Tufts looks to build on its improved offensive performances last year, the first season after moving from a 4–2–3–1 to a 3–5–2 formation. In doing so, the team improved from a 6–8–2 record in 2015 to 7–6–3 in 2016, and in the process of doing so, scored 24 goals, up 10 from 2015, while remaining solid at the back. The team’s postseason last year ended early, however, with a 1–0 defeat against Trinity in the NESCAC Quarterfinals.
“I think that our kids have a pretty good chip on the shoulder because of the frustration in the way of how we ended last year, feeling like that there were enough games that we really should have won and we didn’t, especially our last game against Trinity,” coach Martha Whiting said.
In the short time the team has spent together, Whiting is most impressed with her team’s overall readiness for the campaign ahead. Going into her 19th year in the job, Whiting ranked this current 2017 team highly in terms of preparation, fitness, mental tenacity and skills among the teams she’s coached.
“As people watch us they’d be pleasantly surprised at the talent level of not just the [first-years] but the group overall, it’s so obvious [they] worked really hard over the summer,” Whiting said. “These girls are fit, have a really great mindset and are so ready to get after it.”
This year, the team will be co-captained by senior forward Alex Scheman and junior midfielder Emma Ranalli. Whiting also noted that the coaching staff will rely heavily on the leadership of its five seniors — including Scheman — to help set the tone and mindset for the team.
“[Scheman’s and Ranalli’s] personalities are different in that Alex is very vocal, very positive and enthusiastic,” Whiting said. “She’s very much our positive supportive leader, and Emma is very knowledgeable as a soccer player — she’s like the quarterback on the field. She’s a little more reserved in personality than Alex, but together they do a good job in complementing each other.”
Despite graduating six seniors last year, the team nevertheless returns a strong core across all positions on the pitch. It also adds five first-years: defender Rachel Brown, defender/midfielder Hannah Isenhart, midfielder/forward Sophie Lloyd, goalkeeper Ava McKane and forward Elizabeth Reed.
“I would say in my time on the team, this is the most seamless transition between the returning players and the incoming players,” Scheman said. “The five of them are really great fun girls. It wasn’t even a challenge for them to fit in — they did so on day one. Skill-wise, they add more depth to our bench and they’d just all be great contributing factors this year.”
These additions have strengthened the depth of the team. It showed in the team’s pre-season scrimmage against Azzurri, a women’s club soccer team built on former Div. I and III players with high potential. Tufts struck early and often, scoring six goals, including a brace by Reed in her debut in brown and blue.
“I think for us it’s a huge confidence boost, because even when we’re skill-wise the better team, we [found] it very hard in the past to finish opportunities, so going into that scrimmage and putting away six goals is huge for us and shows how capable we are as a team,” Scheman said. “Overall, it was a really positive start, to have multiple players including [first-years] to score those goals is really huge for the entire team.”
Whiting was impressed with the way her team went about their job.
“I felt like for the first time being out there as a group against outside competition we actually looked organized and we did a lot of nice stuff,” Whiting said. “We have a long way to go until we really peak and get to where we want to be, but it’s nice to start at a place that is really solid.”
Tufts begins its season with a home game against the Emerson Lions (0–2) tomorrow, a team the Jumbos beat 3–0 in the corresponding fixture last year. Tufts then hosts its first NESCAC game of the season against the Colby Mules on Saturday, Sept. 9. After a midweek away game against the Wesleyan Cardinals, Tufts hosts back-to-back home games against the Conn. College Camels on Sept. 16 and the Trinity Bantams on Sept. 17.
When asked what she hoped for going into the first game of the season, Whiting wanted the team to keep it simple.
“We have a process and the season is about setting goals but it’s also about the process of how you reach those goals,” Whiting said. “I just think that for us on Wednesday, if we can keep it simple, if we defend well, possess the ball well and play smart, find opportunities to attack, then we’d be in good shape. Honestly, it’s about keeping things simple; everything is done as a group, and if we have that mindset, the results will come.”