First-year women’s soccer coach Marty Beall sat in his office in the Robins Center, surrounded by jerseys and memorabilia, sun streaming through the windows on a Wednesday morning, reflecting on the recently finished season.
After a pause, he said: “I don’t know if any [one player] really stood out this year, because we had a collective group that really worked hard together. There are different people in different games that had great games and stood out, but overall, there wasn’t one player who was head and shoulders above everybody else.”
Beall’s hesitancy to point to any particular player as outstanding is a reflection of the team dynamic, several players he said. Because individual players did not carry undue pressure or expectations, they said they had freedom to support one another.
“We’ve all just stayed strong and positive as a unit, and it’s really helped us get through it all because we all know we have a place, whether on the bench, whether it’s on the sideline as a starter, a sub or a field player," sophomore forward and midfielder Katie Tritt said. "You have a place, and you’re always helping your team out in some way.”
Tritt, who made three starts and played in 16 out of 18 games, assisted on two goals this season, building upon her strong first-year season, according to RichmondSpiders.com.
Players said they loved the team dynamic that encouraged cohesion and commitment in spite of the challenges they faced. Finishing with a 2-15-1 (2-7-1 Atlantic 10) record this season -- one win away from reaching the team’s goal of qualifying for the A10 Conference tournament -- players cited long-term development in the midst of a tough season.
“This season is definitely a growing season," sophomore midfielder TJ Anderson, a transfer, said. "We have a lot of new players -- eight freshmen, two transfers and a new coach. Staying positive was really our goal for this year and building our program so we can be good next year.”
Averaging about 68 minutes per game, Anderson tied for the team lead this season in goals, scoring two, including her first as a Spider against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, while taking 24 shots.
The team also dealt with injuries to key players and leaders on the team -- obstacles beyond its control.
“We have a few injuries -- mostly in the junior class," Anderson said. "Alyssa Walker, she had double calf surgery. Maya Wright sprained her MCL. She was supposed to be back by now, but something happened with the rehab so she can’t be back. I think extra numbers definitely would’ve helped this year because we’re a little run down.”
With regular contributors sitting out, younger players, such as redshirt first-year goalkeeper Emily Wigg, stepped into the spotlight. Wigg started 13 games, making 77 saves, with a 71.3 percent save percentage. Though in only her first year of college game-play, Wigg became a regular, starting every A10 conference game.
Wigg said she had remained focused by leaning on her teammates and the coaching staff.
"They’ve done a great job drilling in our head that we need to be positive and resilient and dedicated to get better," Wigg said. "Definitely just having a team that’s adapted to the new coaching staff and ideas [is helpful]. It’s easy to stay positive when you have a group like that.”
Beall said he had core values that he hoped shaped the players' positive experiences.
“Every single day we talk about our three core values of loving each other, having positive action and relentless dedication," Beall said. "It’s impossible to have low team morale if you are focusing on loving each other and working for each other, and if you’re complaining about everything and moping, then that goes against having positive action.
"If you’re not working hard, that goes against relentless dedication and becoming the best that you can be. Every single day in every training session, or whatever it is that we’re doing, those three core values are at the center of our efforts.”
Beall said these values had been exemplified during the best moments of the season, such as the team’s victory against St. Bonaventure University.
“[During that game] we created tons of opportunities in the final third, we penetrated the final third, we penetrated the goal," Tritt said. "We out-shot them. We had so many more [corner kicks] than they had. Overall, we continued to push forward through that game and ended up with the [win]."
Wigg said: “We were able to pull it together as a team, which was super exciting. We just meshed well. We looked like a team that could put up against anybody. [We] created a lot of chances, our defense was strong, our midfield connected passes like we’re supposed to. All in all, it was great.”
Beall also highlighted their games against George Mason University, during which the team competed toe-to-toe with one of the top 40 teams in the country, and Davidson College, its victorious final game of the season, which stood out because of the players’ ability to connect passes, defend and adapt to playing a different style of defense.
Though the young team fell short of the conference tournament, Beall said the student-athletes were working relentlessly to improve next season, continuing practice in the days following the season's final game.
“The season’s over, and we’re going right back to work," Beall said. "We’re not taking any time off.
"The number one thing is one v. one play and competitiveness, so we’re going to work on the skill of defending in one v. one and the skill of attacking in one v. one, and the effort and competitiveness it takes to compete at the top, that relentlessness on the field, that every ball matters, every touch matters and to never give up on a play.”
The team is looking to improve its offensive output, because its defense was largely solid throughout the season, multiple players said. During all but two games, the team scored one goal or was shut out. Those two exceptions were the team's only victories.
“We just need to score," Tritt said. "We need to figure out how to execute. We have great individuals on this team. We’re a great team. We just need to figure out what it takes to execute, to put goals in the back of the net.”
The players and coaches said they hoped to use their adaptability to their advantage in the future.
“We’re expecting all 21 players to come back next year completely different," Beall said. "And that’s why we got to work right away when the season was over because we need to build the habits of excellence in our players, of everything that they do every single day matters.”
Contact sports writer Cassie Coughlan at firstname.lastname@example.org