Seamus O’Connor was frustrated before his team took on Princeton University on Sept. 9.
“I almost left and went home and said, ‘Alright I’m not doing this anymore,’” the Owls’ fourth-year coach said. “I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
O’Connor watched as his starting left back KJ Waghorne rolled her ankle in the last minute of warm ups, right in front of him.
“Right before kickoff we had to change our starting plan,” O’Connor said. “We had to change our starters, we had to change our gameplay, we had to change everything.”
Injuries are common in soccer, but O’Connor said they have happened to his team far too often.
Waghorne’s injury is one of many the team has faced this season. This spring, four different players tore their ACLs and are now are out for the year. Cait Jackson, a junior would-be captain, was forced to retire after multiple ACL tears.
Redshirt-senior midfielder Gina DiTaranto, who is now the team’s student director of operations, redshirt-senior forward Paige Rachel, who missed the 2014 season with the same injury, and sophomore defender Katie McCoy, who tore her ACL for the second time in her college career, all suffered the same injury.
In addition, junior midfielder Delia Trimble broke her foot in the preseason and may not be able to play this season. Freshmen midfielders Fran Davis and Morgan Morocco are also out, but hope to be back for conference play. And finally, freshman defender Emily Keitel required five stitches after a head injury against Princeton.
This mountain of misfortunes has the team stuck with a 3-6 record to start the season. Losing this many key players is not something most rosters are built to overcome. However, O’Connor is keeping a positive outlook.
“I’ve been looking at this as a chance to get some of the younger and more inexperienced players minutes,” O’Connor said. “This is what happened with the group who just graduated and broke all the records here, they started out as freshmen getting a lot of playing time and by the time they were seniors we found ourselves on the edge of the NCAA tournament.”
With the number of new players now outnumbering the returning players 14 to 13, the team has had troubles. The changing personnel has made it hard for players to develop chemistry.
“Not being able to get a consistent lineup on the field has just been hard,” said O’Connor. “You start playing and next week somebody else is in that position and next week somebody else is in front of you. You can’t get a good rhythm.”
“Everyone is learning how everyone plays still,” freshman forward Jules Blank added. “You see different people in different places, but you’re going to get the best lineup at the end of the day.”
The team has nine days before it starts conference play. With Keitel, Morocco and Davis potentially re-joining the team, the Owls will reset their season.
“We’re just going to wrap this one up and flush it down the toilet,” O’Connor said. “On Wednesday, we are going to start a new preseason. …The non-conference is done, it’s over with. That season as far as we’re concerned is done.”
The players have embraced this attitude as well. While they understand that early freshman exposure will benefit the team in the long run, they have not given up on doing well this season. Upperclassmen leaders like junior forward Gabriella McKeown know that there is a lot of fight left in the team and they will embrace their dark horse role.
“I think we’re determined to do better,” McKeown said. “I mean obviously we’ve had a slow start so I think we’re just looking to defy the odds because we’ve put the odds against us. But I think we’ve always been that kind of team who’s been the underdogs, and we are the underdogs going into conference [play]. So I think it’s a good time to step up and prove that we deserve to be at the top and go to the playoffs.”
Dan Wilson and Graham Foley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.