Two games into their season, the Jumbos remain solid on defense and are looking strong on offense. Tufts is 2-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
“We’re so excited for the win,” coach Martha Whiting said. “It’s really great to start off on such a good foot, and the nice thing is that we got two great results and we still have things to improve on, so I feel the team will only get better from here, and it’s really encouraging and exciting.”
Tufts beat conference opponent Colby 1-0 on Saturday to maintain its perfect start to the season. Colby is trying to leave its 2015 season, in which it finished with a 4-10-1 record, in the past. However, the Jumbos controlled the game and outshot their opponents 14-3. They were also dangerous on set plays, with nine corner kicks to the Mules’ one. On several occasions, Tufts came close from the corners but missed the final touch, something sophomore midfielder Emma Ranalli thinks the team needs to work on.
“They’ve been missed opportunities for us,” Ranalli said. “We had nine corners, but we’ve only had a few shots on goal from them, and that needs to be better from us, honestly. It’s great that we’re getting them, but at some point it’s going to come back to bite us when we’re not scoring on those opportunities.”
The Jumbos got their breakthrough with just under six minutes remaining in the first half. Junior forward Alex Scheman was brought down in the box and Ranalli duly converted her game-winning penalty kick. Sophomore keeper Emily Bowers made just three saves in the game, a credit to the Jumbos’ excellent ball control as they saw the game out.
“We were coming off a win on Wednesday, so we were feeling good, but we knew we had work to do,” senior co-captain midfielder Robin Estus said. “So we came out blazing. We weren’t holding back. We dominated the first half. We realized at half time the scoreboard wasn’t reflecting that, but we got a goal and we managed to hang on to that, and a win is a win, so we feel good about that and we’re back to work again.”
On Wednesday, the Jumbos opened their season with a convincing 3-0 victory over the Emerson Lions. Playing in a new 3-5-2 formation gave the Jumbos more presence in midfield and attack, while still ensuring that they remained solid at the back. Tufts’ fluidity in movement caused problems for Emerson as its defense was unsure of who to pick up. This led to the first goal of the afternoon, when Estus split the defense on a pass to junior forward Mariah Harvey-Brown, who capitalized on the quick breakaway just after the 13-minute mark.
The second goal demonstrated how the team expects to make its new formation work for them, as the two forwards combined to double the Jumbos’ lead after 20 minutes. Senior forward Jess Capone controlled the ball and ran down the left flank before finding Scheman in the box. Scheman took a couple touches to give herself more room before smashing it in the top-left past senior goalie for Emerson Melanie Escobar. Junior midfielder Chandler Quintin wrapped up the victory for the Jumbos in the 76th minute, finishing on sophomore defender Taylor Koscho’s deep kick from the right.
“I actually think our team has adapted very well to the new system,” Capone said. “It’s definitely helped our offense too; it’s more attacking-minded. It’s nice to have two up top — you can create kind of a partnership with the person, and there’s just more freedom to be more creative to make different runs.”
That creativity and freedom was on display, with the Jumbos taking 21 shots compared to the Lions’ 10. Emerson was occasionally able to challenge Tufts, but resolute defending at the back led by senior co-captain Alexa Pius and Bowers’ smart goalkeeping meant that Emerson found no way through. First-year defender Tally Clark impressed with her ability to recover quickly, tackle well and bring the ball out. The other members of the first-year class that got involved in the two games looked capable as well, which pleased Whiting.
“It’s very important that the new players are a positive influence on the team chemistry,” Whiting said. “On the field they’re all very talented players … there’s really no drop-off, and that’s a great situation as a coach to know that when you put a player in, they’re going to keep the level of play as high as possible.”
Tufts travels to Lesley University on Wednesday before playing a six-game stretch at home, starting with Bates on Saturday. As Wednesday’s game will be played on turf, Capone believes the playing surface could work to the Jumbos’ advantage. The team will look to dominate with its passing and off-ball movement with its new system. Going forward, however, Estus recognizes that finishing off opportunities is something they need to work on, even if the new system has helped improve the attacking side of the Jumbos’ game.
“The [new system has helped us] dominate teams because they chase after you,” Estus said. “That’s why we felt so good in the past two games… everyone was moving off the ball, communication was solid, and that’s probably one of the most important things… we [were imposing our will], it’s just … something we struggled with is in the final third, and we are working on it a lot in practice right now, because we recognize how important it is, and where our non-strengths are in the area. We’ve [had] a lot of opportunities, but we just could not put the ball away.”