SPORTS

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November 9, 2021

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8:02 p.m.

Women’s Soccer Charges Through Conference Play

The UChicago women’s soccer team, led by a group of 12 experienced seniors, has not missed a beat in their return to the field after last year’s hiatus. The No. 12 Maroons finished the season with an impressive 12-1-4 overall record and 2-1-3 conference record in the University Athletic Association (UAA), in doing so successfully reaching the NCAA playoffs.  

Fall sports teams arrived on campus a full month before school was officially in session, allowing their pre-season to quickly launch into full swing without the added stress of classes. For first-year students like Josie Majowka, this was a difficult, but rewarding transition period. “We would literally eat, sleep, and go to practice, so [there] was a lot put on us very quickly,” Majowka said. “But everyone was so inclusive and encouraging. We were able to get through it together.”  

During the pre-season, the team was able to focus on building a bond between themselves, something that Coach Amy Reifert has always put an emphasis on throughout her storied career of 31 years as head of the program. “We worked really hard to create a culture that is all about the team,” Reifert said. “The women on our team do a tremendous job elevating each other, you know, it’s all about positivity.” This positivity can be seen during matches, where the players are constantly picking each other up—both literally and figuratively—on the field and from the sideline. In the locker room, the team enacts their pregame ritual of blasting music; as Josie remarks, “other teams always tell us they can hear us from outside.”  

Coach Reifert also attributes much of the team’s success and sense of unity to the large group of seniors who serve as exemplary leaders. “When I talk about culture, I try to create the environment, but it only happens because of the kids and our leadership—they are the foundation of our success,” Reifert said. “These are 12 women who lost their season last year. For them, this is it.” The team even has two ‘super seniors,’ Miranda Malone and Maddie DeVoe, who could have graduated last year but chose to return and play another year.   

The players on the team this year are not only talented on the field but also share a unique source of motivation after the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited competition last year. When asked what is special about the team this year, senior co-captain Nicole Willing said, “I would say, honestly, everyone’s attitude, because we all realize now just how lucky we are to play.”  

This season has not been without hiccups, though. As the school workload increased, there were moments where the team captains felt the team’s focus was being pulled away from soccer. They eventually decided to hold a team meeting where they talked for an hour and a half without any coaches present. When asked how they got back on the same page, Majowka said, “We talked about what it means to be a team and what it means to ‘buy in,’ a term we always use that means to put your whole self into the team emotionally and physically.”  

This reestablished focus was put on full display during the Maroons’ recent game against New York University on October 17, one of their best performances so far. The Maroons had just suffered their first loss two days earlier to Brandeis University, so this was a crucial game. The coaches put forth an all-senior starting lineup in honor of Senior Day, and the team was able to secure two quick goals before the younger players joined them on the field. The Maroons rode this wave of momentum to a pivotal 4-2 win. “During the game, people were saying that they haven’t had this much fun playing in a long time,” Willing said. “It was definitely really special for the seniors.” This game was also especially inspirational for the underclassmen; it showed them what UChicago women’s soccer is really all about. “They showed all of us what it means to put your heart and soul onto the field. It was incredible to watch,” Majowka said.  

Looking toward the future, the coaches will return to the chalkboard to refine their strategies, but they are confident that the team will continue to grow and improve. “We’re pretty good going from defense to offense, but we need to be better in going from offense to defense and not give up goals in counter situations, and then it’s just a matter of continuing to create high percentage scoring opportunities,” Reifert said. “I’m really excited that we’re still getting sharper in a lot of different areas, and I don’t think we have reached our peak in any way, shape, or form.”  

Women’s soccer at the University of Chicago is a special program that has had a long history of success, and the players and coaches hope to carry on that legacy. “It’s all about building up this program, adding to the recognition and validating everything that the seniors and past players have done for our team,” Majowka said. Coach Reifert also gives credit to the environment that the College has created. “These are remarkable young women, and it’s true across the board with any team. They’re UChicago kids, right?” Reifert remarked with a laugh. “These kids pursue excellence in every facet of their lives, and we celebrate that greatness.”  

Having made the NCAA tournament, the team is poised to make a deep playoff run. Still, they know they must maintain a strong, positive attitude, and take things one game at a time. “We’re in a good spot and our team has the talent and the passion,” Willing said. “It’s more the question of: are we going to put it all together? Are we going to show up and play?”