Despite injuries, Mac women’s soccer advances to postseason

By Patrick Murphy

On Monday afternoon in the opening round of the MIAC women’s soccer tournament, the Macalester women’s team played neck and neck with top-seeded St. Ben’s through 90 minutes of regulation and two overtimes, before falling 0-2 in a shootout. However, the final score of the game doesn’t do justice to the team’s season – a three-month journey with more ups and downs than the Rockies. The Scots came into the season ranked sixth in the preseason MIAC Coaches’ Poll and were on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. The team got off to a fast start with three shutout victories but was slowed by injuries throughout the season. To say the team had bad luck with injuries would be like saying The Dark Goat is just an average soccer fan. Over the course of the season, the team lost four of its premier starters to season-ending injuries (three torn ACLs). Not to mention the relatively less severe injuries that sidelined other players throughout the fall. At midseason, six of the 11 original starters were out with injuries. However, the season was not defined by injuries, but rather by how the team responded to the adversity. “It’s been a wild hayride, but this season has definitely been a tribute to the versatility of our players and the strength of the team,” said midfielder Claire Henkel ’13. As players began going down, Interim Head Coach Jemma Perkins made calculated adjustments to suit the changing personnel. “I told the players at the start of the season that I was focused on playing to their individual and collective strengths,” said Perkins. “With the number and type of injuries our team sustained, we were definitely tested in having to continually adjust how we played.” Forced to change strategies and alter formations on the fly, the team struggled to adapt at times, but managed to pull together as a unit when it really mattered. “It’s hard to lose players, but it’s even harder to recover the way we did,” said midfielder Izzi Speer ’14. “I’m very proud to play on a team where no one whined about missing starters and fell into complacency with losing. We fought for every game we played.” With starters dropping like flies, the team relied heavily upon other players stepping in to fill the void. In the midfield, Emily “Tink” Humphreys ’13 and Lucy Miner ’12 were lost for the season due to injury, but Bonnie Gale ’15 filled the offensive void left by Humphreys, and Henkel became a defensive stopper in the absence of Miner. “The injuries were an enormous setback, but at the same time, they definitely gave us something to work extra hard for,” said forward Georgia Cloepfil ’14. “You would see girls with ‘Kat’ and ‘Tink’ written on their arms before games– just as a reminder of how much they gave to the team and a way to try to use that energy.” In a 4-0 victory over St. Kate’s, the team lost one of its most talented players when defender Kat Lenhart ’13 went down with a torn ACL. Struggling to regain its rhythm, the team hit the skids, dropping its next three games. With three conference games still remaining, the Scots needed to win-out to have a shot at finishing in the top four and make the conference tournament. Sure enough, the team finished the season the same way it started, rattling off three shutout victories to claim fourth place in the conference and qualify for the postseason. “Maybe it wasn’t as pretty as we would have liked, but we found a way to grind out games, and I think that’s a testament to the kind of mental toughness our team has as a group,” said forward Maggie Molter ’14. It’s no secret that the women’s soccer team is a tightknit group off the field, and this closeness boosts their chemistry on the field. “The players take each other and the game of soccer seriously, but they also have fun together,” said Coach Perkins. “A lot of that comes from pushing each other while at the same time having a genuine love and respect for one another. And I absolutely think that translates to the pitch, and is reflected in their success. They are true teammates on the field and friends off.” Henkel described the team as a group of players with unique, individual passions off the field, brought together by a common love for the beautiful game. “With all the adversity we faced this season, the fact that we’re supportive of each other no matter what made the difference between a bad season and a successful season,” said Molter. Aside from their closeness, another distinguishing feature of the team is selflessness. A prime example is goalie Rosie Glenn-Finer ’13, the top net minder in the conference. When asked what the key was to her success this season, Glenn-Finer attributed the success to the work of the defense and the team as a whole. While the varsity team will only lose three players to graduation this spring, those three received high praise as difference makers from their coach and teammates. Miner was described by Molter as “a huge contributor in the midfield when healthy and a motivating force from the bench after she was lost to injury.” Midfielder Matea Wasend ’12 was described by Speer as “the most committed player in the program to doing everything she can to be prepared physically.” Defender Jenna Machado ’12 stepped in after Lenhart was lost for the season and was described by Speer as the team’s “most improved player.” “Every time a group of seniors leaves, I’m disappointed that the freshmen coming in won’t have the opportunity to get to know how wonderful they are,” said Henkel. Despite the loss of the seniors, the Scots will return an extremely formidable group next fall. While the team is careful not to get ahead of itself, a healthy team next year would almost certainly make its presence felt on a stage much larger than the MIAC tournament. “I’m not afraid to say we are looking to go far in the national tournament next year,” said Cloepfil. “Actually, what I meant to say is that I believe we can win a national championship.” As bold as this claim might seem, a very select few teams, even on the national level, can come close to matching the depth and talent of what will be an extremely battle-tested Macalester squad next fall.