Valley News – Dartmouth women’s soccer preview: Big Green flipping reset switch

Valley News – Dartmouth women’s soccer preview: Big Green flipping reset switch

HANOVER — Nearly two years since the Big Green last played, Dartmouth College women’s soccer is preparing to open its 2021 season.

Dartmouth began practice last week after missing the entire 2020 campaign due to COVID-19. The Ivy League canceled all sports last year even while much of the college sports world played on. The Big Green faced its first opponent, Saint Rose, in a scrimmage Saturday.

The team wasn’t completely virtual last year — the athletes who were local were able to train together while socially distant, and they started to play soccer and have contact as case numbers declined and vaccines became more prevalent.

But many on Dartmouth’s roster are not from the area and were separated from the rest of the team, so the group was never complete. It was a trying year for the Big Green to be apart for so long.

“Everybody understands all the decisions made. I think people are just sad and missed the camaraderie that you have being on a team,” head coach Ron Rainey said. “It’s not just on the field playing, but off the field and supporting each other and celebrating some of the good things that happened during that time that we missed. We’re trying to make up for it a little bit, (but) you’re not going to make up for it all in one week.”

Rainey enters his seventh season in Hanover seeking improvement. He led Dartmouth to a second-place Ivy League result in 2014 but has finished higher than seventh just once since then. The Big Green haven’t reached an NCAA tournament since 2005, and their last Ivy League title came in 2003.

Dartmouth slotted in at sixth in this year’s Ivy League preseason poll. Reigning champions Brown are favored to repeat.

But those expectations haven’t stopped the Big Green from envisioning big things.

“I, and the entire team, want to win the Ivy League championship. I think that starts (by) taking it one game at a time, whether that be the scrimmage, a non-conference game, or a conference game,” senior defender Kat Grgic said. “Just every time we step out onto the field, putting our best foot forward and just leaving it all on the field.”

Dartmouth returns its top two scorers from 2019 in junior forward Allie Winstanley (10 goals) and senior forward Izzy Glennon (five goals). Winstanley’s five assists also tied for the team lead, and she earned second-team All-Ivy honors. As a whole, the Big Green retained almost 70% of its scoring from 2019.

Those younger contributors are now upperclassmen whose performances will be crucial for Dartmouth. The Big Green carries seven seniors on the roster, along with fifth-year senior midfielder Erin Kawakami.

Although Rainey wasn’t ready to highlight one in particular, he said Dartmouth’s eight-woman freshman class could catch fans’ eyes.

Kawakami agreed, adding that the sophomores — who are also playing their first collegiate games — to that group.

“I think because we have two new classes, they bring what upperclassmen sometimes lose,” Kawakami said. “It’s that hunger and that desire to have a starting position because you’re a new player on the team. So I think that energy will definitely help us and benefit us in the season.”

With many unknowns about how his team will look after so much time since their last game, Rainey knows the early part of Dartmouth’s schedule will be key. The Big Green will play its first official game next Saturday against Holy Cross.

Rainey said the entire non-conference slate could be tricky, since most — if not all — their opponents played last year. He said that Holy Cross matchup and his team’s second game against Vermont two days later — both at home — will be good barometers.

Dartmouth’s non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to Washington, D.C., for a road game at Georgetown on Sept. 2. The Hoyas made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament in May 2021 and have reached the College Cup twice in the last six years. Rainey is also looking forward to hosting Kansas, which got to the Sweet Sixteen in 2019, on Sept. 16.

The Big Green opens its conference slate at Brown on Sept. 25. Rainey realizes that league opener will be important in setting the tone for the rest of the season.

“We know (Brown is) going to be athletic, and they’re going to play fast, and they’re going to be hard,” Rainey said. “There’s also the intensity of an Ivy League game. Any first game of a conference season, there’s a neat intensity to it and something that you try to prepare for. But it’s like playing game one of a championship series.”

Rainey said his team’s style will revolve around possession, but he’ll adapt his game plans based on the opponent.

Rainey and the student-athletes call themselves ‘Team 42,’ as it’s the program’s 42nd season. With the NCAA tournament drought now beyond 15 years and the Ivy League title drought approaching 20, Rainey said his team will have to lock in to reach those levels.

“There’s not much margin for error in our league when you only play a seven-game conference season,” Rainey said. “So I think what it is is going out and playing Saint Rose well. And then practicing well on Monday as we get ready for Holy Cross. And you take those things day by day, so you arrive at your first Ivy League game a much better team than when you were when you started on the 17th.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.


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