Team overcomes false start, exceeds expectations
After exchanging leads, Rollins and Saint Leo were locked at 13-13 last week with three minutes left on the clock. But just as the Tars seemed to be headed for their second overtime in three days, Abigail Cawley (‘23) scored two goals to wrap up the third consecutive win of the season.
Head Coach Dennis Short admitted that he will remember the victory as one of the best in the history of the program.
“If you only watched the livestream, it probably just looked like a close, exciting game,” Short said. “But if you were on the sideline, you could feel the commitment these women had for each other, the genuine excitement they had when someone made a great play, the genuine support if someone made a mistake, and most importantly, the fun they were having playing together.”
The Tars continued their victorious march with a 14-13 nail-biter against No.4 Florida Southern. Sammy Ottimo (‘21) snatched the winning goal with only three seconds left on the clock.
The Tars’ win streak proves that losing the season opener against Tampa was just a hiccup.
In a normal year, all the teams in the conference are on equal footing regarding preparation, start dates, and number of practices. This year, Rollins finds itself at a disadvantage, as most conference foes have had a significant head start.
“As a team, we have just tried to be honest about that, acknowledge it, make smart adjustments, and work as hard as we can on our effort,” Short said. “Life isn’t always fair, and in sports, no one cares why you lost. In athletics we are judged on outcomes, not reasons for the outcomes.”
Rollins has the luxury of three reliable goalies between the posts, headlined by three-year starter Gabby Tanner (‘21). The defense, with a backbone of Megan DeGroat (‘21), Hannah Forbes (‘21), Adia Field-Ridley (‘21), and Genia Sprinkle (‘21), is filled with returning talent and experience. The unit has produced solid outings both in games and practice, which in turn has helped sharpen the offense.
The offense graduated a plethora of tremendous talent last year in Maggie Dougherty (‘20), Hannah Ashton (‘20), Lily Rizk (‘20), and Hannah Coakley (‘20). Short called Dougherty “the quarterback” of their offense and “one of the most unique players [he had] ever coached.”
Ashton was a reliable goal machine herself, whereas Rizk and Coakley brought in the chemistry and dominance at midfield that helped turn the Tars into an attacking powerhouse.
Short and his staff spent much of the off-season recruiting new players and adjusting offensive schemes to the strengths of current players. Taylor Kienle (‘21) returned to impose her will in draw controls, as Madison McGarry (‘24) and Isabella Cecchi (‘24) are developing in that area.
Eden Cooke (‘21) and Caroline Gastonguay (‘22) are shining this year, with Gastonguay scoring the game-winner in overtime against Florida Tech. Liz Fahey (‘21), who arrived as a transfer last year, leads the team with 13 goals on the season.
In addition to experience, offense is based on space, timing, and anticipation. Given all the new faces and roles, Short decided to introduce more structure to the Tars’ style of play.
“Structure allows you to know what your teammates are going to do, but it also runs the risk of making you more robotic. Each game we play, we are gaining valuable experience, and this allows us to remove some of the structure,” he said. “We have scored several clutch goals when we have needed them. While we have scored fewer goals than we are used to this year, the ability to execute under pressure has been as strong as ever, and that is a great sign for the future of this group.”
Though grateful for the opportunity to play, Short was initially concerned about whether or not the team would be able to live up to its standards, given the uneven ground in terms of preparation and potentially high turnover due to COVID-19 restrictions.
He called for continuous observance of the “Tars Promise” to make sure the ability to compete is not jeopardized.
Regardless of setbacks, competing for a national championship is still the Tars’ expectation. Short emphasized that relationships are the main reason why players and coaches chose Rollins to begin with.
“The past 12 months were tough, not only because we were not able to play the sport we love, but more importantly because we weren’t able to be around the people we love,” Short said. “Getting back on the field means we are able to be with our friends who we share so much with, and that just feels awesome.”