Jumbos are ready to impress in 2018

Midfielder Emma Ranalli keeps the ball away from defenders in the women's soccer home game against Lesley in Kraft Field on Oct. 17, 2017. Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily Archives

After a rebuilding season in 2016 and a year of promising improvement in 2017, 2018 looks to be a breakout season for Tufts women’s soccer. Last season, the Jumbos reached the NESCAC final for the first time in over 10 years before falling to Virginia Wesleyan University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Overall, the squad upgraded its 7–6–3 record in 2016 to a 10–6–3 record.

The excitement around Tufts’ future is in part driven by the performances of its sophomore class, led by reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year forward Sophie Lloyd who finished the season with 11 goals, good enough to be tied second best in conference. As sophomores, the pressure is on them and their teammates to keep the program moving in the right direction.

“Last year was a successful year in that we definitely improved from the 2016 season,” coach Martha Whiting said. “Making the [NESCAC] final for the first time in a long time was huge. But we do want to have better mental toughness on the field, and of course a better record this year.”

The last week of summer vacation was grind time for the squad, who returned to campus early to practice as a team for the first time since spring term ended. Even with a heat wave hitting the East Coast and causing temperatures to soar into the high 90’s, the Jumbos took to the blistering turf.

But the hard work started long before the players returned to campus. As always, each member received a summer training packet with a mixture of running, agility and lifting routines, with the expectation that each player puts in six days a week of work.

“Sticking to the summer training isn’t really a pat-on-the-back kind of thing; it’s the expectation,” senior co-captain and forward Alex Aronson said. “Those of us with full-time jobs over the summer often woke up at five or six in the morning to fit in the conditioning. Not only does it strengthen our fitness, but also our mental toughness.”

The squad’s dedication over their vacation did not go unnoticed and helped the team get a head start on its preparations for the season.

“I can tell that the girls really did train well over the summer,” Whiting said. “And when they come in fit and ready to roll, we don’t have to spend any extra time working on fitness.”

Equally crucial for the team’s success is the foundation of that chemistry which is built during preseason, especially for the first-years.

“Not only will the first-years make an immediate impact on the field, they’re also an awesome group off the field,” senior co-captain and midfielder Emma Ranalli said. “We’ve had a lot of fun this preseason, from spending way too much time hanging out in Dewick to a lip-sync battle.”

With the team graduating five seniors, Whiting added eight promising first-years to the program to ensure a deep bench. The roster welcomes midfielders Callie Scalla, Lily Sykes, Sophia Wallach and Stephanie DiLeo, forwards Lily Keiderling and Melina McDevitt and defenders Kylie Metcalf and Katherine Wilson.

The Jumbos got their first chance to test their synergy against another team during their preseason scrimmage against Azzurri, a local women’s soccer club made up of high-level graduated collegiate players, on Thursday. Not only did Tufts walk away with a confidence-building 2–0 win, but the scrimmage served as a low-pressure environment for the first-years to get comfortable with their new teammates in a competitive game setting.

“We rotated all our players in for 10 or 15 minutes before benching them so that everyone had a chance to get on the field,” Ranalli said. “We left feeling very positive, and comparing this scrimmage to previous years, I’d say it was one of our best.”

With their solid preseason success under their belt, the Jumbos head into their first game of the season on Wednesday against the Emerson Lions, who the Jumbos defeated 2–1 in their 2017 opener.

“The annual opener against Emerson is always a great opportunity to figure out what works best for us as a team,” Aronson said. “Of course, though, we’re looking to win. It should be the first game of what we plan on being a successful season.”

Although the players have not yet discussed their goals for the season, winning the NESCAC title that just slipped from their grasp last year is certainly on the team’s radar. Beyond the results, the Jumbos’ overarching goal remains the same as usual.

“We have a list of core values: to be grateful, resilient, relentless, accountable, selfless and positive,” Aronson said. “We try to embody those qualities on and off the field every day.”

These values will be put to the test as the team plays its first double-header and conference match of the season this weekend. The Jumbos will head up to Waterville, Maine to face the Colby Mules on Saturday and then head back home on Sunday to take on the Keene State Owls.