Soccer: NEWMAC battle begins after 2-3 start

by Libby Sweeney / Beacon Correspondent • September 21, 2016

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Paige Healy advances towards goal in a game last fall.
Beacon Archives
Paige Healy advances towards goal in a game last fall.
Beacon Archives

The Emerson women’s soccer team is ready for a fight. Or, at least one within their conference.

The Lions (3-4, 0-1) began the season with five non-conference games, resulting in a record of 2-3.

However, each game was either a battle to the finish, or a blowout in Emerson’s favor. The victories, won 9-0 and 6-1, were met with two shutout losses, and a 1-goal defeat.

Head coach David Suvak said the attitude of the players is that they’re doing better than their record suggests. Suvak said he was proud of how the team has done so far, and treats the team’s record as a learning curve.

“We’ve gone beyond and done better in every single match,” he said.

Suvak brought up their most recent game against University of Massachusetts Boston on Sept. 13. The squad went down 2-0 against the Beacons quickly, and though Emerson managed to tie it up 2-2, the Beacons eked out the win in the end.

Suvak said he felt that it taught the team where they need to look to improve their game—which is something that he emphasizes, especially in such a competitive conference.

The New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference has been a thorn in the Lions’ side for the past few years. They have repeatedly fallen short of making the playoffs by just a couple of points. The NEWMAC is competitive, with larger schools and therefore larger player pools, including projected frontrunner Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But the Emerson women aren’t without a leg to stand on against such opponents—last year the Lions, seeded seventh out of eight teams, and won the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship after dominating the weekend-long invitational tournament. It took place after the NEWMAC regular season had concluded.

Senior defenseman Natalie Benjamin said the team is still eager to focus on the future rather than celebrate the past.

“We rode that high,” Benjamin, a marketing communication major, said. “It was great winning the ECAC last year, but I think we’re definitely focusing more this year on the NEWMAC.”

Junior defenseman Laura Gartelman feels the same pressure from the NEWMAC after the ECAC title.

“There’s a target on our backs with the ECAC,” Gartelman, a visual and media arts major, said, referring to how the squad feels coming back into conference play with the ECAC title.

She spoke of the “level of challenges” that they face in each game, but agrees with Suvak’s sentiment that it helps to better the players when facing more difficult opponents, NEWMAC or not.

Suvak said he is still proud of what his team accomplished last season.

“We want to defend what we earned,” he said.

There are still eight major differences between that ECAC-winning roster last season and the current one. Eight seniors, that is,  that graduated this past spring, including six that provided a combined 30 goals scored last season. Both Suvak and Benjamin said it doesn’t worry them, referring to a “solid core” of players that the group is centered around, and said having a majority of underclassmen feels like the opposite of a problem.

“They knew to take the leadership,” Gartelman said of the now-sophomores. “They fell like puzzle pieces.”

The sophomores possess great promise for the Lions’ future, especially dynamic players like Paige Haley and Jess Frost. Just in the 2015-2016 season, they earned 26 and 27 points respectively in 21 games played.

This year’s freshmen class adds five new players to the team, including goalkeeper Hannah Hodge, who plays in tandem with senior goalkeeper Melanie Escobar. Benjamin is not complaining at all.

“I think we do have a good chance with all the young guns coming up,” Benjamin said. “The girls are still great—they came in ready to go.”

She referred to the underclassmen as “skillful players” that are “just adding a little bit of different talent to the team.”

But the group said it hopes this kind of “different” is what they need to earn wins in the NEWMAC.

Benjamin said physicality was a big factor in three previous non-conference losses this season.

“In these tougher games, it’s a little more physical; the girls are a little bit bigger,” Benjamin said. “I know for us personally, we just have to make sure that we play a physical game, [that] we play a skilled game. I think if we can outplay the other team, even if they’re bigger than us, then we have a chance to win.”

Emerson takes on non-conference opponent Trinity College (1-1-2) today in Hartford, Connecticut at 4 p.m.