In sports there are few greater disappointments than losing seasons. An athletic campaign demands hours of preparation, sweat and hard work, and little is able to overcome the letdown of seeing that time manifest itself in the form of a sub .500 year.
Yale men’s soccer knows exactly what that feels like.
In head coach Brian Tompkins’s final season at the helm of Yale soccer, the Elis are set to complete one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Sitting at 1-11-3 and 0-4-1 in the Ivy League, the Bulldogs will finish with at best three wins this year. Tompkins needed just seven wins to break the all-time Yale coaching record for most victories, held by Steve Griggs. But he will fall short of that record by at least four wins, given that there are just two games left in the season. Nevertheless, Tompkins and his resilient men’s squad are staying strong throughout a year wrought with adversity.
“Many teams like us who have struggled to get results would have given up on the season a long time ago, yet with two games left I feel the atmosphere is just as competitive as it has ever been,” forward Keith Bond ’16 said. “I would credit our strong leadership for the way we have handled the adversity this season. Even though we may not be playing for an Ivy League Championship anymore, we’re still playing for each other.”
Fortunately for the Elis, a number of leaders within the team stepped up to confront the difficult situation that stood before them. Captain Conner Lachenbruch ’15 and Tompkins both played key roles in energizing the team and keeping them focused on winning games and fighting through a trying season.
Striker Teddy Mauze ’18 offered high praise for Lachenbruch’s leadership. The freshman forward said that Lachenbruch helped keep the team together throughout their difficult season. Mauze added that the captain deserves enormous credit for the team’s resiliency.
“As a senior it’s much different because I can count how many games I have left on 2 fingers,” Lachenbruch said. “It’s easier for me to do everything I can because I know my time is limited. For us, we’re just trying to instill that on the younger guys who still have so far to go. These games and practices are still important.”
Lachenbruch sees the team as a family. To the departing senior, one of his final rolls on the team, both as a captain and as one of the most veteran players, is to ensure that the team forms lasting bonds and prevents anyone from becoming discouraged.
Tompkins, reflecting on the end of his lauded Yale career, also noted the importance of the players in the team’s perseverance. The 19-year head coach said that his players have never wanted to quit or give up. He added that in every practice and game, his team still works and believes that they can get better and succeed.
“Faced with the emotional and psychological challenges that soccer brings you have two choices: Either you succumb or you dig down and find reasons and ways to stay strong and persevere,” Tompkins said. “This group has shown tremendous mettle and conviction despite their disappointment with games. They have tried to improve and they try to get after the next game.”
Tompkins added that the team’s perseverance, as well as the support of his family, helped to keep his spirits up during his most trying season here at Yale. The longtime leader of Yale soccer said that his team’s constant belief throughout each and every game has made his personal feelings seem insignificant.
Though disappointed with the way that his final season has gone, Tompkins relayed his confidence in Yale soccer’s future.
“Once we get out there, the energy and belief has kept all of us going,” Tompkins said. “I’ve had some fantastic years here and also some tough years, given the choice I’d prefer to be at the top of the league but we don’t always get what we want. We take responsibility and put right what we can and keep working hard. It’s been a draining season for me — I just want these guys to experience success and to feel the joy of victory.”
Lachenbruch offered some parting reflections on the season, stating that though his team may be upset about how it has gone for them, they can still enjoy training and competing together. In the face of a season’s worth of heartbreak, the Bulldogs have found a way to keep their spirits up.
The Elis will search for their next win on Saturday, Nov. 8 when they take on Brown in their penultimate match of the season.