Seniors are usually a major component to the success of any high school or collegiate team. Seniors are the most experienced, are usually the most skilled and, most importantly, are the most capable of leading a team.
This reigns true for the four senior members of the Westmont women’s soccer team, defender Kira Nemeth, midfielder Brooke Porter, forward Maddi Berthoud and defender Katelyn Merrell.
Not only are these four an instrumental reason for the Warriors 10-1-1 start to the season on the field, which includes a 2-0 win over Hope International on Wednesday, but also off the pitch as well.
In early November, the women’s soccer team found out their coach, Chantel Cappuccilli had resigned to pursue other goals in life.
That left a lot of the team building throughout the spring to be placed on the seniors.
“When there was a coaching change we felt that the weight of that transition was on our shoulders and so we really committed to doing whatever it took to pass that on to the new players,” Berthoud said.
Even with the help of interim coaches, it was the seniors who took a lot of the responsibility of the day to day things during spring practice.
They knew they had to take themselves seriously and hold the others to their standard if they wanted to be successful in spite of a change at the coaching position.
“We have been through a lot of changes throughout the years but we came together in the spring and decided we wanted to carry on the traditions and legacies of years past,” Nemeth said.
“A lot of the responsibility to maintain the culture was on us and so we could not slack off. And we had to set a standard and have those tough conversations if some people we not doing their part,” Berthoud added.
Moreover, 2019 marked the year that the Westmont women’s soccer team would travel to Africa. It is a tradition the team partakes in every three years, but in order to do so, the program has to fundraise the money.
Again, without a head coach, it was up to the seniors to lead the efforts to raise enough money come the trip of May 2019.
“It was difficult. After practice, we would have to shower, and get ready and go to basketball games and sell baked goods even if you weren’t in the mood,” Nemeth said.
Still, the women made sure to keep everything in perspective. Going to Africa would be a huge experience for everybody and it would give them a chance to bond in an entirely new adventure together.
Through hard work and determination, the women raised the money and went to Africa for two weeks in May.
Joining them was their new head coach, Jenny Jaggard, who become the program’s next head coach in late March.
Jaggard managed to complete a lone fundraising effort for her ticket with the team in just a little over a month and got to experience this trip with her team.
“The trip was definitely crucial for us. It was a big bonding experience for Jenny and for all of us to bond off the field,” Nemeth said.
When the team returned and once summer ball was in full-fledged play, the four seniors were tasked with a new goal, leading a group of 12 new freshmen.
One of the freshmen that has Berthoud really emotional is her younger sister, Isabelle.
As a freshman, Isabelle has been a huge contributor to the Warriors with seven goals in just 19 shots.
“She passed the fitness test on the first try and she has killed it. She came in and has just really been great and I am so proud,” the elder Berthoud said.
For Nemeth, the freshman defenders have been key contributors as well, helping the team have seven shutouts this season.
It was not easy, but Berthoud said, “We were blessed to have girls that just bought into the program from day one.”
Now, the team is closer than ever and encapsulate their team motto, “United in love.”
“We have become each other’s best friends and a family and we love each other unconditionally no matter what happens,” Nemeth said.
“They have done just such a great job of taking these young women are really teaching them our culture and our standards and they all really work so hard for each other,” Jaggard said.
“I could not ask for anything more.”
The team only got closer as the season began and the wins started piling up. The Warriors lost their opener to Southern Oregon 2-1, but they have not lost since.
Along the way, Westmont went to Georgia and beat then No. 1 and defending national champions, William Carey (Miss.) 3-0
“That game finally gave us our confidence and we realized our potential and we realized we can do this, but it requires all of us,” Nemeth said.
“That game built so much trust between us because every girl brought everything they had and we knew we could count on one another to always play their hardest,” Berthoud said.
Fast forward to Wednesday, and that trust continues to exist.
Last season, Hope Internation stunned Westmont in the GSAC Championship game, beating the Warriors 3-2. Not only was it the Royals first-ever win against the Warriors, but the victory also ended Westmont’s season as the team did not earn an NAIA tournament berth despite a 13-2-3 overall record.
This season, the Warriors corrected their mistakes of last year’s game and did not fall behind early.
In fact, Hope did not even get a shot off in the first half, while Westmont’s Katie Stella took a ball up the right sideline about 25 yards from the goal, cut back inside to the middle of the field and netted her second score of the year in the 30th minute to put the Warriors up 1-0 at the break.
In the second half, Westmont continued the solid defense, and in the 54th minute got an insurance goal from junior forward Bri Johnson who used her speed up the right sideline and from about nine yards from the goal and two yards from the end line, she rocketed a ball past the keeper.
Johnson has now scored six goals in her last four matches and leads the team with nine total scores.
“With a lot of teams, we observe that the defenders don’t like to press so we drive at teams and we play up and next thing I know I’m at the six. It’s really good because we could be so dynamic offensively because we could really play up and not just wait for some deep shots,” Johnson said.
Wednesday was another win for Westmont, but more importantly, it was another opportunity to continue growing as a team.
Most teams have high expectations. So does Westmont. And every game is another opportunity to grow and possibly be like the team they beat earlier this season, National Champions.
“We have a lot of individual talent and so as long as we keep building chemistry and the more we play together we can get on the same page and just put on a show,” Berthoud said.