A Job Not Yet Done: Bates Women’s Soccer Reflects on Progress Made This Year

“The energy is about to shift,” Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown tweeted out last January in the midst of the team’s early season struggles. The energy shifted, the stars aligned, and the once-overlooked Celtics were soon on their way to an NBA Finals appearance. But what does that have to do with Bates women’s soccer, you may ask? More than you may think. As I chatted with members of the team, that mindset seemed prevalent around the program, especially after a transformative 2-0 win against nationally ranked no. 20 Tufts on Oct. 15.

“I think that we’re all super excited and ready to put in the work in the offseason and continue to build our team chemistry, come in with the right mindset and just show other teams that Bates is not the underdog anymore and that we are here to play and we’re here to compete and we’re here to win,” said junior captain Charlotte Jones.

The Bobcats are currently out of NESCAC playoff contention after finishing with a 1-5-4 conference record. They had hoped to qualify for the first time since 2015, according to Jones.

“That will be a huge milestone for us, but unfortunately, because of our tie [Oct. 22] we can’t make it this year anymore,” Jones said, adding, “But we made huge progress this season.”

When Coach Joe Vari joined the program in 2019, Jones said that it marked the beginning of a rebuilding project for a then-struggling team.

“This has been a multiple-year-long process,” she explained. “Leading up to that, honestly, if you look back at our current seniors, if you look back at their freshman year [in 2019], you’ll see a tragic record, honestly, there’s like, 6-1, 4-0, 5-0, 3-0 results like just back to back to back. Zero NESCAC wins.”

Since the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones said that last season felt a bit like a warmup.

“That was kind of, honestly, a little bit of a rude awakening to have a majority of our team having never played a NESCAC game before,” she said.

However, she explained that off-season practices last spring helped the team gel as a unit. Likewise, she also said that it was one of the catalysts for the culture shift around the program.

“I think that just coming together and being able to have all of us really want to work together while knowing that when we go into the fall, we’re going to hit the ground running,” Jones said.

It is not easy to come into a season as the perennial conference underdog. But, according to Jones, acknowledging this reality has helped to ground and motivate the team.

“Coach Joe recruited us with the intent of us knowing that this program was not the best in the NESCAC,” Jones explained. “Actually, yeah, one of the worst. And so with many of our players knowing that, as a result, we’re incredibly committed to changing the program and growing with it. Like it’s easy to walk into a winning team and say, oh, like, ‘We’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna win every single game.’ But it’s really difficult to walk into a program where you know, it’s not doing well, you may not see results or anything for multiple years like I’ve been doing now and we’re finally seeing a lot of progress.”

Part of that evolution was also about gaining confidence on and off the field, according to Vari.

“Trying to instill that belief that we do belong in the conference, and that we can compete at this level for the players was a big part that we were trying to add to things this year,” he explained.

Vari added that the NESCAC is one of the most competitive Division III conferences for soccer in the country.

“That’s the hard part about our conference because you have four or five nationally ranked teams in the conference and there are very few other conferences that are as competitive as ours…Everybody else, you know, teams are lucky, those conferences are lucky to get two teams in the national tournament. We traditionally get five in, you know, so it’s a hard, hard conference to navigate on the confidence side of things for sure,” Vari explained.

Coming into the game against Tufts, the Bobcats were 0-3-4 in conference play but drew to Trinity (no. 22) and had dropped a close game against Middlebury (no. 17). Despite the results, Jones explained that the team felt proud of their progress.

“I think we had a lot of unfortunate initial games in the season because we played a lot of the really, really good teams first,” she said. “So that kind of knocked us down a little bit and our confidence was definitely shaken because we were playing really, really good teams initially. And we were like, wow, we’re still losing like we keep losing. But I think that we just really kept our heads. And we continued to put in the work day in and day out, like on the field, every single practice, we all showed up. And we didn’t get discouraged. Even though the results weren’t promising, they weren’t really indicative of how much hard work we were putting in.”

That hard work showed through on the scoresheet on Oct. 15, when the Bobcats hosted Tufts on senior day and came away with a 2-0 victory. Elizabeth Patrick, a senior captain, delivered a brace for Bates, including a goal from outside of the box after winning the ball from a Jumbo center-back. The Bobcats played a physical and aggressive match, which was a product of the team’s confidence according to Vari.

“Yeah, the goal against Tufts was to be pretty physical with them and they like to drop a forward in and so we wanted to make sure that we were tight with that player. And, you know, that made them pretty predictable, in that sense. Also, I think, ties into the confidence thing… if you’re playing confidently, you can be aggressive, then you can really look to press an opponent much higher up the field,” he explained.

Jones reiterated that sentiment and added that she sees this strategy and mindset as key to the potential success of the program.

“We’ve really wanted to work on just hitting the gas the whole game and basically not letting up, and not letting them in our half, while really being on the offense, because that’s how that’s how we’re gonna win games,” she said. “We’re not going to win games by playing defense for 90 minutes, or being shy or timid, so for Tufts, I think we really, we figured we had nothing to lose against the top 20 team, they’re phenomenal. So we were like, alright, let’s go out there. Let’s play a full 90 minutes of offense. And we’ll see where it gets us.”

The Bobcats have a clear philosophy, a strong core, and momentum from a string of positive results in NESCAC play. That leads me back to Jaylen. “The energy is about to shift.” Maybe it already has for Bates. Either way, the team can hold their heads high and look forward to next year after a very promising season, according to Jones.

“We’re finally seeing concrete, like a ‘wow, we belong in this league’ level of results, whereas people did not believe that coming in,” she said.