The good news: women's soccer is now a national sport.
The bad news: women's soccer is now a national sport.
Women's soccer is changing, and the fault lies in part with all those soccer moms. It used to be that finding soccer talent was more or less trouble-free. As one of the first Ivy schools to field a women's soccer team, Brown had little trouble going 13-1 in 1977, its inaugural year. Head coach Phil Pincince and the Bears built up a mini-dynasty in the 1980s and early 1990s by mining high school talent in such hard-core soccer states as Virginia, Colorado, and California, places where a rich vein of soccer tradition and training was there for the tapping. In fact, in the 1980s Brown won nine out of ten Ivy titles.
The 1990s, however, have not been as kind to the Bears. "Women's soccer has grown up," says Pincince, "It's gone from the neophyte stages to where it's a national sport." You might think this would make Pincince's recruiting trips even more fruitful, but as soccer has become more popular and widespread, recruitment has become more competitive. "For the past five years," he says, "nearly every Ivy coach has felt he or she has had great recruiting years. And one coach's dream is another coach's nightmare." One result is that the Ivy championships have been shared more widely; in the 1990s, Brown has won three, as have Harvard and Dartmouth, this year's champion.
Now, with every suburb a soccer suburb, Pincince has had to troll more extensively for franchise players with truly exceptional skills and a great attitude. Success in the suburbs does not guarantee success in Division 1 college play, however. Soccer at this level, Pincince says, is more physical and more quickly paced. "The speed of the decisions to be made on the field is particularly tough for new players," he explains. "In high school they're used to taking ten seconds to move the ball around before deciding what to do with it."
Although this year's squad failed to capture the Ivy crown, Pincince is far from discouraged. Having shepherded Brown to twelve Ivy titles and seven NCAA tournament visits over his twenty-two-year career, he broke the 200-career-win mark this season, becoming only the fourth coach in the nation to do so. The others are from the scholarship-toting powerhouses North Carolina, UConn, and UMass.
Even without scholarships to give out, Pincince is a skilled recruiter. Four first-year recruits broke into the starting eleven this season, led by Allyson Schwerdt '02, whose six goals and four assists made her the team's top scorer. "Allyson started the season playing about half a game," Pincince says. "Then she suddenly emerged as as a goal-scorer. Midway through the season she was in the starting lineup."
Just behind Schwerdt is Bekah Splaine '01, a sophomore who was unable to play last year due to a knee injury. Splaine's four goals and seven assists, says Pincince, make her not only good at scoring, but at finding the open player as well. "Bekah's ability to hold onto the ball is remarkable," he says. "And she loves contact." The other two rookies who have successfully made the transition to Division 1 play are Kim Langire '02 and Jennifer DeMichele '02, whose confidence Pincince has watched grow throughout the season. "Kim at first spent a lot of time on the ground," he says. "She wasn't used to getting knocked around that way."
"My mission is to find players like this," says Pincince with a note of pride in the fact that he can still out-scout upstart coaches at the other Ivy schools. But then there are those darn soccer moms. "Many of the very best players are burnt out," Pincince adds. "They've been playing twelve months of the year since they were five; they've been pushed and pushed by their parents, and they're exhausted. But we're lucky we can turn up some who still have the fire in them."
It's his hope that his first-year stars will continue to develop and mature, that for the women's soccer team, as Pincince likes to say, "the glass is not half-empty but half-full."
In search of the unwritten rules Brown athletes live by.
Do varsity athletes walk, talk, or dress differently from the rest of us? Let's face it. For all the talk about athletes being just like you and me, the regimen of the sporting life creates a kind of jock subculture with its own social bonds and conventions. You rise at dawn to run with your teammates. Your coach yells at you, often in public. You spend Spring Weekend riding in a rattling bus to Philadelphia or to Ithaca, New York. Athletes often respond to these conditions by developing their own special dress uniforms and salutes. Mix in some coaches' rules and regulations, a dash of peer pressure from teammates, and a pinch of Brown athletic tradition, and you end up with a loosely defined code of behavior, an off-the-field etiquette for the sporting tribe.
To try and crack the Code, or whatever pieces of it exist in the decidedly unregimented world of 1990s Brown, I enlisted the help of a panel of experts: freestyle swimmer Katie Cowan '00; baseball slugger Pete DeYoung '99; men's tennis player Kushal Malhotra '99; basketball forward Cathy Miller '00; lacrosse defender Danielle Saint Louis '00; and soccer defenseman Doug Ulman '99.
Here, in the words of those who know them best, are Six Commandments of athletic behavior:
1. Thou shalt hang out and be friends with thy teammates.
This first commandment is the easiest to follow. "Because we travel and train together," says Danielle Saint Louis, "it's easy to get to know each other." Kushal Malhotra goes a bit further. The team, he says, provides "a guaranteed circle of friends. Aside from the fact that we play tennis, we have absolutely nothing else in common. But it's an unwritten rule that you're kind of there for your teammates."
But what about those who try to break out of this pattern? Apparently they can be in for a sharp slap on the wrist. According to Katie Cowan, "my boy-friend swims on the men's team. He was sitting at the swimmers' table in the Ratty, but then he switched and sat at another table for a few days. His teammates started saying, 'Hey, what are you, too cool for us?' "
2. Thou shalt not wear team jackets around campus.
"We have one rule on our team," says Doug Ulman. "If you are out socially - at a party or a bar - you're not allowed to wear something that says Brown Soccer. If someone's in a bar, and he ends up compromising himself, we want to leave the team out of it." Although not every squad has such a clear prohibition, the other athletes I talked to seem to share a sense that the less billboard advertising the better.
But some athletes can't help themselves. "There are some people, especially the guys," says Cowan with a note of derision, "who wear T-shirts, sweats, and jackets around with an attitude of 'we're so cool, this is macho, this is hip.'"
3. Thou shalt not brag about personal athletic success.
My panel of experts was adamant about this one. "Our coach discourages talking about individual stuff," says Saint Louis. "It's pointless in any case. You've got to come out and play for the team." Malhotra agrees that "boasting is something that's highly frowned upon. Some of the younger guys, especially, have a lot of trouble dealing with this. Let's say you win both your singles and doubles match, but the team loses everything else, so everyone goes home on the bus pissed. You have to keep your mouth shut."
4. Thou shalt not whine or make excuses when thou hast failed.
Far from being universally obeyed, this commandment is one that most athletes often have the most difficult time with. "It's looked down upon," explains Cowan, "but it happens all the time. Some swimmers say they didn't do their best time because the water temperature was too hot or too cold. And some claim that a particular pool is 'slow.' That's always a good one."
"I hate excuses," adds Malhotra, "though I have to admit they're prevalent." And according to Ulman, those who whine don't seem to get as much playing time. "I'm not really sure," he says, "whether it's because of the mistakes that lead to the excuses, or because of the excuses themselves."
5. Thou shalt swill Gatorade, or Gatorade substitutes to thy heart's content.
Back in the late 1970s, when I was in college, sucking on commercial sports drinks during games was considered somewhat goofy. Perhaps because TV ads for these concoctions have had two more decades to hammer away at us, Gatorade is goofy no more. Malhotra: "If you eat Wheaties, why not drink Gatorade?" Miller: "We don't even discuss it. It's like drinking a Coke or something. At least it appears to be a healthy drink."
DeYoung let slip that one of his teammates has been known to bring a blender with him on the road to whip up "nutritional shakes," and Ulman confided that his coach's brother happened to be vice president of Gatorade and arranged for regular deliveries of the stuff to the men's soccer locker room. "When they come in and drop the boxes," says Ulman, "it's gone in minutes."
6. Thou shalt not mouth off to thy coach.
All the panelists seemed to agree that this was a cardinal no-no for an athlete at Brown, but their explanations varied. A few, like Malhotra, have sour memories of the repercussions resulting from backtalk. "Our coach did not take kindly to it," he notes, "especially if you caught him in a bad mood. Enormous eruptions would occur."
When asked, Cathy Miller at first takes the high road on the matter. "You shouldn't confront your coach on the court," she says. "Freshmen might get the idea that they can talk back, too." But then, sounding like the athlete's athlete, she adds: "Personally, I have to admit, I don't have the balls to do it."