It’s been barely over a month since the Hillsdale College Women’s Club Soccer team kicked off their season, but thanks to freshman talent, they’re already off to a strong start.
The team ended its eight-year losing streak during homecoming weekend after clinching a victory over University of Michigan-Flint. Freshmen Lydia Barrows and Cate Kelley scored the four goals of the game to secure the win.
The team was halfway through its third game of the season and University of Michigan-Flint was up by one goal. With several minutes remaining before half-time, Barrows blasted the ball from the left side of the net and sent it flying low to the right side of the goal, sailing right between the goalie’s legs.
Barrows said that leveling the score made her feel good because the team was down.
“The goal was even more exciting because it was my first college soccer goal,” she said, “and the team’s first goal of the game, so everybody was really excited about it.”
During halftime, coach Juan Vargas, a junior, told the team to change their strategy and gave a rousing pep talk, according to senior and team captain Mikayla Dove.
“I changed the lineup and we were now going to play aggressively,” Vargas said. “I told them that they need to take the shots rather than just passing the ball around all the time.”
Barrows would go on to score two more goals, earning herself the rare achievement of a hat-trick, an occasion when a player scores three goals during a single game.
“The second the whistle blew to end the game and we freaked out,” Dove said. “We all ran off the field jumping up and down, it was incredible.”
While this victory was an enormous first for the team, it’s not the only “first” the team has achieved this season.
Gena Grant, the team’s academic advisor and coach for the past three years, had to step down from the coaching position in spring 2019, which left an opening for the position.
Dove and Associate Dean of Men Jeffrey “Chief” Rodgers sought a new coach and found Vargas.
“We’ve met and talked a lot about the direction the team should take,” Vargas said. “She has been so supportive and given me a lot of good advice about the team.”
Vargas is well suited for the position as he grew up playing soccer daily in Columbia and was also on the varsity team at his high school in Texas. He coached several youth and club teams back in Columbia, as well as his old high school team.
“I have coached many teams, but this is the first college experience,” Vargas said.
Over the summer he sent the team a workout routine. A large emphasis of the practices are on conditioning and running. One way he would help accomplish better team endurance would be making the team practice three days a week, rather than only twice a week as they have done in the past.
“I think that before you’re trying to use the ball, you need to have your body ready to handle 90 minutes of active game time,” Vargas said.
Dove said she and the team enjoy the fun drills that Vargas creates and appreciates how purposeful they are. Depending on how the team performs during scrimmages, Vargas tailors practices to enhance skills the team does well and address weak spots.
Vargas said the team’s greatest strengths include their communication skills and ability to maintain possession of the ball.
“I’ve realized that during the game, we have possession of the ball a lot, but we don’t take the shots,” Vargas said.
Consequently, he designates several drills each practice to help the team hone their shooting skills.
This year the team has also had its greatest number of freshmen join the roster of 26 women, with 10 new players.
This season is also the first time that the team entered a new conference, which includes teams such as the University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Oakland University, and Washtenaw Community College. By joining the new league, Hillsdale will play University of Michigan-Flint a second time this coming weekend.
While the Chargers will be playing on Flint’s home turf, Dove said that the team is optimistic and hopes for another win.