With remnants of its first Final Four appearance in the rearview mirror, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s soccer team is steadily driving itself to excellence once again, beginning the season by outscoring their opponents 21-2 and posting a stellar 5-0-1 record.
A major factor behind the early success was the team’s productive preseason, head coach Jennifer Scanlon told TSL.
In addition to giving the freshmen and sophomores “their first college soccer experience,” Scanlon emphasized the importance of team building activities while “bringing the group together.”
“We also didn’t scrimmage anybody else during the preseason — we just focused on ourselves,” she said. “It took a lot of hard work, talent, planning and investment from players and coaches to get everyone on the same page and try to work hard at reaching our potential over the course of the season.”
The chemistry they built shined especially in their previous three wins. In those matches against Whitter, UC Santa Cruz and La Verne, the Sagehens thoroughly dominated their opponents.
“We were able to use a roster of 25 players and use the talent and energy combined between returning players and new players in those games,” Scanlon said. “We put together some really great play, controlling the flow of the game while generating good attacks.
The veteran coach also felt the women’s performances reflected a sense of excitedness to return to the sport, especially considering the two-year absence.
“[It] definitely was super familiar and exciting; it’s just an amazing feeling to be back on the field on game days,” she said. “Though there was a long period off, seeing Redlands’ opposing bench and the coaches I’ve known and coached against for a long time [was] so familiar.”
Despite the hype surrounding the resurgence of competitive play, the Sagehens have faced hardships with the newly reinstated pandemic guidelines.
“We’re literally doing our pregame meetings in Sontag Greek Theater right now instead of in a traditional meeting room space,” Scanlon said. “We’re getting creative because we have to work around COVID protocols and the closed Rains Center, but we’re kind of rolling with it and figuring things out.”
Additional personal challenges have emerged with everyone on the roster, as the athletes get reaccustomed to being on campus.
“We established what it means to be a student-athlete for both our returning and new players, to take care of their mental health and take care of their family and community,” Scanlon said. “Soccer is a big part of their lives but they’ve got to have everything else in order to be successful in soccer.”
Considering their success on the pitch, Scanlon also mentioned the hardship of remaining in the shadow of the “Final Four squad.”
“We’re trying really hard to not compare ourselves to that group and find our own identity because we’re a brand new team with a completely different playstyle,” she said.
Scanlon said she’s looking to resolve these issues by relying on the leadership of her veteran players.
“I believe our seniors and juniors should put their own stamp on the standard of values that they know are a big part of the success of this foundation that we’ve built over many years,” she said. “We don’t need to start from square one, but we need to reset and carve our own path.”
The renewed team’s challenges revealed themselves during last weekend’s match against Occidental. Despite multiple threatening opportunities and outshooting the Tigers 18-4, the Sagehens failed to connect with the back of the net and maintained a stalemate for 90 minutes and two overtime periods.
“Everyone was still getting in sync with our identity and playstyle out there, which is why we lacked a little bit of sharpness on both ends,” Scanlon said. “It’s not infrequent in soccer that a team can dominate the stats and not be able to score — it’s just the nature of the game.”
However, the Sagehens redeemed themselves in a statement game against La Verne. With four different goal scorers and multiple set piece opportunities, the women took over the game early by scoring three within the first half, never looking back.
Regardless of the results of this season, Scanlon hopes her players gain more than athletic abilities or skills at the end of the year.
“Some of our values are to invest in hard work, support and challenge each other to become better soccer players and students,” she said. “Our goal is that when they leave after four years, they’re better people and find success in all parts of their lives. I want them to be in tune with how lucky we are to have this type of experience together.”