CMU women’s soccer gets a kick out of winning
How did the Carnegie Mellon women’s soccer team prepare for its second-round NCAA Tournament game?
The night before hosting Catholic, the players painted “The Fence,” a landmark on campus that CMU organizations have a long-standing tradition of decorating to promote their events.
How did the team prepare for the game?
In the moments before taking the field — moments usually fraught with equal parts anxiety and anticipation —– the Tartans sang. And danced.
It was quite the loose approach to such an important game. But that’s the way coach Yon Struble’s team has approached every game in 2014, and it has been hard to argue with the results.
The 2-1 overtime win over Catholic moved the sixth-ranked Tartans (16-2) into the third round of the Division III tournament, where they will host Johns Hopkins at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The light-hearted atmosphere that pervades the team has its roots in last season. After going 14-1-5 and advancing to the Elite Eight in 2012, CMU was determined to equal the feat — if not better it — the following season.
But in their zeal to prove the deep run in the tournament was no fluke, the Tartans put too much pressure on themselves, senior co-captain Savina Reid said. The result was a 9-5-2 mark and a first-round exit from the NCAAs.
“It was more of, what can we do in a long-term goal?” sophomore keeper Katie Liston said. “It was something that ended up not helping us as much as it could have. This year, we’ve kind of taken a step back and said let’s do something for today instead of looking too far ahead.
“It helped us loosen up the environment and have more fun.”
It was what Reid and fellow captains Lauren Simicich and Louisa Pendergast envisioned when they met in the offseason to lay the groundwork for 2014.
“We decided we kind of wanted to create that environment because we knew we had a lot of skilled players on the team already as well as coming in,” said Reid, who leads CMU with 11 goals. “We wanted to make sure the freshmen felt included … so right off the bat, we wanted to be very welcoming and positive.”
Including the freshmen was important since there were 13 joining the program. And they weren’t coming just to fill seats on the bench. Many of them were expected to play significant roles. And they have delivered.
Tori Iatarola is third on the team with 14 points (four goals). Behind her are Sienna Stritter with 10 points (three goals) and Morgan Kontor with nine points (four goals).
The freshmen have complemented the veterans not only with their skill, but also their attitude.
“It’s a complete 180 from last year on the atmosphere,” said Struble, in his fourth year as coach. “We have 13 freshmen about as goofy as can be and as competitive as can be at the same time. They’re flat out silly, and yet they step on the field and, is that the same person who was just dancing on the sidelines?
“We can have fun off the field and still step on the field and be a competitive team.”
The proof is in the results. The Tartans won the University Athletic Association title for the first time, and their program-record 16 wins include an August victory over then-No. 1 William Smith.
Now the team is on the verge of singing and dancing its way back to the Elite Eight.
“It’s a fine line,” said Reid, “but we make it work.”
Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].