Womens’ soccer impress to begin Buckley’s first season


Goalkeeper Ashlyn Ryan ’25 makes a save against UW-Oshkosh. Photo courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

Gwen Reoch, Sports Editor

Following a 0-0 draw on Sept. 5 against University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Macalester women’s soccer has moved to 2-0-1 on the season, capping off a stretch of non-conference home games to begin the year. In Head Coach Madeline Buckley’s first year at Macalester, she aims to build the foundation for the success that the team is primed to accomplish.

“We’ve gotten a lot done in a short amount of time,” Buckley told The Mac Weekly. “With a new coaching staff it was important we put in the work before we showed up on Aug. 18. The team has put in a lot of hard work to build a team culture  with a new coaching staff and figuring out who we are and what our values are before we show up for the season.”

Buckley’s first preseason has been defined by symbols that represent the team’s three core values: courage, accountability and drive. Adapted from the TV show Ted Lasso, a poster reading “BELIEVE” hangs above the door in Buckley’s office. All spring and summer, the team would post pictures of players, other Macalester coaches and more athletics personnel high-fiving the sign, indicating the belief coming from the entire Mac community. 

Another new team tradition is the “In The Arena” jersey. On day one of preseason, the captains named a player that embodied the team values in practice to take a picture and attend the next team meal in the jersey. Throughout the season, the players will continue a chain of recognition by passing the jersey along.  

“It’s much easier to go negative than it is to go positive, and this is one of those opportunities we take intentionally to have our players to think about accountability in more of a positive light than a negative, and continue to build more of a call-in culture than a call-out culture,” Buckley said. “We want everyone that day to be their ‘arena self’ and show our three core values.”

In 2021, the Scots finished just one point short of the playoffs with a 10-6-2(4-6-1) record. The season ended with a three game losing streak to conference teams, ending in heartbreak with the narrow 7th place finish. The standard for success is high in the MIAC, with the last two conference champions making it into later rounds of the national championship bracket. However, the conference has no ranked teams in this year’s United Soccer Coaches Preseason Rankings, indicating a possible opening for Macalester to take control of the MIAC.

Defense was key to Mac’s positive results last year and will clearly be a strength this year. They allowed only 11 goals all year, the least in the conference. So far this year, that trend has continued, with not a single goal conceded in their first three games. Senior captain Sarah Hamilton credits that defensive prowess to her ability to get involved everywhere on the field.

“I always know my teammates are going to win the ball,” Hamilton said. “I always have that sense of optimism and confidence in them. I think especially with our absolutely rock solid back line, especially as a holding midfielder, I feel a lot more ability to release up the field and get involved with the attack.”

To the same effect, Buckley plans to use the defensive stability she inherited to develop the team’s ability to score with more regularity.

“The way we speak with our team about who we want to be is an attacking minded team and defensively sound,” Buckley said. “Being able to come into a program that is so defensively sound gives us that confidence to now really get after the attacking principles and help the team think more about ‘how can we score’ than ‘how can we not give up a goal.’”

Despite finishing with the fourth most total goals scored among MIAC teams, five of the six conference losses were 0-1 scores. With two of the top goalscorers, Carolyn Eckstein ’22 and Alice Bieda ’22, having graduated, a good chunk of the goalscoring responsibility will have to come from new sources.

“Everyone attacks and everyone defends. So we’d love to get contributions goal-wise from many members of the team, that shows that we are an attacking-minded team and not relying on any particular goalscorer. We hope that during the preseason we’ve given everyone the confidence to be a goalscorer, whether they’re a center back or a center forward.”

One key to unlocking the attacking potential seems to be a new formation. The 3-5-2, traditionally known to be very physically demanding, employs a structured back three complimented by quick wing-backs and freedom for creativity in attack. Ella Thomsen ’24 and Mikaely Evans ’25 have played the majority of the minutes in those wing-back roles so far, providing defensive support on the outside areas of the field while also sending in crosses in attack. Rachel Colson ’24, subbing in on the right, already has two assists.

Hamilton has served as the holding midfielder in the central three, sometimes playing with another player to her left and sometimes feeding two attacking-minded midfielders in front of her. She’s enjoying Buckley’s change in approach, both in the formation and the overall direction.

“I think there’s a newfound excitement with what our coach can do,” Hamilton said. “It’s a new sense of optimism, seeing how her ideas can play out on the field. I think we’re all really confident in her and ultimately confident in ourselves that we have what it takes to go far this season… The biggest thing that we’ve been working on is a new formation. I think the biggest growth we’ve seen is our confidence in that and learning both the logistics of how it works.”

Another area of uncertainty coming into the season was in goal. Dana Gustafson ’22 earned an All-MIAC Honorable Mention Team spot last year with her safe hands, contributing heavily to the team’s excellence in keeping the ball out of the net. With her absence, none of the goalies on the 2022 roster had ever previously seen action in a collegiate game. 

However, the #1 spot seems to have been won in an explosive manner. Ashlyn Ryan ’25 has achieved three clean sheets, which have earned her the year’s first MIAC Defensive Player of the Week honors. That stretch included a remarkable showing against UW-Oshkosh, in which she tallied five saves and made an outstanding off-balance save late in the first half to keep the draw intact. Despite her inexperience, Ryan is shining, which Buckley expected before the season. 

“We’re really proud of our goalkeepers and their ability to jump right in even though they haven’t had experience in a college game yet,” Buckley said. “We’ve been able to hire a full-time in-season goalkeeper coach, which has allowed us to focus on our goalkeepers and getting them prepared and putting them in pressure situations in practice so that when game time comes they can feel confident in their abilities.”

The Scots will play two non-conference away games, on Sept. 8th against University of Wisconsin – River Falls (played before print) and Sept. 10 against University of Northwestern (Minn.), before returning home to open MIAC play on Sep. 16.

Macalester women’s soccer haven’t won a conference title since 2005, ending an era of dominance that featured many appearances in the NCAA DIII Championships, and haven’t visited the playoffs since 2015. The goal this year is absolutely to return to those heights, which the players and coaches believe is well within their ability.