By Akshai Wadhwani
Following a weekend road trip in Michigan which featured matchups against Michigan State and the University of Michigan, the Boston University women’s soccer team is preparing to return to action on the east coast. The Terriers will face Hofstra on Wednesday evening in Hempstead, New York.
Ahead of that fixture, BU head coach Nancy Feldman granted WTBU the opportunity for an interview about the season at large.
Feldman has been in charge of the women’s soccer program since its inception as a varsity program in 1995. Holding an all-time record of 297-143-44, she has spearheaded BU to 12 conference regular season titles and 12 conference tournament titles—including three Patriot League championships—as well as 13 NCAA caps.
In lieu of those achievements, Feldman has earned ten conference Coach of the Year and two NSCAA Region Coach of the Year awards. WTBU caught up with her over the phone on Wednesday morning.
What, for you, is the most important component of this year’s squad?
I guess every year it’s finding the cohesion on and off the field so that we reach our potential individually and collectively. I think that’s the goal every year, and this year would be no different.
What is unique about this group of players?
Well, we have ten seniors, and many of them have been contributors…and we have ten freshmen. So, it’s a bookend kind of a team, with a lot of youth and a lot of experience. I think that could very well be a great design. You can’t always plan these things out; some years you have a less experienced team and some years you have a very experienced team, and this is kind of a mix in the middle. I think the young players bring an added enthusiasm…they’re so happy to be here. And I think the older players bring that experience that they have, which gives them the ability to directly lead the youngsters so that they know a little bit of what’s coming, what’s expected, how to carry themselves—both as a student and as an athlete. I think it’s a good mix. For a team environment, it’s a neat balance and pretty unusual that two-thirds of the team are either seniors or freshmen.
Let’s shift to that Class of ’22 for a second—is there anything in particular you were looking for when recruiting this year’s freshmen?
We were looking for the student-athletes who are what we call the “best fit” for BU and BU women’s soccer. So, what makes them the best fit? There’s a couple characteristics.
One, they have to be serious about their studies. That has to be important to them. You can tell early on in the recruiting process if they want the rigor of the BU academic curriculum. No matter what school they’re matriculating into, academics should be a priority.
Second is that they are good teammates; that means they’re compatible, hard-working, invested in their own development, and have good character traits. Those things are really important. Talent is certainly something we look for—it is one of the components that we think makes a great BU women’s soccer player—but those other components are equally, if not almost more, important. In the end, talent develops because of the approach, the mentality, and the personal characteristics of the prospects we get to work with.
The third is that they want BU. They communicate that in the recruiting process. I think when they visit, they see what the team culture is. They see what the department of athletics here is all about, [as well as] the community of BU athletes. They certainly get a sense of the richness and the excitement of the urban environment. When they really communicate that BU is the place they want to be, that weighs into it. One of the personality traits of our team is that the gals are all really happy to be here. When you have not talked them into it, and they have chosen it, I think they are more invested and they care more. It’s more meaningful to them to wear Boston across their chest.
This season’s roster: No Alivya Wimmer, no Rachel Bloznalis. With the loss of two massively important players in the back four, have there been adjustments made within this year’s defense?
The overall strategy is still the same. However, I think Bloz and Liv were able to really develop into being playmakers as well as staunch defenders—and there’s a little less of that expectation early on [this season], as we try to sort out the best pairing among our center backs. That’s a work in progress—just figuring out who can do what in training. These early games will tell us a lot.
[The biggest change] is not putting as much expectation on them [the current center backs] to become the playmaking center backs that Liv and Rachel became, because that takes some time. That would probably be the only adjustment.
We have got good players that can do the job. I think our center backs did a marvelous job in the first two games of handling our opponents’ strong attacking personalities—I don’t think that’s an area that was exposed earlier on. There is more growth in them, and confidence is a big part of it which will grow as they go along and gain experience.
I’m going to summarize a statement made by Shannon Keefe earlier this month. In short, she said, “Anything short of a Patriot League championship this season is unacceptable.” Do you agree with that? Is that a realistic goal for this Terrier team?
I think that mindset by the players is great. My goal is for us to play up to our potential. I think we are very much a good enough team to vie for a championship. I like the mentality of the team—that they are going to strive for that [a Patriot League championship], that it’s really meaningful to them, that their collective will is strong.
My goal is always to achieve what we are capable of. It’s kind of early to tell exactly what that is, [but] I’m confident we will be right up there. And maybe that little extra willpower from the players, if needed, will put us over the top.
What positives have you seen through the first two matches of the season?
We have gone out and played against two Big Ten schools that are really competitive. They’re in a league that is really potent, and they’re class programs. Just putting ourselves out there to play big, athletic, traditionally strong teams that bring in big, strong, athletic players, and going toe-to-toe with them, is very encouraging. I think we feel like the Michigan State game was a winnable game. The amount of chances that we created against both teams—really good attacking chances—is super encouraging. Those will be converted.
Those experiences will serve us well as we move forward. We are getting stretched both physically and mentally. You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about your teammates. And that makes you better, because you know the standard of play that you need to arrive at. You come back to training and you’re like, “Okay, here’s what we have got to do.”
Usually you avoid saying “woulda, shoulda, coulda,” but the fact that we could’ve, and should’ve, split the weekend is more encouraging than discouraging. It means we’ve got a good side here, and we just need to put the pieces together. These kids…they really want to bring back the onfield success that we’ve had over the years. We have competed hard the last two years, but we haven’t won the conference championship; we haven’t fared well in our nonconference schedule the last two years (though we have been incredibly competitive). To win the conference, and to win some of these very potent nonconference games…these gals—particularly the senior class—are taking it to heart, and very much owning that they want to leave their mark with a very successful year. I love that about this group.
My job is to put them in a place where they feel relaxed and confident, where they’re taking it one game at a time (as the cliché goes), and where they’re not putting too much pressure on themselves because they want it [conference and nonconference success] very badly.
We’ll find our swing. We got a motivated group of gals. The schedule’s tough, but we’re up to the challenge.