When a team is without a win after 14 regular-season games, what holds the locker room together? For the Seton Hall women’s soccer team, that answer has been a simple phrase: 31 as one.
The message, which signifies all 31 players on the roster being unified as one collective whole, came to Pirates coach Rick Stainton during one of the team’s many preseason meetings in August. The coach figured the phrase had left some mark on his players, but did not recognize nearly how much it resonated until he heard his players using it as a rallying cry during an early season game.
“The 31 as one, I just said that on a whim one time,” Stainton said. “You know I’m always a firm believer that everyone is a part of this.
That not just one person can achieve success. Everyone from our entire staff, to every single player. That’s something we’ve been trying to promote since the moment I walked through these doors.”
Stainton stepped into the head coaching position four seasons ago, having served as an assistant the previous two. Looking to build on a five-win season in 2016, Stainton needed the lessons behind 31 as one to be applied now more than ever.
The 2017 season has seen a bevy of talented freshman come into the program, as well as upperclassmen stepping into new leadership roles. One of those upperclassmen, junior Julia Stirpe, recognizes a difference in this year’s team compared to those of the previous two.
“The past couple years we’ve been a team, but we’ve had some bumps in the road,” Stirpe said. “There’s been some personality problems. But, this year I feel for sure that…it’s more of a unit. I know when I go on the field that the girl next to me has my back, and it’s a good feeling to have when you’re on the field, especially with 31 players.”
While things may have come together in terms of team camaraderie off the field, seemingly everything has fallen apart on the field for the still winless Pirates. Even Mother Nature was not on Seton Hall’s side, as one of their only three non-conference games at home was canceled due to lightning, making for an early season schedule that featured six games on the road out of eight.
But, in wiping the road-heavy, non-conference slate clean from memory and focusing solely on the Big East, the Pirates are 0-3-3.
Grim, yes, but by virtue of those three draws, the Pirates remain in much closer proximity to a Big East Tournament place than their winless aura might present.
Stainton knows his team is capable, despite struggles, to challenge for that prospect of postseason soccer.
“When you talk about the game itself, we continue to improve in regards to our possession,” Stainton said. “We become more confident in our technique so that we can challenge ourselves to be more aggressive. So, you know, every game, against different opponents, we know we can compete, we know we can stand toe to toe with these guys.”
Still, the absence of a win is an uncomfortable circumstance for any head coach. Despite better play, the Pirates’ 1-0 loss to Villanova on Oct. 5 prompted Stainton to tweet out a message of encouragement to his team and those following.
“This team has talent, fight and great character. We will keep working, seek answers and find success. Proud of their effort and commitment!,” the tweet read.
“[I tweeted that] because we have been playing fairly well against many of these opponents, but have fallen a little bit short,” Stainton said. “In regards to the way we’re possessing or building up into the attack, we’ve given up some unfortunate goals, and we’re having a tough time just finishing our opportunities.”
Despite results piling up in the wrong two columns of losses and draws, the Pirates have shown an ability to turn the page and be toe-to-toe in every game except for two, up until the final whistle. Stirpe put this down to a different attitude which the 31 players in the locker-room have.
“This year, it’s more of a, listen, we’re taking on [Xavier this Thursday], and we’re going to win. It’s more of a ‘we will do this,’ whereas in the last two years it was kind of ‘oh, well, we’re going to give it our best shot,’” Stirpe said.
This new swagger and togetherness is what Stainton, Stirpe and company believe will lead the team to eventually achieving success, 31 as one.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.