By Hayden Choate
Playing in the first soccer game of the season as well as the first of her college career, Sara Swetland scored the overtime winner in a scoreless game against Westfield State.
“That was probably one of my favorite memories that will stick with me forever honestly, that was amazing,” Swetland said.
Now in her junior year at Springfield College two years later, Swetland has continued to tack on goals. Midway through the season, she leads the team in goals with eight highlighted by a hat trick at Castleton on Oct. 1. In addition to the hat trick, Swetland has had three multi-goal games this season including two against Umass-Dartmouth and Mount Holyoke.
“She works hard, I don’t think she realizes how go she could be,” Pride women’s soccer head coach John Gibson said.
Swetland tallied six goals and four assists her freshman year including the overtime winner against Westfield state.
Last year, Swetland scored six goals again but tallied 12 assists, breaking the Springfield College record previously held by Angel Schofield in 1991. This year, Swetland has done more scoring but struggled at the beginning of the season.
Gibson believes changing his team’s formation helped her.
“She actually wasn’t playing that well at the start of the season, so this change of formation has really helped her, she’s always on the ball now where as before she was up against their defenders,” Gibson said.
At times during the season, not only has Swetland struggled, but the team has as well.
The Pride tied Williams 1-1, but after that they dropped their next two games to Wesleyan and their first NEWMAC match against Coast Guard.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call to us because we played a really good game against Williams but we also had so many things we had to work on at that point, and I think Welseyan and Coast Guard kind of drew out those weaknesses that we had so going forward that helped us to be able to realize that we really needed to make some changes but after we did it’s worked out so far,” Swetland said.
Since that Coast Guard matchup, the team is 4-0 and has outscored their opponents 13-2.
Swetland has scored five of those 13 goals.
Swetland, who is from Manchester, N.H., has been playing soccer since she was five years old. Growing up, she also played basketball, and for a brief time liked it more than soccer.
In fact, it wasn’t until a knee injury during her junior year of high school that she realized that she wanted to focus on soccer over basketball. Swetland tore her ACL during that soccer season her junior year, a common injury that takes nearly a year to recover from. Not being able to play basketball that year, Swetland decided to stick to soccer for the remainder of her high school career.
Despite being the leading goal-scorer on her team, part of Swetland’s game may not always be shown on the stat sheet.
“Soccer is like that, I mean the only stats you end up with our goals and assists but there’s far more to the game than that, although she does score and get assists, but she’s a bigger influence than that and playing deeper allows her to do that,” Gibson said. “She’s always been a central figure for a lot of what she did she’s checking in as a target player with defenders on her back, she’s holding the ball, playing it off she’s able to face opponents more cause she likes the ball deeper.”
The biggest part of Swetland’s game aside from scoring or setting up goals is being able to possess the ball in the attacking half of the field.
“I feel like it is really important to be able to hold on to the ball just for enough time to figure out where to go with it. I guess it is more of a slow it down let everyone regroup,” Swetland said.
For Swetland a big part of the success she has had she credits to the coaches and the leadership she has experienced.
“It’s a lot of the leadership I’ve been able to watch throughout the years, like my freshman year we had some great leaders, and then just going through that and all the support I’ve been given by my team, my coaches, just everyone around me has been able to boost up my confidence that I need sometimes and be there,” she said. “I think each year is a stepping stone to keep improving on what I need to.”
Now, she must be a leader in her third season for the many freshmen on the team.
“For me I think it’s really important to lead by example and more like show what you should be doing and I know as a freshman, it’s a big thing to look up to the upperclassmen, so being an upperclassmen myself, it’s important that I lead by example to show them work ethic, all the right things like the attitude and all that. It’s just really exciting to see all the freshman contributing and working hard.”
Gibson notes that Swetland may not be the loudest leader but she is a leader nonetheless.
“She’s a great role model but a quiet leader, she’s not very vocal but neither is Kaleigh (Dale), if young players should pay attention that’s who they should want to be,” Gibson said.
With seven games left in the season, Swetland and the Pride have goals they want to accomplish after last season’s disappointing finish — losing the NEWMAC championship and then in the second round of the ECAC tournament.
“We don’t want to end up with the same result and that same feeling we had because it was not a good one but all you can do is try to improve and play your best soccer when your out there and leaving it all out on the field and being relentless, we want to win NEWMACs this year and make it to NCAA’s,” Swetland said.
Even though Swetland is currently the team’s leading goal-scorer and holds the record for most assists in one season, graduate assistant coach Angela Salem believes that Swetland can be even better.
“I don’t even think she’s filled out her full potential yet and she’s already doing so well,” Salem said.
With the disappointment of last season’s finish comes the hunger for a better outcome at the end of the year, one that could stem from more goals from Swetland.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros