By Hayden Choate
At the conclusion of an evening practice in the warm September sun, Springfield College women’s soccer coach John Gibson walks around his team’s post-practice stretch circle giving each member of the team a high-five, something he couldn’t do a year ago.
Gibson and the women’s soccer team return this fall after not having a season in 2020. This is his 21st season as head coach and admits last year was a long year with no outside competition.
“Not having a season was a long year,” Gibson said. “We did a lot of training, what I like is working on what went wrong in the previous game and what you need to do in the next game whereas we just had a year of training for training sake, which is okay.”
The Pride opened up the season with a tough 1-0 loss at Endicott on Aug. 31st. They then went on to beat Umass-Dartmouth, 7-1 before losing to Western New England 2-1.
The team has six seniors and two graduate students but are a relatively younger team this season.
“It was great to be back but we realized after the first game that only nine of the squad of 31 had ever played a college game before,” Gibson said.
Senior Heather Jennato knows it’s on the seniors and few graduate students to help lead by example for the younger players.
“It’s very important especially this year to be a leader and role model for the younger players because they haven’t experienced a real season so far,” Jennato said. “It’s very important for us upperclassmen to set high expectations and be nothing but good examples.”
15 members of the team are sophomores who came in last year, but like the first-years, they did not play their first game until the season opener. Gibson and his staff were expecting some of last year’s graduating class to return, but due to different circumstances, that did not happen.
“We lost some experience there but everyone is in the same boat and teams that maybe weren’t so strong two years ago have changed a lot,” Gibson said.
Two years ago, the Pride went 14-7-3 including 6-3-1 in NEWMAC conference play before eventually losing to MIT in the conference semifinals.
MIT went on to win its third consecutive NEWMAC title and comes into this season not only as the reigning champions but the preseason favorite as well.
“MIT is very strong again,” Gibson said. “Clark has been looking good, WPI is good, hopefully we’ll be good but MIT was rightfully the preseason favorites.”
Springfield begins their NEWMAC play on Sept. 18th at Mount. Holyoke.
“The competitiveness of the NEWMAC conference makes every game exciting, so it always keeps us on our toes and I know the team looks forward to every NEWMAC game,” Jennato said.
In addition to conference play, the Pride have non-conference matchups with Williams, Castleton and Brandeis ahead on the schedule. Although the team is 1-2 this year against non-NEWMAC teams Gibson believes they are learning experiences.
“The main thing is they give you a quality opponent and prepare you for playing the best conference teams, I don’t think there’s much point in playing a load of weak opponents, you don’t really learn a lot from that.”
The Pride do return some key seniors at each position that include Kaleigh Dale at midfield, Maddy Bonavita at forward, Heather Jennato at defense, and the duo of Caitlin Normoyle and Bridget O’Connor in net.
Having some senior leadership will be a key factor for the Pride this year.
“It’s been pretty crucial that all the seniors have stepped up and been leaders on and off the field for each and every one of our teammates,” Jennato said.
Jennato believes that although the team is young, being close as a team will lead them to success.
“I think our team this year is really close knit,” Jennato said. “Which will be an advantage we’ll have over other teams in the long run.”
As the season moves Gibson is excited for what’s to come and having a season once again. “I like the way we play and I like the way we train, I like the players,” Gibson said. “They’re a great group to work with.”