WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – The joy of working hard may be something of a lost art in a culture where being famous for being famous is celebrated.
Take a trip to Cole Field however, and hard work is still in plentiful supply. In that way, nothing much has changed for the Williams College women's soccer program. There is still plenty of talent too, as 18 players from an Eph club that finished 13-5-3 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8 for the second consecutive season will attest to.
The question, if there is one, surrounding the 2012 Ephs is can that work ethic and talent overcome a slightly less experienced group that head coach Michelyne Pinard has molded over the last few years. Of the 18 returners, nine are sophomores. Of the seven seniors, two are coming off injuries that forced them to miss nearly all of the 2011 season. The junior class consists of three student-athletes, one of who was not on the team last year.
Still, Pinard, back for her 11th season (130-33-20) has a strong belief in her core group.
"What I really like about this team is their collective energy," she said. "They love working hard, they love to be with their teammates. We're not focused on any outside expectations, our focus is playing the best soccer we can play and competing each day to the best of our abilities, as it always is."
|Chelsea Davies '13|
Seniors Caitlyn Clark and Chelsea Davies will captain the Ephs, as well as play instrumental roles on the field from their midfield and back positions, respectively. Last season, Clark had a team-high eight assists along with two goals and was second on the squad with 12 points. Davies was part of a group of backs and goalkeepers that allowed only 15 goals over 21 games in 2011.
Other members of the senior class include goalkeeper Laura Wann, who started 13 games last season and finished with a 0.76 goals against average and a .847 save percentage; back Kristine Nakada, who started all 21 games in the back; midfielder Chloe Kuh, who saw action in 17 games, and midfield/forward types Bridget Gallagher and Sam Vilaboa, who played in six and four games respectively last season due to injury.
The health of Gallagher and Vilaboa may go a long way in solving the Ephs' scoring dilemma. With the graduation of all-time leading scorer (goals) Brett Eisenhart (11 goals in '11), standout midfielder Nicole Stenquist and All-American back/midfielder Sachi Siegelman, Williams lost 14 of the 25 goals it scored last year.
As a sophomore, Gallagher had three goals and three assists for nine points while as a first-year, Vilaboa scored five goals and added three assists. Junior midfielder Hayley Cook is another viable scoring candidate after scoring two goals and two assists in 2011. Sophomore back Lilly Wellenbach, who notched five goals in her first collegiate season, may be another candidate, although Pinard indicated that, ideally, Wellenbach would stay in the back this season.
"I think we have a lot of people who can contribute to the scoring," Pinard said. "We have a lot of first years and sophomores we're going to lean on. My hope is everyone, from the backs to the forwards to the goalkeepers, feels responsible for scoring goals."
Two other juniors are on the squad, including dynamic midfielder Carla Nicasio. Abby Conyers returns to the club after not playing in 2011. Then come the sophomores, nine in all, nearly all who contributed to last year's run in the NCAA Tournament. Four started in the Ephs' final game, and six played in that 4-0 loss to William Smith.
One switch from that class will be Louisa Costa, who will play in the back this season after starting her career as a midfielder. Midfielders Alex McInturf, Hana Tomozawa and Ali Magruder will vie for time in the starting line-up, as will Sarah Brink and Natalie Weyerhauser. And, of course, goalkeeper Hannah Van Wetter, who started eight games before an injury, cut her season short. Before it did, she had a 0.54 GAA and a .895 save percentage. Classmate Carolina Echenique will also vie for playing time between the posts.
"I think we're as deep as any Div. III program in the country in the goal," Pinard said. "Their abilities provide us with a lot of confidence coming out of the back."
In addition, Pinard has 10 first-years competing for spots on the roster. Collectively, it's a talented group which has bought into the joy of hard work philosophy the Ephs currently employ, but just how much and how many contribute this season has yet to be determined.
The Ephs' road ahead will be challenging — both Amherst and Middlebury are ranked in the NCAA's Preseason Top 25, while Tufts is an annual contender. In addition, Williams has four difficult non-conference match-ups in Oneonta, Wheaton (Ma.), Springfield and Endicott.
"I really like what this team did in the off-season," Pinard said. "I think everybody recognized what they needed to do individually to be ready for this season in terms of fitness, teamwork, technical and tactical aspects. This team doesn't want anything given to them, they want to earn it."
The Ephs open their season Wednesday, September 5th, on the road against Oneonta State at 3 p.m. The home opener follows Saturday the 8th at 11 a.m. versus NESCAC foe Bates.