Disappointed, bewildered, and looking for revenge are just a few ways one could have characterized the GDS women’s varsity soccer team at the end of 2016 fall season, after they had found out they had been relegated into the second division of the Independent School League (ISL.) Another way one could characterize them was relieved. For years the GDS women’s soccer program has been producing NCAA Division I and Division III-caliber athletes at a much higher rate than other GDS sports programs. Such players include class of 2015 graduate Hannah Natanson who is a forward for Harvard University, and class of 2017 midfielder Jadyn Wilensky and forward Simone Ameer who will play for the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College, respectively. The program has not, however, consistently produced success. Unlike other GDS sports, the problem is not finding good players; it is using skilled players on the team in a way that breeds positive results.
It seems that the high standard expected from the women’s team has actually been counter intuitive. Such expectations, due to the large pool of athletes with extensive experience at the travel and academy soccer level, have possibly stunted the all-around growth of the team. During this past season, the women’s varsity squad often relied solely on forcing the play up-field towards their one or two exceptional players at every opportunity in every game, rather than using their many assets at multiple positions across the field.
Funny as it seems, a season estranged in the lower rung of their league, the ISL, could be helpful. At least that’s the way rising junior stars Danielle Soto and Margaux Ameer look at it. The two described the relegation as an “opportunity to reinvent themselves” and to play “freely” without expectations. Soto, a freshman starter since 2015, cautions that, although the level of play in the second division is lower, the team will still feel the loss of veteran central defenders Neda Shahriari and Lulu Feldman next fall, after the two graduate high school in June. When one door closes, however, another opens. That opening in their eyes can be filled by this past season’s varsity newcomers Sophie Schiff and Kate Strong. Ameer described Sophie Schiff as a “box-to-box, gritty, technical defensive midfielder.” Soto saw Kate Strong as a “very strong and solid left-back who should have no problem moving central and filling the hole [left] by Neda and Lulu.”
For Danielle, her goals and expectations for next season are to finish first in the table and to make a swift return to the first division of the ISL. While trying to meet those expectations, Soto said that her ultimate goal is to “become the team’s leading scorer.” She has some big shoes to fill following the departure of goal poacher Simone Ameer, who will be continuing her athletic and academic career at Middlebury next fall, playing for both the college’s varsity soccer and track and field programs.
For Margaux everything is quite simple in preparation for next year: score more and concede fewer goals. A clean sheet after every game is her main priority.
GDS women’s soccer’s main rivalries continue to be Sidwell and Maret. Both Danielle and Margaux want to remind us that the GDS-Sidwell rivalry is still alive and well in the realm of women’s varsity soccer. After successfully achieving a major comeback in the second half, the women’s team defeated Sidwell 3-2 in front of a large fan section on the Hopper turf. Down 2-0 at the half, the GDS team regained composure and worked to put goals on the board and defeat Sidwell in front of the large crowd. GDS and Sidwell students and staff alike came out to support the women soccer players and experience the annual GDS-Sidwell rivalry. They also make it clear that the GDS-Maret rivalry is still very important to the team, which we will be seeing a lot more often due to the fact that Maret was in the second division of the ISL this past 2016 fall season.
Playing against lower-league teams has benefits besides a bigger scoreline. This allows the coaches to rotate more players in the game and give opportunities to the younger incoming freshman, as well as sophomores, which would develop the GDS team as a whole.
As for next season, we should look at it the way the players view it: a fresh start and new beginning for a GDS dynasty.
By: Christian Guichard