The men’s soccer team that head coach Kylie Stannard inherited at Yale in 2015 bore little resemblance to the Michigan State team he left. As assistant head coach, Stannard had helped lead Michigan State to two consecutive Elite Eight appearances. The 1–13–3 Bulldogs would need to make major changes if they were to come close to the success that the Spartans had enjoyed.
Some of those changes would be painful. After a tough 1–14–2 first season, five players quit the team, as they were unable to meet the level of commitment that was required by Stannard. The Bulldogs, who last enjoyed a winning season in 2011, struggled to adjust to the demands of a coach who expected far better results from the program.
“Our coaches and student-athletes have worked incredibly hard at changing the team culture,” Stannard said. “A big part of that is making sure that Yale soccer team members maintain having a year-round competitive drive and passion for the sport that is required to win championships at this level. I think that has drastically improved in the past couple of years.”
That improvement has been anything but instantaneous. The Elis followed Stannard’s difficult first season with a 3–10–3 campaign that included a 1–4–2 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs averaged only a goal per game while allowing an average of 1.65.
But this year, the team sports a 2–2–0 record with a 1.00 goals per game average and 0.75 goals against.
Still, signs of improvement were there. The Bulldogs had upped both their scoring average and goals-allowed average by roughly 0.3 goals per game. The team also notched two shutouts, including an impressive 3–0 road victory against Cornell.
Their sharper performance was due in part to a renewed focus on conditioning, as Stannard has worked hard to ensure that players put enough focus into the sport during the summer.
“Successful seasons are often the result of the work that is being done in the off-season and summer months, and the culture, mentality and soccer development that is needed to grow and mature is done during those critical months before the season,” Stannard said. “During a college soccer season, games come far too fast with not enough recovery time or preparation so that is why the months leading up to the season are so important.”
The preseason preparation has thus far manifested in a reinvigorated defense. Before a 1–0 loss to Vermont on the road, the team limited its opponents to just 18 shots. In comparison, through three games last season, the team allowed 32 shots.
Yet perhaps there is no greater sign of improvement in the program than the caliber of player the Elis are attracting. Yale’s recruiting class of 2021 was ranked 23rd nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com, representing the most talented incoming class in program history and a clear sign that the changes Stannard has implemented are being noticed by high schoolers around the country.
“I was attracted by [Stannard’s] winning mentality, passion for the game and his ability to have different personalities work together to an overarching goal,” midfielder Mark Winhoffer ’21 said about his recruiting experience.
Separate from game-planning and recruiting, Stannard seems to have a knack for boosting the team’s morale and confidence. Whether it be within the locker room, on the sidelines or during practice, his passion for soccer and success is apparent to his all of his players. With the Elis hungrier than ever, Stannard’s belief in the Yale men’s soccer program has proven to be extremely infectious.
“He has instilled a sense of belief and pride within the team, and pushed us to realize our potential,” midfielder Theo Miller ’18 said. “We have the talent, work ethic and culture to seriously challenge for the Ivy League title this season, and coach is pivotal for all of that.”
Stannard knows that there are no shortcuts if the Bulldogs are to achieve their ultimate goal: an outright Ivy League title, which has eluded the program since 1991.
“There are no secrets when it comes to trying to create a competitive and winning mentality,” Stannard said. “It requires a lot of hard work, time, adversity and sacrifice … and the perseverance and trust to continue with that day after day and year after year.”
The Bulldogs next play this Friday, Sept. 15, at the University of California, Berkeley, before ending their Pacific trip with a tough game against top-ranked Stanford.
Will Horvath | email@example.com
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