Following an 18-month hiatus from competition, the women’s soccer team hosted Bates on Sunday, May 2 for a scrimmage with no official box score. The 90-minute competition was played over three 30-minute periods as opposed to the typical two 45-minute periods in order to give players more rest and recovery time.
The team’s last game was against Tufts on November 2, 2019.
Despite the disruptive, stressful academic year and lack of opportunity for competition, Head Coach Brianne Smithson explained that confidence was high in the lead-up to the scrimmage.
“We knew, even early on in the spring, that our level of play would be high,” Smithson said in a phone interview with the Orient. “[The players] had done a lot of work on their own, and it showed.”
Defender Katherine Page ’23 largely credited the supportive and light-hearted atmosphere at practices for the team’s confidence.
“The goal [of the season] was to support each other and have fun together,” Page said in a phone interview with the Orient. “Going in with that mindset, there was a lot of energy and excitement and lower stress [at the scrimmage].”
To prepare for the matchup with Bates, Smithson and her team simply did what they always do: approach practices with competition in mind.
“Every time we practice, everything we do is focused on asking ourselves what we need to do in order to be ready and playing at our best,” Smithson said. “The drills and activities we do are very game-realistic. We try to work on the things that will help players have the most confidence when they step onto the field [for a game].”
Above all else, Smithson was grateful to experience the return to competition with her team by her side.
“Having the opportunity to play was the highlight of the past year,” Smithson said. “Getting the chance to take the field together and play the sport we love gave us the first sense of normalcy that we’ve had in a long time.”
Page echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“[Being reunited with the team] is a very special thing,” Page said. “I was pretty nervous because I hadn’t played in so long, but the excitement overtook [my nerves].”
Despite the team’s eagerness to get back on the field, the Polar Bears faced changes, restrictions and procedures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the players were masked for the game, and we had to go through the testing protocols that Bowdoin has,” Smithson said. “In addition to that, everyone involved had to get a rapid antigen test the morning of the game.”
Smithson also explained that the decreased size of her team made the scrimmage more difficult.
“Many of our players, especially first years, are not on campus right now,” Smithson said. “We had 12 players with only one substitute.”
However, Smithson was able to find a silver lining in the potentially discouraging situation.
“Everybody got plenty of playing time on the field and plenty of touches, so that’s been a huge plus,” Smithson said.
Page also found hope and optimism within the team’s restricted circumstances.
“[Having a smaller team] has given us a unique opportunity,” Page said. “It forces each of us to connect with people that we previously hadn’t spent as much time with.”
To compensate for the physical and social separation between first-year and upperclass players, Smithson has attempted to create an atmosphere in which athletes living away from campus are easily integrated into the team’s dynamic through online conversations.
“We have Zoom calls with our current first years at least once every two weeks, and we have regular conversations about DEI work. We keep them involved as much as possible,” Smithson said. “We’ve also separated the team into small ‘critical relationship groups’ based on proximal positions on the field, and each group engages in activities together on Zoom.”
Moving forward, Smithson feels that her team’s passion and appreciation for soccer will be rejuvenated by their return to the field.
“We were rewarded for all our hard work, and we were able to remind ourselves that we play soccer because we truly love the sport,” Smithson said.