September 5, 2013
As a team enters a new season, the loss of graduated leaders, and the lethargy of summer vacation often puts a damper on morale. However, the Hamilton men’s and women’s soccer teams are looking to stay positive and are optimistic about their seasons. While both programs face difficulties going into the 2013 season, they plan to use the need to overcome these challenges as motivation for success.
The men’s program enters its third season in the NESCAC seeking its first conference playoff appearance. The Continentals have excruciatingly finished one point out of the postseason the last two years, a byproduct of some poor injury luck and a plethora of one-goal losses–five in 2012 alone. Head Coach Perry Nizzi thinks that last season’s losses were a direct result of these very issues.
“I think a lot of the so-called bad luck was not just bad luck on the field […] last year, because of our injuries, we really were the tired team at the end of games,” said Nizzi about his team’s subpar record in close games. “When you’re losing four to six starters, you’re dipping into the group of subs that maybe wouldn’t have even played that game.”
Simple scheduling quirks had a colossal effect on Hamilton’s 2012 season. Last year, only once did the wearied Conts have more than two days of rest between games. This season, they will enjoy eight stretches of at least three days rest and face just one back-to-back game. Team captain Leo Nizzi ’14 thinks that rest will help the team play up to its potential.
“Seeing as we have had just over one week of practice and our first game is on Wednesday the fourth, we have had to accomplish a lot in a small allotted amount of time,” noted Nizzi. “I feel as though we have a very capable team, and our potential exceeds any I have seen in many years of being at Hamilton. However, in a league as competitive as the NESCAC, it is important for every player to step up his play and reach the pinnacle of their game.”
If the Conts are to realize their playoff aspirations, one crucial factor will be the play of presumptive starting goalie Freddy Porges ’14. The senior takes over after three years of backup duty, and with Hamilton losing its two starting center fullbacks, the brunt of the defensive leadership falls squarely on his shoulders.
Porges hopes the knowledge he’s gained over the past three years will raise his game this season. He said, “Being a goalkeeper is almost all about making the right decision in game situations. College level soccer is really fast-paced, and one bad decision as a goalkeeper can be the difference between giving up a goal and making a save. After playing at this level for the past three years, I have a greater understanding of the right decision to make in certain situations.”
If the men’s side is all about overcoming bad breaks, the women’s program is attempting to overcome the loss of arguably the greatest player in school history. Alex Rimmer ’13 finished her career as Hamilton’s all-time leading scorer, and while the team does have nine returning starters, her absence in the lineup is impossible to ignore.
“We don’t really have a player to replace Alex; Alex was extremely talented,” said Head Coach Colette Gilligan. “We have some players we are moving into that position who I think could be successful, but how successful remains to be seen.”
Gilligan pinpointed Hannah Withiam ’16, the team’s leading returning scorer, as someone to look out for. “She’s got tremendous athletic ability,” praised Gilligan. “She does have the ability to go one-on-one versus players, and she’s got a very good outside shot when she takes it. All the attributes are there.”
Withiam was generally an attacking center midfielder in her freshman campaign, but she is ready to bear more responsibility if needed, while also keeping the team’s egalitarian emphasis in mind.
“[Rimmer] was a big presence up top last year for opposing defenses, so her loss will no doubt require some changes,” observed Withiam. “However, I have a lot of faith in our returning core and new players to step up and collectively assume that role. I am definitely looking to take more shots this year and be a greater scoring threat, but it will be a complete team effort this season.”
One factor that may help is the team’s playing structure, which discourages an overreliance on a single star. The Conts play an undiscourages an overreliance on a single star. The Conts play an unorthodox 4-5-1 formation, one that makes the midfielders the fulcrum of the offense. If the collective midfield unit can fill the scoring vacuum, that would be a critical step towards securing a possible NCAA tournament bid.
“Our common goal as a team is to make it to the NCAA tournament,” starting goalkeeper Liza Gergenti ’14 said. “To look back in however many years when I come to Alumni Weekend and talk about my experience playing at Hamilton I want to be able to be able to say that the [four seniors] not only started off our freshmen year with a NCAA berth, but that we never lost focus through the years and ended up in that same place again as seniors. To start and end our careers with an NCAA appearance would be the greatest thing that could happen.”
As both programs have shown, tough breaks like a strenuous schedule or a superstar graduating can delay a team’s climb to the top. However, if each team is able to strike the right balance between maintaining determination and consistency of play, there is no telling where their seasons will lead.