By Blake Moran
We sat down with Ethan Wells, coach of the women’s soccer team at Southern Maine Community College, to talk about bringing the reigning division championship team back on the field amid concerns about COVID.
Wells, the assistant director of Athletics, previously worked at Post University as an assistant sports information director and at ESPN as a statistical analyst covering college basketball and football. He graduated from the University of New England with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
BM: How is SMCC athletics managing student safety regarding COVID? Are you testing students weekly for COVID?
EW: No, we aren’t testing our students but we do follow the vaccine mandate and we are abiding by the Maine Community College System policies in place now. We also need to focus on when we travel or host, because other schools have different COVID policies that we need to adhere to, not every school is vaccinated.
BM: Have you had any difficulties scheduling games this year? Or have other teams?
EW: No, I mean, so far so good. I think that there definitely could be (game) reschedules. Especially for the indoor sports offerings, and I foresee that being a bigger challenge but as of right now, there’s been no non-COVID, or no-COVID related reschedule or cancellations, but I again I am sure that we’ll run into that at some point over the course of this year.
BM: Are you excited about this season?
EW: Yeah, we’re super excited about it. I think the one year hiatus from athletics certainly made everyone hungrier and more competitive and this is the reason why Matt and I do what we do, to serve our student athletes. Oftentimes that’s their vehicle for success here at the college and so I think the year off showed us how we should truly value, and be grateful for the time that we do have in person to train and go to practice every day and to compete competitively. It’s something that we were really excited to return too!
BM: Do you think you still have a target on you, from nationals and the championship?
EW: I think the age old thing is “It’s easier to climb the mountain than to just stay on top of it,” right? So of course, when you’re the reigning conference champions now and when you have been, and you’re coming up on a national tournament appearance – and I speak for both Men’s and Women’s soccer – we will (have a target on us, we’re the team to beat). We’re going to get everyone’s best shot so that’s certainly something that has to be added to the intensity of each game. We’ve yet to play a conference game, but when our conference schedule comes around, I think that’s when we will really feel that sort of target.
BM: Yeah, definitely. I know you’re coaching the women’s soccer team, historically how does your team perform and how do you think they’ll perform this year in your conference?
EW: This is my fourth season as the coach. Last season, being a season that we didn’t play. So I guess it’s my third competitive season and I’m happy to report that we’ve had immediate success. We lost in the conference finals my first year but we’re obviously reigning conference champions from two years ago and we also made a national tournament appearance. So as far as the history of the program, I think, in the past three years, it’s been super successful. And it’s just been the goal for me and my program to play soccer as long as possible. The goal every year is to sacrifice our individual agendas and goals and to focus on the overarching team achievement of winning a conference championship. So, I do think we have the tools this year to do it, I think it’s just a weird year in terms of the restrictions that COVID has. The COVID factor could certainly play a role in just the competitive balance of the league, it could but I hope it doesn’t. I do think we have the tools to repeat again, I know that we certainly play in a competitive league. And with the new addition of Albany College of Pharmacy, this is their first year playing a big conference schedule so they’re certainly a worthy opponent as well so again I think, top to bottom, being conference on both sides and the sizes are ranged, they’re both super competitive and it’s going to be a fight till the end.
BM: What does your roster look like? Do you have more returning or new players?
EW: Yeah, so for the most part, it’s a brand new roster. I’ve got four returners and the rest are new to the program, meaning that they’ve never played for me before. Some are freshmen academically, some are sophomores. I like the players that I call sophomores because we actually got to train with those players over the course of last year. We use that time to sort of build a relationship but it is quite the shake up, due to the new mix of players. That’s challenging itself because it’s just like a brand new team to kind of start over and yet, learn certain coaching schemes and coaching styles and goals and those things are brand new to like, 80% of them.
BM: Yeah, definitely. So what formation do you plan on using this season and do you think these formations are going to be successful?
EW: Yeah so, we will always play with the 4-4-2, even in our pocket. And that’s as conservative as I like to get defensively. And then, I’m hoping to introduce a 4-2-3-1 to gain a bit more offensively, and that allows us to be a little bit more creative and knowing that our defense is really the heart and soul of our team. So I’m hopeful to use a couple different systems moving forward, depending on what the game situation is and who’s up, who’s down and as the player personnel that I have at the time.
BM: So if you had to pick one emphasis on what this team needs to do to be successful, what do you think that needs to be?
EW: … good question and I have a great answer for that because this is something that I introduced this year. The program and I introduced a physical symbol of a hardhat. The hardhat stands for three ways to be a good teammate, and those being sacrifice, sweat more and leave the place better than you found it. And those are the goals that we look to achieve every day at practice and in every game. That hardhat comes with us to practice, to the games and on the road. And at the end of each game I reward the hardhat to a player that embodied those three strategies of being a good teammate, and then I put their number on the hardhat and it’s helpful to be like a motivation kind of factor and a constant reminder of why we’re here and what we’re set to achieve.
BM: That’s awesome. Now do you have your set captains and leaders?
EW: Yep, so we have three captains, Paige Lord, Des Veilleux and Aly Lemnah. They are also our returners. They play defensively and in the midfield so they’re used as our central players. We really count on them for their veteran leadership knowing that much of our team is new.
BM: Awesome! Do you guys have any bonding activities outside of practice and games?
EW: Yeah, we spent a lot of time during preseason, like hanging out off the field. I really value the family piece and the team culture means everything to me and to the program. When we respect each other and we trust each other and we play for each other, from there it translates onto the field. I really believe that that’s the result of winning ball games right there. So, in the preseason we’ll do two, three sessions a day and maybe one of those is a team activity that we do off the field. It could be as simple as hanging on the beach, going for a hike or even talking about life and this allows us to take a break from other things and not have the worries of soccer practice.
Beacon readers, the women’s team are only two games in so there is a lot of time for change and mistakes but also for success and achieving goals. They’ve got a strong couple of players who display a great deal of leadership and courage, and see them playing very competitively this year for another conference championship.