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Soccer teams hope for at-large bids to continue season

November 2, 2018

Courtesy of Brian Beard.
HEADS UP: Drake Byrd ’21 charges the ball with an opponent hot on his heels.

Last Saturday morning, the members of the Bowdoin men’s (9-5-2, 5-3-2 NESCAC) and women’s (7-7-2, 3-6-1 NESCAC) soccer teams donned their jerseys and laced up their cleats for what was likely both teams’ final game of the season.

The women’s team prepared with its usual pre-game dance party, while the men’s team prepared with what Coach Scott Wiercinski described as “quiet excitement.” Both ultimately lost 1-0, knocking each out of the NESCAC tournament.

“For most of the season we were just struggling to find a system that really worked for us,” said Claire Burns ’21. “A way to get goals in.”

However, towards the end of the season, the team’s trajectory shifted.

“We had two really good games before [the tournament] against Tufts (10-4-2, 5-3-2 NESCAC) and, Conn[ecticut College] (7-6-2, 2-6-2 NESCAC), where we did really great. We kept the ball and we got goals,” Kate Morrison ’20 said. “I think the momentum from those games leading into the playoffs was really good, so I was anticipating a good fight and that’s what we got.”

Game day at Middlebury proved rainy and cold, but spirits were high. Middlebury (14-1-1, 8-1-1 NESCAC) took an early lead off a corner kick during the first half, but the women’s team persevered. The team returned to the field for the second half with a series of near-goals. Throughout this last push, teammates cheered avidly from the sideline, maintaining their morale until the last whistle.

The women’s leadership fostered their strong mental game this fall. The team thought about its motto, AIR (an acronym for accountability, integrity, and resilience) each day after practice in the locker room. This effort resulted in the formation of a cohesive unit, according to captain Julia Patterson ’19.

“This team had the largest roster size since I had been at Bowdoin. With such great numbers, normally, it can be hard to make sure everyone is bought in throughout the season,” said Patterson. “However, even with having a starting roster of 32 players, this was also the closest team I have been a part of at Bowdoin. Lasting relationships were built across [all] grades.”

The team’s emphasis on culture and its large roster should bode well for next fall. Graduating only two seniors and sending most juniors off for semesters abroad, the team now turns to the sophomore class.

“The offseason is always the time when the sophomores find their voices as leaders,” Morrison said.

“They show the first years what it’s like to be doing the offseason lifts and the running, so that’s a really important time for the sophomores to get their voices.”

With a whopping 21 underclassmen, Patterson, Morrison and Burns all expressed hope and excitement that this group of soccer players would dance further into the NESCAC tournament next year.

The men’s season followed a similar trajectory. Coach Wiercinski points to a long list of injuries  and graduated players and leaders as two significant obstacles to the fall season. However, after early losses to Amherst  (12-3-1, 6-3-1) and Wesleyan (4-11-0, 2-8-0 NESCAC), the players on the men’s soccer team began hitting their stride.

“We [were] slow to start because our conference schedule is weighted: difficult in the beginning. So sometimes it takes us  a few weeks to rev our engines, so to speak,” Wiercinski said. “And it was also familiar in that we had a stretch from the middle of the season to the end of the season that was really strong with results and positive play.”

In this past Saturday’s NESCAC quarterfinal game at Amherst, the team went in eager and hungry for a win.

“They’re the only team in the NESCAC that we’ve never beaten, so we had that extra chip on our shoulder,” Moctar Niang ’19 said.

The team’s strategic push towards more possession-based play, rather than the direct physicality characteristic of the NESCAC conference, proved ineffective.

“We tried to play on the ground. The field was wet, muddy and kind of torn up because of the Nor’easter that hit there. And they were very aggressive, very physical. Made it really hard for us to play our style,” said Levi Morant ’19. “We conceded an early goal and were sort of on the front foot for a little bit. It was just a battle, and they came out on top.”

Although it’s unlikely, the team is still hoping for an NCAA at-large bid. This would send the Polar Bears to the NCAA tournament even though they did not advance past the quarterfinals. When Wiercinski asked the team whether it wanted to continue practicing in the event of an at-large bid, his players unanimously responded positively.

“Let’s just play. Let’s keep training on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday as much we can. Just because it’s so much fun,” said Morant. “I think our seniors are not ready to let go, and I think our underclassmen just want to play with us as much as they can.”

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