In the conference room at Rotch Playground and Field, photos of departing seniors from Emerson’s men’s soccer team were laid out, awaiting signatures of teammates. As the club completed a second consecutive winless season in New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference play, going 5-13 overall, players sounded a somber tone, but said the year offered glimpses of what could develop into a winning future.
Senior captain Mitch Lapierre’s season, ended prematurely by an ACL tear after just three games, is a microcosm of the team’s entire year. They faced an unusually large dose of adversity in the form of three season-ending ACL injuries, and they again struggled to find their footing in their thirdyear in the NEWMAC.
Lapierre, a marketing communication major, said many of the conference teams already have a style of play in place, and that year-to-year continuity contrasts with an Emerson group still adapting to systematic changes implemented by first year head coach Javier Mejia.
Mejia said that while Emerson boasts strong individual talent, rival clubs appear more cohesive as a unit.
“If you’re just stacking one player up to another with some of our conference opponents, from a ball skills standpoint, we typically are slightly better,” Mejia said. “It does take time to get all those creative players into one organized system.”
The series of knee injuries didn’t help, either. Head athletic trainer Mandy Nicoles, who works with men’s soccer in the fall, said the three ACL tears amounted to one more than the total number she dealt with among male athletes in her five previous years at the college. Nicoles commended the group on playing level-headed soccer despite the loss of important pieces.
“They understood what was going on, and that they got a raw deal, and they moved forward,” Nicoles said. “They didn’t bring it into the team, they definitely didn’t bring it into my athletic training room. If anything, they pushed each other.”
Nicoles said a specialist was hired by the college to examine the Rotch Playground and Field playing surface in the aftermath of the injuries, but uncovered no issues. The tears, then, were more bad luck than anything else, according to Nicoles.
Lapierre said being a captain from the sidelines rather than on the field was a major adjustment. While he praised the play of the freshmen, Lapierre said he felt the team as a whole could have improved their play.
“A lot of the things that happened throughout the season were tough to deal with, and I don’t think we dealt with those well,” Lapierre said.
Goalkeeper Carter Bowers, a senior journalism major, led the NEWMAC in saves with a total of 81. Bowers said the individual accomplishment isn’t as exciting as it sounds, given that it reflects the high volume of shots reaching the goal.
“I wish I weren’t on that list,” Bowers said. “I think it speaks to the fact that we have a long ways to go defensively, in terms of organization.”
The Lions finished with four goals in seven games during NEWMAC play, falling 15 tallies behind conference-leading Wheaton College, and tied for last with the United States Coast Guard Academy. Mejia, who told the Beacon in September that his club needed to create more opportunities on offense, said he still believes players could take a higher quantity of shots further away from the net.
“I think some guys are nervous about shooting from distance,” Mejia said. “It’s just getting them to be confident in the fact that they need to release, or look to each other.”
Mejia said he noticed significant improvement late in the season switching gears from offense to defense. Mejia also said he believes returning players will be more comfortable with his coaching style next fall, and as a result, more time will be allotted for other training.
“A system takes a while to change, and a while to grow into,” Lapierre said. “It’s growing pains for us, because we’re trying to settle into a system and that shows.”
Bowers said the in-game experience acquired by the backup goalkeepers could prove valuable in 2016, and believes that current sophomore Lucas Fischer is well prepared to begin a full-time role in net after starting seven games this season.
Other subtle upgrades off the field could go a long way, Bowers said. He said some practices are not attended by the entire roster, because students’ class schedules interfere. He also said a beefed up recruiting program could draw more accomplished high school athletes to Emerson.
“I think the steps we’ve taken over the last four years are really small, and they seem like big things because there’s so much more room to improve,” Bowers said.
Despite enduring a season in which the team never won two consecutive games, and one that ended without a trip to the playoffs, both Lapierre and Bowers spoke highly of what soccer meant to their collegiate careers.
“We came in as 18-year-old kids and we’re leaving now as 21-year-old men,” Bowers said. “I think that’s a big development in our lives, and just seeing ourselves professionally, I think soccer and sports helps with that.”