Team chemistry leads to best start in over a decade
With a win over the University of New Hampshire this past Sunday, the Lafayette Women’s Soccer team enters league play with a 5-1 overall record.
Their 2-1 overtime victory against UNH finalized the program’s strongest start since 2001. The squad begins their Patriot League schedule this Saturday at Loyola Maryland.
According to senior captain Sam Potoczak, incredible team camaraderie, talented freshmen and a large group of upperclassmen have been the keys to their success.
“Seniors are encouraging freshman to play better to get more minutes,” said Potoczak, a left outside defender. “Everyone’s attitude is so positive.”
The Leopards gained six freshmen this year, and they are all positively impacting the team. Two players, freshmen Annika Sheehan and Katie Brannigan have already earned Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors for their performances.
Junior forward Melissa Lynskey agrees with Potoczak’s sentiments.
“We all play for each other,” Lynskey said. “The team atmosphere this season compared to past seasons is 180 degrees different. Last off-season we decided that we weren’t going to have another bad year. We all put 100 percent effort into personally getting better, but also consciously making the team environment better.”
Logistical changes have also impacted the team’s win percentage. During the 2015 spring season, 10th-year head coach Mick Statham introduced a new field formation that would accommodate his forwards. In 2014, the squad played a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their switch to the more common 4-4-2 formation provided extra support on the attack.
Statham also moved Lynskey out of her original position. After being recruited as an outsider defender, she was then switched to center midfield and, most recently, to center forward. She is currently the team’s leading scorer with four total goals.
“What Melissa gives us is pace and power — and she will do anything I tell her to,” Statham said.
“I have a coach who is willing to work and help me learn the new position,” Lynskey added. “He believes in me, and I have teammates who believe I can do well. The goals that we’ve scored have all come from team goals…they set us up for opportunities. The transition as a whole has been successful because the team as a whole is successful.”
The new formation has allowed the Leopards to spread the field. Outside defenders, like Potoczak, and outside midfielders are able to feed their forwards more balls from an offensive position and create more plays.
“I really like to get up in the attack,” Potoczak said. “Julia [Wescott ‘17], our starting right back, is the same way. She’s really good at getting involved with the offense. Teams don’t expect that.”
Despite their “offensive” defense, the Leopards have held their opponents to just three goals in the five games they have won, shutting out three of these teams. They did give up five goals though in their one loss to Manhattan.
Lynskey and Statham, the team approached this loss with poise and maturity., according to Potoczak.
“They’re a pretty humble group,” Statham said. “They understand that there are peaks and valleys in any season. Sometimes you’re just going to have to fight, you’re going to have to respond, you’re going to have to show your character a little bit. And that’s what they did, they responded. We didn’t play well against Manhattan, and we bounced back with two good road wins.”
With Patriot League play upon them, Statham encourages his players to never look beyond the next game they’re playing. The program hasn’t made the tournament since 2011, but according to Lynskey and Potoczak, that is the team’s goal for this season.
“Overall it’s been a really good way to end my soccer career,” Potoczak said. “I’m having fun, we’re winning, we’re playing well, and the team is great both on and off the field. What I’m looking forward to the most is hopefully going to the Patriot League tournament and winning.”
“They make me want to be the coach that they need,” Statham added. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of players, and I’m excited to see them every day.”