By now, there are few words that have not been used to describe the Hopkins women’s soccer team.
After starting the season 10-0 and climbing to the number two spot in the NSCAA DIII Poll, the team saw a minor bump in the road before ripping off another five straight wins to sit at 15-1-1 with one game remaining on the regular season schedule.
Although the offense has put up goals at a record-breaking clip, the defense has been a stout unit on the backend led by junior captain Emily Nagourney.
After helping the team record their third straight shutout in a 3-0 win over Gettysburg, Nagourney was named the Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Week and is The News-Letter’s Athlete of the Week.
We caught up with the junior standout to ask her about the season and the team’s goals moving forward.
The News-Letter: After going through a 0-1-1 stretch a few weeks ago, the team has torn through the final stretch of the schedule going 5-0. What was said during that difficult stretch of the season? As a captain, was there a message you personally had for the team at that point?
Emily Nagourney: If tying one game and losing one game to another nationally ranked team is our worst stretch of the season, then I’d say that’s not too bad. Of course, we would like to have a perfect season like we did until the Sweet Sixteen round my freshman year, but we took those “bad” games as learning experiences. Instead of going out in the rain one night, we took our practice time to sit together with the entire team and the coaches to talk about what went wrong. We pointed out things we did well and things we didn’t do so well. It was important as a captain to make sure that everyone moved on from this week still having confidence that we are one of the best teams in the nation. Just because we didn’t win two games doesn’t mean our season is over. It just means we have to work 100 percent every time we step on the field because everyone is gunning for us.
N-L: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be? Do you find yourself as a vocal presence on the field, or more of a quieter, “lead by example,” type?
EM: Being captain as a junior has definitely taught me a lot about myself as a leader. I would say I’m a vocal presence on the field, but that also comes with the position that I play. Being one of the center backs, I am one of two field players that can see the whole field. So it’s definitely a responsibility and crucial to our success to be vocal and it also definitely comes with experience. Being a vocal presence doesn’t just happen, and it’s something I’ve tried to improve since my freshman year. Knowing that my teammates respect me as much as I respect them on the field also helps a lot. However, I would also like to think that I lead by example because I know how important that can be. We have had some really great captains in the past that have led the team this way and we’ve been successful every year. I try to be someone everyone can look up to both on the field, as well as off the field, which in my opinion is equally as important.
N-L: While the offense has gotten many of the accolades this season, and rightfully so, the defense has allowed only 12 goals over 17 games. Can you talk about what has allowed your unit to be so strong?
EM: We do have a really great offensive line, and they deserve a lot of credit for the success the team has been having so far this season. It seems basic, but our coach said something the beginning of the year that speaks to this. He told us that you have to score more goals than the other team, but you also have to make sure that they score fewer. Anyone that knows even a little bit about soccer would think that’s pretty obvious. But it’s important to realize that both have to happen. There’s a reason that our offensive players are able to get the ball and take risks in the other team’s defensive third of the field. A lot of plays that end up in goals start from the back, so offense is as much of a team effort as defense is. 12 goals is actually a lot, so we are trying to have more shut outs at this point in the season, but defensively, we have improved a lot since the beginning of the season, and I think that just comes with time. We have some players with less experience back there, so it takes time for them to get comfortable and every practice or game is another opportunity for us to take our mistakes and fix them.
N-L: The past two seasons the team has had deep runs into the playoffs but fallen short of the NCAA Title. Do you feel any added pressure as a junior to finally break through this season?
EM: I don’t really feel any added pressure, but I think this season we are really excited. We have been so close the past two years that we know what it feels like to make it far in the playoffs, but we’ve always lost right before making it to the Final Four. From the beginning of the season in August, everyone could see what potential we have and it would be the greatest feeling ever to finally make it to Texas. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time, so we don’t get caught looking past teams we’re playing now. It’s definitely something we keep in the back of our minds as a long term goal, but we have a lot of short term goals that we have to accomplish first.