Fresh off of its first losing season since 2012, Tufts’ women’s soccer team is ready to prove it is stronger than last year’s 6-8-2 record shows. The Jumbos hope a switch to a new 3-5-2 system will help facilitate the improvement.
“I think we were a good team, except for a couple moments,” sophomore goalkeeper Emily Bowers said. “A few times in games, we had small lapses that would be taken advantage of. It was just minutes here and there throughout the season where we didn’t play our best.”
Last year, Bowers allowed just 1.08 goals per game in her rookie season, and will continue to anchor the defense this year. Her consistency is especially important as the Jumbos experiment with their new formation, which leaves them better able to get shots on goal and attack but more susceptible to counterattack from tough NESCAC opponents.
With only three full-time defenders, the new formation features five players at midfield. Two of those midfielders are “wingbacks,” responsible for the duties of both full backs and wingers. Their role is to be mobile at all times, moving up and down the field as needed and offering situational numerical advantages and flexibility across the field.
The formation recently gained popularity after Juventus and the Dutch national team successfully adopted it. Notably, the U.S. men’s national team employed this positioning in 2015.
Nevertheless, the transition to a new formation will take some time to get used to.
“We’ve been practicing the new formation and all the adjustments that come with it,” senior forward Jess Capone said. “It’s going to be something we have to keep practicing, but it’s looking really good so far. I think our chemistry is really good, both on and off the field. We’re incorporating the new players and having everyone together for this past week [of practice] has been really great.”
The formation allows the Jumbos to maintain their defensive strength from last year while also facilitating pushes for a numbers-advantage on the offensive side of the ball, an aspect of their game that the women are looking to improve upon from last year. Offensive production was lacking for the Jumbos last season, as they scored just 14 goals and averaged 0.88 goals per game. Capone was the team’s leading scorer, with three goals over the course of the season, and was one of the players taking the most shots on goal.
On the other side of the ball, Bowers says the defense is looking like a force to be reckoned with this year.
“I think [the defense is] very strong,” Bowers said. “We have an older group. Alexa [Pius] and Stefanie [Brunswick] are seniors. I have a year under my belt now. It wasn’t a particularly young group last year either, but this year we have more experience playing together.”
With a dominant season behind her, Bowers is setting her personal goals high as the last line of defense for the team.
“A personal goal is to not let goals in,” Bowers said. “It’s the simplest way to win games. The rest of the team will take care of everything else.”
Under the leadership of senior co-captains Pius and Robin Estus, the team has its eyes set on the first game of the season on Wednesday, which is against Emerson at 4:30 p.m. at home.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” Capone said. “First up is Emerson. We don’t know that much about them because we’ve never played them before. They’re a new opponent for us. We’re expecting them to be a great team and we’re going to go out there and work together as one unit.”
The team met on Monday to discuss its goals for the season.
“One goal that has been clearly established is that we want to be NESCAC champions,” Capone said. “That’s something our captains have set the tone for from the very beginning. We have the talent; we have the chemistry: I think we can do it.”
While the NESCAC championship is an overarching goal for the season, Bowers said that the team is making sure not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“We have to take it game by game and win each game that’s ahead of us,” she said. “It’s the beginning of the season, so Emerson on Wednesday is what we’re really focused on right now. If we just stay focused on the little things, the big games will come eventually.”