Graduate forward Kylie Hall attempts a cross against Illinois Wesleyan University on Sept. 15. (Jack Rutherford/Contributing Photographer)

The Emory University women’s soccer team has high hopes for the 2023 season. In 2022, the squad finished with a record of 13-5-1, placed third in the University Athletic Association (UAA) and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship. They entered the 2023 season ranked No. 24 in the country. 

Although the team made an impressive national championship run last season, head coach Sue Patberg said she was not satisfied with the result. Patberg said the team’s main goals in 2023 are “going after the conference title” and “winning the national championship.” 

“Last year, we finished in the round of 16,” Patberg said. “We all felt like we had another game in us at least. We’re [a] pretty deep team this year in that we have a lot of talent, and we’re kind of at the stage of trying to put all the pieces together and figuring out what players have the best chemistry with each other.” 

Junior defender Claudia Schmidt said that one way the squad can improve and work towards this goal is to stay focused, especially for away games. 

“We’re just focused on each game one at a time,” Schmidt said. “I think one of our bigger challenges last season was staying focused while we were traveling and while we were on the road because we do a lot of plane trips. Maintaining that headspace … in a new environment is really important.”

Graduate forward Kylie Hall, who broke the program’s total assist record on Sept. 15, noted that one of her personal goals is to “soak up” her final year playing for Emory and to win as many games as possible. 

“[Going far in the national tournament] all starts with winning the important games,” Hall said. “Every single game is important … so it’s really just working together as a team to ensure that we get those wins that we need so that we can go far.”

Despite losing eight seniors from last season, the team has 13 new players, which include 11 freshmen and two transfer athletes. Schmidt said that although the team is more underclassman-heavy, they have found ways to bond. 

“We have so much new young talent,” Schmidt said. “Given that we don’t have as many upperclassmen and we have mostly underclassmen, it’s an interesting dynamic … It mixes things up and allows us to explore different strategies on the field that we didn’t necessarily explore last year.” 

Schmidt added that it is important to create a cohesive team bond to facilitate effective communication on the field. 

“We all get to school a couple weeks early,” Schmidt said. “We do a lot of team dinners and team bonding … so we can really create that bond off the field which I think then really translates to on the field when we start playing games and facing some of the tougher opponents because we already have that strong base.”

The Eagles hope to use the new players to their advantage while also capitalizing on their depth. With the incoming freshmen and transfers, Patberg said she expects more firepower in the lineup this year. 

Schmidt said that part of incorporating the younger players into the roster is to make them feel confident in expressing themselves on the field. 

“We are in the same formation that we played last year,” Schmidt said. “We’re really focusing on our communication on the defensive line … It’s all about that cohesion in the back, and building that confidence to speak up while we’re on the field is really important.”

The Eagles began their season on Sept. 1 with a 7-0 win against Piedmont College (Ga.) and a 2-0 win against Berry College (Ga.) on Sept. 10. For Patberg, the results against Piedmont and Berry were “disappointing” despite getting the wins. 

“[Piedmont] were weak, and it was a weak opponent,” Patberg said. “They really didn’t challenge us at all … then we played Berry, and they were pretty defensive-minded. Again, we beat them, but felt like we probably should have scored four goals instead of two.”

The team lost 3-1 to University of Hartford (Conn.) on Sept. 10, won against Illinois Wesleyan University 5-0 on Sept. 15 and won against Lynchburg University (N.C.) 1-0 on Sept. 17. With their win against Lynchburg, the Eagles are now 4-1-0 and start with a better record than their 3-2-0 start in 2022. Regarding Emory’s first loss this season,  Schmidt said that playing against Hartford was different compared to the other opponents they faced this season thus far. 

“They were a Division I team and just dropped down to Division III,” Schmidt said. “That was a really fun challenge for us to go up against an opponent like that, and I think it was a good test.”

The Eagles’ next home game is on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. against Centre College (Ky.).

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Clement Lee (he/him) (24Ox) is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is on the pre-BBA track. Outside the Wheel, Clement can be found reading new books or going on long runs in the woods.