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Trading cleats for computers: women’s soccer remains hopeful despite pandemic

October 16, 2020

Despite an unprecedented fall, the Bowdoin women’s soccer program is striving to stay connected and optimistic. In the face of adversity, this unstoppable program proves to be closer than ever, bonding and training virtually in order to stay competitive with the few NESCAC rivals who have all team members on campus.

“The main disadvantage we’re facing is being unable to practice as a whole team like Bates and Colby can,” said Ailish O’Brien ’22, one of the team’s captains, in a phone interview with the Orient. “It is definitely difficult but we’ve come to terms with the hand we were dealt. Our mantra is to control the controllables, and Bowdoin’s plan isn’t in our control.”

The team’s main focus for this season is to create a powerful group off the field in order to come back stronger than ever next fall. In addition to virtual workout partners and game nights over the summer, the Polar Bears have been meeting weekly, both as a team and in pairs, to create new connections between teammates.

“As a team, we’re pushing to connect personally, with a FaceTime buddy system,” O’Brien said. “We’re trying to reimagine the soccer program.”

The team is also reimagining the racial dynamics within the group through their anti-racism action plan—a plan that Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan required each team to create.

“A big component of our action plan is working on our one-on-one relationships with each other. We want to have basic trust and a basic understanding of our different backgrounds, our different cultures and our different situations,” O’Brien said. “Another big part of it is that two or three teammates will come up with some resources and give them to the rest of the team, who will read them. Then we come together for a 45-minute or hour-long conversation debriefing them and making sure that we’re all educated.”

The Polar Bears have also used the lack of competition to their advantage in fostering strong off-the-field chemistry.

“This year, we have had the gift of time and none of the pressure associated with competing and traveling, which is definitely a silver lining in terms of our team relationships,” wrote head coach Brianne Smithson in an email to the Orient.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to get to know our first years as people first this year,” she added.

Normally, orientation activities conflict with preseason practices and games, so the shortened orientation allowed first years to participate in more team-building activities. The team has also stayed unified throughout the semester through group workouts.

“In addition to holding practices with those in residence, everyone on the team has access to daily strength and conditioning workouts designed by [Head Coach of Strength and Conditioning Neil Willey],” Smithson wrote.

The soccer program hopes to utilize this individual time with the first-year class to physically prepare the younger members of the team for the rigor of NESCAC play.

“We’re hoping for the first-year athlete experience to begin the transition from high-school soccer to college soccer,” O’Brien said. “The NESCAC is just a much faster game; it’s a much more physical game and a huge step up from high school. Hopefully, the current training season will help our first years have a smooth transition into our team.”

The supportive team environment and the consistent determination of the program fuel their resilience on and off the field.

When asked about some of the other NESCAC programs which have the ability to practice in person with all of their team members, Smithson expressed optimism.

“If we rise above the urge to focus on what we don’t have and [instead] focus on what we can do with what is in front of us, that is a powerful advantage we can take onto the field with us next season,” Smithson wrote.


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