Near the end of the Spring 2009 semester, Alex Scharr PO ’10 heard rumblings that the women’s soccer team didn’t have a goalie lined up for the following season. The team no longer had one in the system, and specific recruiting efforts had fallen short.
Like any enterprising Pomona student, Scharr wondered about the merits of revisiting a high school passion, dormant since her 2006 graduation. Pretty soon, what was initially speculation dovetailed into a full-fledged commitment.
“I joked to my soccer friends about trying out, and they said, ‘No seriously, think about it.’ Pretty soon after that I got an e-mail from the coach, which was when I really started to seriously consider joining the team,” Scharr recalled. “After talking with Coach about it, I thought to myself, ‘Why not?’… How many people get a second chance like this?”
Scharr wasn’t the only newcomer. After graduating five seniors (including two captains) and losing a few players to injuries and the allure of study abroad, the team needed a makeover.
Six freshmen and two other additions later, the Sagehens had eight new players to integrate into the team as the season began. Flash forward to Oct. 24, and the Sagehens are reeling. Most things that could go wrong, have, in a season to forget: key players battled injuries, the team experienced two losses to CMS, and at one point much of the team came down with the flu. The team had just lost three in a row, and five of their last six. With two games left against two of the top three teams in the league (Redlands and Cal Lutheran), and top players either out (Elli Seo PO ’10) or banged-up (Kira Watson PO ’10), the team very easily could have just let its season end on a sour note.
Although the Sagehens were racked with injuries and attempting to incorporate eight new players, they weren’t offering any excuses.
“We talked all season about the challenges we have been facing,” said Coach Jen Scanlon. “But those things are excuses that allow yourself to have a reason to not win a game. You can acknowledge those things, but you got to go forward with the kids you have and try to come forward and win a game and compete.”
Hitting bottom, apparently, was what the Sagehens needed to turn things around.
“We just got to a point where we were tired of losing and wanted to get it done,” Scanlon said.
On Oct. 28, the Sagehens prepared to face Redlands, a team that is consistently near the top of the SCIAC standings. Before the match, the Bulldogs were 8-2 in the league—and the Sagehens had a 2-7-1 record.
In the first half, things finally started to go the Sagehens’ way. Balls that just weren’t dropping in the right places earlier in the season began to find their way onto Sagehen cleats. In the first 22 minutes, Katy Metcalf PO ’12 and Watson both scored goals. Walk-on Gabrielle Baum PO ’13 (first) and Scharr (second) traded halves at goalkeeper to hold on to the lead for the last three-fourths of the game. At the end, the scoreboard showed a final of 2-1 P-P and—just like that—the Sagehens had upset the Bulldogs and broken their losing streak.
Next, the team traveled to Cal Lutheran to close out its season. The game had playoff seeding implications for the Regals, and so the Sagehens had a chance to act the spoiler and kick them down to fourth place in league.
Again, the Sagehens jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, this time with Mackenzie Harrison PO ’10 scoring two goals early, at 12 and 33 minutes. Scharr held the lead by only giving up one goal, and once again P-P knocked off a top opponent in SCIAC.
To Scharr, the last two games were the highlights of the season.
“It was such a rough season, with lots of injuries and losses that we couldn’t seem to figure out, and it was wearing on everyone,” Scharr said. “But we stuck it out and came together at the end to beat two really good teams. Those wins were a relief, a vindication, and so sweet.”
So, to what can we attribute this last-second turnaround?
“The math just went the way it needs to go,” Scanlon said. “A lot of games prior to that we were pretty even in stats, we just gave up more goals in the shots that they had. We had a problem scoring all season long.”
Sometimes, that is just the way that the ball bounces in soccer. When offensive struggles combine with injuries, the flu, and an array of new players, even talent cannot always bail a team out.
The Sagehens ultimately finished 5-11-1 overall, and 4-7-1 in SCIAC, good for fifth place—the same as last year.
Scharr, joining the team for the first time as a senior, had a unique viewpoint on the team, and she was very pleased with her decision to make her comeback.
“It was kind of weird at first, being a senior and a new player at the same time … but once we started playing games I felt completely part of the team,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a more cohesive and supportive team, which definitely made the experience even more rewarding.”
Scanlon also noted the team chemistry as an asset during the season.
“To their credit, this group is really tight as a team, they really enjoy each other and spend a lot of time together,” she said. “That is part of what kept us going during the tough parts.”The team will graduate captain Claire McGroder PO ’10, as well as Seo, Scharr, Watson, and Katherine DeJong PO ’10.
Losing McGroder, who anchored the back line, will be a blow to the defense next season. Similarly, losing Seo, who scored a hat trick earlier in the season, will be unfortunate. However, for a team that has fought through so much adversity, undoubtedly the Sagehens will find a way to continue to improve. The team is laden with underclass talent, including the sophomore pair of Metcalf and Harrison, who stepped up the scoring in the absence of Seo.
If the end of this season was any indication, the Sagehens have the talent to compete with the top teams in SCIAC. They just need to get a few more balls to drop their way. Well, that and more flu vaccinations.