Playing freshmen immediately at the collegiate level is a high-risk, high-reward move for a team.
While young players can provide energy and dynamic play, their inexperience can also hinder a team’s ability to perform.
However, this season, IU Women’s Soccer Coach Amy Berbary doesn’t have much of a choice. With 13 freshmen listed on her team’s 27-player roster, nearly half of the IU team is composed of first-year players.
A benefit to having so many young players available is the flexibility enjoyed by Berbary regarding the different lineups she can create. Some matches, like the Aug. 19 season opener against Louisville, may feature only three freshmen in the starting lineup.
Others, like Sept. 5 against Southern Methodist, can have seven freshmen playing on the field simultaneously.
“They are all young, but they’re good soccer players,” Berbary said. “I’m actually trying to get away from using the word ‘freshmen.’ They are very instinctual and very tactical soccer players who are starting to gain confidence.”
IU finds itself particularly young in attack, with nine freshmen listed as either a midfielder or a forward. Youth was a central element for the Hoosiers in non-conference play this season, with 10 total freshmen receiving playing time in the team’s first eight games of the season.
Defender Meghan Scott, midfielder Chandra Davidson, midfielder Allison Jorden and forward Macy Miller were the only four freshmen to feature in each of IU’s eight non-conference contests. Miller in particular has been impressive in leading the offense as a freshman, especially after a season in which the Hoosiers only scored 11 times.
“Anyone who saw our team last year compared to this year can definitely see a more proactive and creative offense,” Berbary said. “The nerves have kind of gone away for some of the freshmen who are playing big minutes for us.”
Strong play from freshmen has also been felt at the goalkeeping position for the Hoosiers. Freshman Sarah L’Hommedieu beat out fellow freshman Bristal Hadley-Mautino for the starting job early in non-conference play and hasn’t looked back since. L’Hommedieu became the first IU women’s soccer player to be given two weekly awards by the Big Ten on Aug. 30, when she took home both defensive player of the week and freshman player of the week honors.
L’Hommedieu has more experience than most freshmen on the IU roster because she enrolled early during the 2016 spring semester. However, she credits the upperclassmen on the team with helping freshmen adjust to the college game.
“I feel like the upperclassmen and the seniors on this year’s team have done a fantastic job. They’ve been amazingly helpful,” L’Hommedieu said. “It’s a huge task to incorporate that many freshmen and make them feel like they’re a part of the team.”
Berbary echoes the praise offered by L’Hommedieu toward the older players on the team. She relies on veteran players to help freshmen make the transition to IU.
“I think the kids have really bought in. Our older kids and our returning players have been phenomenal, especially our senior leadership,” Berbary said.
Senior midfielder Veronica Ellis is one of those players trusted by Berbary with trying to provide leadership to incoming players. Four years removed from her time as a collegiate freshman, Ellis has been impressed with the way this season’s freshmen have carried themselves.
“The freshmen always bring a lot of energy. They’re always ready to go and be called on,” Ellis said. “I think they’ll continue to improve and help this team as time goes on. They’ve done a really awesome job, and they seem determined to succeed here at IU.”
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