On a team with only three seniors, the first years and sophomores on the Yale men’s soccer team have had to acclimate quickly to new roles as contributors, teammates and trailblazers for the future of the program.
Just because the Eli (3–5, 0–1 Ivy) first years and sophomores have less experience than their upper levels counterparts, it does not mean that they have any less responsibility to the team. Forward John Leisman ’20 notes that a team cannot functional unless players, no matter the grade level, take responsibility and hold one another accountable.
“The seniors and juniors are the ones taking the leadership roles,” Leisman said. “But, as an underclassman, there is more accountability on you because you make up such a large portion of the team.”
The first-year players have joined the team exuding energy and excitement for their futures in the Bulldog soccer program. Leisman — who is tied for the team lead in goals this season — admires the energy and diverse viewpoints that the first years bring to the team dynamic. The sophomore feels that these qualities are a breath of fresh air for a team that has struggled in recent seasons.
The upper levels have played valuable minutes in each contest so far. After winning three games against Howard, Hartford and Saint Joseph’s, the team has already matched its win total from the end of last season. The team is on pace for its best season since 2011, when it won eight games.
“It takes a lot for a coach to give chances to freshmen,” said striker Mark Winhoffer ’21. “I’m just so happy Coach Stannard has given us many chances to play, where we can hopefully continue to improve ourselves and make strides for the team.”
Of the 26 players on the Bulldogs roster, just 11 are upper levels, and only three are seniors — Archie Kinnane ’18, Theo Miller ’18 and Josh Totte ’18.
Stannard pushes the first years to continually improve their skills on the field while they learn how to balance academics and sports. While Stannard applauded their success in striking this balance, forward Aldo Quevedo ’21 and Leisman admitted that it has been difficult balancing soccer with academics.
“It’s been a tough transition,” Quevedo said. “But the guys on the team have helped us a ton and going through it together makes it a lot easier.”
Forward Aldo Quevedo ’21, who earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors this season, is also humbled by Stannard’s faith in him. The first-year player has thrived in the Bulldog system thus far, tying for the team lead in goals scored.
The culture and relationships within the team have been in flux over the past few years due to a steadily increasing ratio of first years to upper levels. Now, halfway through the season, Leisman noted, the team is trying to foster a positive culture that will live on as the team embraces future upper years.
“We continue to try and improve the culture and quality of the team,” Leisman said. “The underclassmen and the new [future] classes that will keep coming in are responsible for keeping up the culture we are trying to establish.”
First years and sophomores have been very productive for the Bulldogs this season. Of the seven goals the Elis have scored this fall, five were courtesy of upper levels, who have so far accounted for 13 of the team’s 21 points.
Stannard recognizes his upper levels’ talent and driven mentalities. But he does not want their hype to overshadow the seniors’ leadership.
“The three seniors have been doing a great job,” Stannard said. “They all want what’s best for the team and the program. They are excellent role models for the rest of our team.”
There may only be three seniors on the squad, but Winhoffer said the upper levels have shaped his time with the program.
Winhoffer — a midfielder from South Elgin, Illinois who has experience with the Philippine National Team — is part of an improving group which is statistically much-improved from past seasons. Taking part in the slow progression over these two years has been both rewarding and inspiring for Leisman.
“By no means are we happy with where we are now, but it’s nice to see the progress and where we have come,” Leisman said. “It is nice to see that we are improving, but we want that to be the standard.”
Lauren Cueto | firstname.lastname@example.org