Women’s soccer team earns six All-Conference selections, two other awards

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Sophomore defender Yoshiko Slater was named to NEWMAC’s First Team All-Conference.

By Leo Kagan, Staff Writer

After a historic season, the Emerson women’s soccer team—which won the NEWMAC championship on Nov. 5—added to its trophy case Thursday after being awarded six All-Conference selections, Coaching Staff of the Year, and Co-Defensive Player of the Year. 

The Lions earned a 12-3-5 regular season record en route to the playoffs, which featured an overtime victory and ultimately a NEWMAC championship win. Though the team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament Saturday by Westfield State, they went out fighting, pushing to another overtime before losing. 

Now, the team’s received further recognition for its hard work with a slew of individual awards. Despite this, Head Coach David Suvak says while he appreciates the commendation, the target remains winning championships. 

“I’m happy for the players that [were] recognized,” he said. “But we set the bar high, and [a championship] is always going to be the goal for me. While we’re trying to attain that goal, players will be recognized, because how can they not be? I think the two go hand-in-hand.”

The individual players recognized were junior midfielder Simone Barragan-Shaw and sophomore goalkeeper Amara Schaub, who were named to the Second Team All-Conference. Sophomore defender Anna Swisher, senior midfielder Cali Bruce, junior forward Brittney Righetti, and sophomore defender Yoshiko Slater were named to the First Team All-Conference. 

Suvak believes these players were selected because they thrive within the team’s system. 

“We play a very specific style of soccer that’s possession-oriented, very technical, a little different from other schools,” he said. “The players that stand out have a comfort in that system. They can play in tight spaces, they can create dangerous opportunities.”

Slater said the selections are meaningful for the players as well as the program. 

“This year Emerson has gotten way more recognition than we ever had,” she said. “I’m so proud that Emerson players made the first and second team and things like that—even our individual awards are for the team.”

Slater stands out among the group of All-Conference players, named Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Suvak attributes the recognition to her elevating her game this season. 

“Yoshiko is a very strong defender, she reads the game extremely well,” Suvak said. “The change I have seen is a leadership presence in the back—her voice is developing. Her skill set is calm and she has a calming presence. She doesn’t seem panicky, [and] has a nice way of controlling the back line.”

The Lions recorded 10 clean sheets this season, partly because of Slater’s presence in the defending third, but Slater said the award was an honor that extended beyond her own strong season.

“It felt really rewarding,” she said. “It was a testament to my back line’s playing ability. They are some of the most consistent players I’ve ever played with. I can’t do well without them.”

Slater added an increased focus on cardio this offseason, something she believes aided her this season. 

“In the spring, I did a lot more running and got into boxing,” she said. “It helped my confidence. I could focus on my skills rather than worrying about if I could last 90 minutes.”

Another team leader, Bruce—who served as one of the captains this season—was selected for the top All-Conference team. Suvak said her play this season made a genuine case for NEWMAC Player of the Year. 

“I can’t say she was robbed,” Suvak said. “The woman from Clark who got the award is a very good player, but Cali has different player attributes and a skill set I appreciate more.”

Bruce moved from defender to midfielder this season, a switch that proved successful for both team and player. Her 6 goals and 13 points were career highs, and her 63 shots were good for fourth in the NEWMAC. Suvak said her skills aligned with an area of positional need, which necessitated the move. 

“We wanted to work with her in creating a stronger midfield presence,” he said. “She is a very athletic, dynamic player. She has the ability to control the pace of the game. She creates problems for other teams.”

Joining Slater and Bruce on the first team were Righetti and Swisher. Righetti scored a team-leading seven goals—tied for fifth in the conference—while nearly doubling her career high in points with 15. Swisher, meanwhile, proved a versatile defender who played multiple positions in the backfield over the course of the season. 

Barragan-Shaw and Schaub represented the Lions on the second team. Suvak said Barragan-Shaw, who earned first team honors last season, didn’t take any steps back this year despite not reaching the same peak. 

“Many coaches recognized she could be a problem and were double-teaming her this season,” he said. “She was effective at keeping possession and she has a great ability to track [the ball] down quickly..”

Suvak said Schaub—whose .835 save percentage was sixth-best in the NEWMAC—was a steady presence in the net this season.

“She is a very talented kid,” Suvak said. “She has made some very nice saves along the way to save games from slipping away on us and help us win games. She has a very unique ability to read a shot coming in and being able to decide whether she should catch it or touch it over the bar.” 

In addition to all the players who received recognition, the Lions’ coaching staff was also recognized with Coaching Staff of the Year. Suvak said he was honored. 

“I’m humbled by the selection,” he said. “I’m happy the coaches from other colleges have given us an award that says ‘you guys did great this year.’ I’m happy with the hard work we’ve put in to create this program. I’m happy that our team of coaches have created a good model.”

But more important than all else, Suvak says, were the accomplishments the team achieved this year.

“Back in May, we were on a Zoom call, and I asked each player to give me two team goals,” he said. “The group listed their goals and those included unanimously to beat MIT, and to win a NEWMAC championship. We had things we wanted to accomplish and found ways to do it in a competitive NEWMAC group. That’s what I’m most proud of.”