Every Thursday, Ike Wilson ’11 shows up to Payne Whitney Gymnasium at 7:30 a.m. for the women’s basketball team’s weekly morning practices. He has become an integral part of the women’s team’s success this season.
But Wilson is not a woman.
He, along with four other members of the men’s club basketball team, is on the scout team for the Bulldogs which practices two times per week with the women’s team.
Both the coaches and players interviewed from the women’s soccer and basketball teams said scout teams offer them a chance to play against faster and quicker competition. The opportunity for them to play together against men before a game helps to build team chemistry, and the scout team can effectively simulate an upcoming opponent’s playing style.
“It’s really fun to be on a court with a bunch of girls who are on your level and can kick your butt sometimes,” Wilson said. “We’re always really winded and tired afterwards. They’re in great shape.”
And while women’s head basketball coach Chris Gobrecht said scout teams are a common practice for women’s basketball programs across the U.S., women’s head soccer coach Rudy Meredith, whose team started practicing with a scout team in the fall, said it was a more recent trend in college soccer.
Yet the benefits extend outside of the varsity teams. In addition to gaining access to the athletic trainers, scout team players said playing a less physical version of their sports helps to improve the technical side of their games.
“They’re good tactically,” said Jake Amatruda ’13 of the soccer scout team. “They have good control with the ball. … [I]t’s good for us to get more touches on the ball, play more regularly and mix up our routine.”
FORMING SCOUT TEAMS
After suffering an injury, defender Lizz Reeves ’11 of the women’s soccer team was looking for a way to contribute to the team despite being on the sideline.
After a couple of successful informal practices with the with the men’s club soccer team last spring, she approached her coach with the idea of practicing with a scout team.
“We realized it could be something really helpful,” Reeves said. “Their speed of play and athleticism is above ours.”
Reeves, who had been practicing with the C1 men’s club team while recovering from her injury, organized an informal scout team tryout for C1 and C2 players in the spring. She said she wanted someone who was able to emphasize the technical, rather than physical side of the game.
“He couldn’t be too rough,” Reeves said.
After the informal spring tryout, the women’s soccer program began formal practices with the scout team last fall.
In the case of the women’s basketball team, Gobrecht said there is no formal tryout process. Instead, senior club basketball players have traditionally passed the baton on to underclassmen after graduation.
Before practicing with the varsity teams, Amy Backus, senior associate athletic director for compliance and varsity administration, said that members of the scout teams must complete eligibility paperwork and receive medical clearance. She also added that members could not be athletes from a male varsity squad.
“It’s a testimony to the dedication of the guys who help us out that they go through those hoops,” Gobrecht said.
THE ATHLETIC BENEFIT OF SCOUT TEAMS
Meredith said that while the long-term benefits of the scout team for the soccer program have yet to manifest themselves fully, there seemed to be a reduction in injuries this fall. He also said the team was moving quicker and faster as a result of practicing with the guys.
Midfielder Megan Ashforth ’11, who transferred to Yale from UVA, said that with scout teams she noticed that her teammates are forced to make quick decisions on the ball and dribble less.
“We know that if we take too many touches on the ball we’re going to get cracked by a guy,” Ashforth said.
Reeves added that the women’s soccer team is small to begin with, and having the scout team enables it to scrimmage against a full team before a big game, rather than play seven-versus-seven amongst itself.
Women’s basketball captain Yoyo Greenfield ’11 said the scout team gives them the opportunity to play against much bigger and stronger athletes who are able to jump higher. Coach Gobrecht added that she can ask the scout team to simulate a particular defensive scheme or a foul, freeing the rest of the team to focus on its own play. In preparation for their game against Harvard last weekend, Gobrecht said the scout team helped them prepare for Harvard’s transition game, as the guys could get down the floor faster than the girls.
Scout team players from both basketball and soccer acknowledged that their version of the game is a bit more physical, but they do scale back against the women’s teams.
“They’re varsity athletes,” Amatruda said. “The University values their bodies. We can’t beat them up.”
For women’s basketball forward Alicia Seelaus ’13, the benefits of the scout team are not confined to their athletic contributions. Seelaus said the scout team also cheers them on at their games.
“It’s nice to have that fan base,” Seelaus said. “They feel like they’ve put something into our performance.”
Jake Cecil ’11 of the basketball scout team said that while he joined the program in order to stay in shape and get as much organized basketball playing time in as possible, he also now feels invested in the success of the team.
Wilson added that the scout team and women’s basketball team also socialize outside of practice and have held mixers in the past.
Both teams said they planned to continue to use scout teams in future seasons, and all of the scout players interviewed said they were fully committed to the program.
“They’re great guys,” Gobrecht said of the scout players. “They’re respectful, they challenge them … and they become really good friends with the players on the team.”