c/o Steve Mclaughlin

c/o Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan women’s soccer is off to a ferocious start, showing why it deserves to be regarded as a top team and a serious threat for the post-season. For the first time in program history, the Cards began the season with four consecutive road victories, two of which were conference games. They have been led so far by a breakout performance from midfielder Waverley Meyers ’26 who seems to find the back of the net every other minute with five goals in seven games, as well as captain and forward Audrey Lavey ’23 MA ’24 who leads the team in assists and is only second to Meyers in goals. Strong performances from goalkeeper Juliette Vemmer ’25 who began the season with two shutouts have also helped the Cards to victory. Although the recent success has shown what the Cards can bring to the table, other teams and coaches were not expecting them to be quite so excellent.

“At the beginning of the season, we were not ranked on the United Soccer Coaches poll despite our NCAA appearance and making it through the first round,” forward Katie O’Connell ’25 said. “So it was kind of a statement year for us.”

Meyers echoed this sentiment and the motivation that came with it.

“They’ve kind of been sleeping on us,” Meyers said. “And that just has added so much fuel to our fire. We just want to prove to everyone that the Final Four run in 2021 wasn’t a fluke. We’re obviously a really strong team, and we can compete with anyone.”

That trip to the NCAA Final Four gave the team a great deal of hope going into the 2022 season, but heartbreaking losses in both the NESCACs and NCAA Championships sent the Cardinals into the off-season too soon. Although 2022 was not a bad year by any means, others saw it as unrealized potential, and so four other NESCAC schools were picked before Wesleyan in the pre-season poll. 

While doubts are understandable for this team due to the fact that three of their top four point scorers from 2022 graduated last year—Grace Devanny ’23 (All-NESCAC Second Team), Dani Milovanov ’23, and Kate Hausladen ’23, as well as defender Cheyanne Ollie ’23 (All-NESCAC First Team) and goalkeeper Sarah Hammond ’22 MA ’23—the Cards made up for this by recruiting a large class of nine new players to bring fresh energy to the 2023 season. 

“Such a large class has given us a second level of depth,” O’Connell said. “My class is small, it’s only four girls. So having the sophomores and freshmen being classes of nine or 10 is really helpful for substitutions and getting fresh legs within the game.”

Captain and defender Serena Sink ’24 agreed that the first-years help the team a great deal.

“They’re doing really well,” Sink said. “They keep the level of practice really, really high and take their moments when they go in the game. I think it’ll be a really strong class going forward.”

Along with new faces, the Cardinals adopted a new style of play and a new focus, giving them more control over the game.

“We played very direct last year, we played a lot of balls in the air and tried to go forward and kind of bypass the midfield,” Meyers said. “And this year we’re playing a lot more possession-based. So we’re passing around and playing through the midfield to go forward and using our wide players more instead of just going directly forward.”

Together a fresh play style and new faces has made the Cards a force to be reckoned with.

“We’re just really deep,” Sink said. “I know a lot of teams with people coming off the bench aren’t necessarily as strong and the level dies down. But for us, it’s really not the case. We keep a strong level no matter who’s on the field. And we’re just playing a different game than we used to. And I think it caught people off guard.”

This new play style worked wonders as the Cardinals began the year by winning a defensive batter with Worcester Polytechnic Institute 1–0. The one goal was scored by Meyers (the first of her career) in the 30th minute on an assist from forward Stephanie Stoj ’26. Meyers took a touch to lose her defender and then shot across the goal to put the ball into the upper right corner. From there, the defense hung on Vemmer’s four saves in her first career start in goal, putting the game in the win column.

Next Wes took on the Colby Mules, a team that the Cardinals had not lost to in seven years, and 2023 was no different. In the 23rd minute, defender Caty Clements ’25 was awarded a penalty kick and converted it in the first goal of her career. The first half ended with the Cards up 1–0, and one save by Vemmer to keep a clean sheet. In the 58th minute Lavey scored her first goal of the season, a high shot from outside the box to put the Cardinals up 2–0, and just three minutes later Lavey lofted a corner kick right to Meyers who used a left foot delivery to tack on another goal, her second in two games. The Mules went down 3–0 as Vemmer secured her second straight shutout and Wesleyan rolled on.

The team could not rest on their laurels because up next was seventh ranked (at the time) Tufts, who the Cards had lost to in 2022. A win could be a perfect statement of their growth and resilience, but the dominant showing was even more than that. 

Just 54 seconds into the game the Cardinals set the tone.

“I think our [first] goal against Tufts was in the first minute of the toughest game,” said Meyers. “It just showed how hungry we were and how we just came out with so much energy because we wanted to get revenge from last season, when we lost 2–0 to Tufts. It showed what we can accomplish if we just go headfirst and come out with so much energy.”

Lavey accepted a pass from midfielder Riley Buehler ’26 that put her in the perfect position to score her second goal of the season and put the Cards up 1–0. An early goal like this was demoralizing for the Jumbos and was the perfect motivation for the Cardinals to never let up. In the first 10 minutes of the game, Vemmer saved two Tufts shots and with the help of the defense, kept the lead going into the half. 

In the 58th minute the Red and Black tacked on another, this time a long shot by O’Connell that ricocheted off the crossbar and into the back of the net. This was her first of the season and gave the Cards a 2–0 lead as well as some much needed breathing room. Then, 20 minutes later, for the second game in a row, Lavey lofted a corner kick which was sent into the back of the net by Meyers, this time a header that increased the lead to three. Wes went on to win the game 3–1 and Vemmer recorded a season-high six saves.

The game meant a lot to the players and established what the team could accomplish.

“Our win against Tufts was awesome,” Sink said. “We did beat them like two years back, but beating them at home and so decisively, especially when we scored like 45 seconds in or something…was like a huge moment. That set the tone. Plus we have so many alumni in Boston now. So it was a good crowd.”

One more non-conference win against the College of Mount Saint Vincent put the Cardinals at 4–0 on the road, a first in program history, and with a goal in the 25th minute, Meyers became the second player in program history to score in each of a team’s first four games and the first to score all of them on the road. The Cards won 3–1 and came home to Middletown with a perfect record.

While it has been rockier since then (the Cards have dropped games to Vassar College and Hamilton, as well as a draw with Trinity), the Cards are excited to continue playing and get back to their winning ways.

“I think that there are fluctuations within your own personal season,” O’Connell said of her experience. “So when times get tough, we look a little different on the practice field. So to take advantage of our high moments when we’re playing at our best and when we get down, just remember like, you’ll get back up there and stick with it. It will really show when you start playing great.”

As of now, the Cards are tied for fourth in the NESCAC and their conference winning percentage is only rivaled by their 2021 season. 

“We’re a well-recognized team now, so we have a target on our backs,” Meyers said. “And every team is going to come out really hard against us. So we have to go into every game like it’s going to be our last. We have to just keep performing at a really high level.”

 

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

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