the second half. The four goals were split evenly between Capone and Fortin, bringing their season totals to seven goals apiece — tied for team-best.

The win secured the team’s position in the NESCAC Championship. In their final regular season game, the Jumbos had the opportunity to play a “warm-up” against Bowdoin, the same team they would play in the quarterfinals of the conference championship.

“I think after the first game [against Bowdoin] in the regular season, we got a good feel [for] how they played and how we matched up against them,” Capone said. “I think going into the game against them [the second time], we knew what to expect.”

While the team was optimistic about its postseason chances, a Cinderella ending was not to be. The Polar Bears’ strong second-half showing, in which the team notched three goals, effectively ended the Jumbos’ season.

“We faced a very strong Bowdoin team; maybe we didn’t give them enough credit for being as good as they are,” Whiting said. “For the first 20 minutes of that game, [Bowdoin] was having difficulty maintaining control of the ball. We had a chance to score, [but] it hit the post. We had [the] momentum and then they scored. [At that point] it was kind of just like whoa…we’ve been pressing and now suddenly we’re down a goal. We kept trying, but after that it just really became their game.”

The team might have regained its stride too late in this season, but the emergence of a strong sophomore class will lay the foundation for a team looking towards the future.

“[The success of the sophomore class] is really what we expected when we recruited those players,” Whiting said. “They had a good year last year but there’s a huge difference between [the first year] and sophomore year. Players tend to really bust out in their sophomore year. They’re great players, right from the goalkeeping, through the midfield to the forwards. That’s our future. In that group of players, we have a few very good leaders and that bodes well for us the next couple of years.”

Filling the gap in leadership will be crucial for a team that is losing both its captains, seniors Greer and Kruyff, who led the team both on and off the field.

Carla [Kruyff] and Catherine [Greer] set a very high standard. They were very much leaders by example,” Whiting said. “I feel like they set the bar high and their teammates follow.”

Greer, who was named to the All-NESCAC First Team last season, scored three goals this year as a defender, all from corner kicks. Kruyff was named to the All-NESCAC Second Team last season and continued her strong form this year with two goals and four assists, playing a crucial role in connecting through the midfield, especially in fast break opportunities.

But with the anchoring of players into their respective positions, the team’s long-term future looks bright. Sophomore goalie Eileen McGarry, who played just 135 minutes last season, played all but 45 minutes this season and is tied for third in the conference with 66 saves. The back line has seen sophomores Alexa Pius and Stefanie Brunswick start consistently all season. Classmate Robin Estus will take over from Kruyff as the cornerstone of the Jumbos midfield, and first year Mariah Harvey-Brown’s seven assists of the season places her second in the NESCAC.

“One of our challenges [this season] was to maintain our positivity, despite all the challenges and adversity,” Brunswick said. “We really had to dig deep but I think we were able to overcome challenges 100 percent. There was really a sense of doing all that we could, not for ourselves, but for the person on your right or left. Sometimes you’ve got to just push through together, and that really came from the cohesive environment on our team.”