Army Women’s Soccer: Keeping the Momentum Going

Categories: West Point Magazine, Cadet News, Grad News
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By Erika Norton, WPAOG Staff

The Army West Point Women’s Soccer Team had a stellar 2023 season: the Black Knights claimed the Patriot League regular-season title for a second time in a row and beat both Air Force and Navy in the same season for only the third time in program history.

After such success, Head Coach Tracy Chao received the Patriot League Coach of the Year Award for the second consecutive season, making her the first Army coach to win Patriot League Coach of the Year in back-to-back years since 2018 and 2019.

Although many of the program’s key players from 2022 had graduated, Chao maintained the strategy she used that year and looked to keep the momentum going in 2023, with the previous season’s junior players stepping into more senior leadership positions.

Army West Point Women’s Soccer Head Coach Tracy Chao won the Patriot League Coach of the Year award

“Last season, we stayed committed to our process and our journey and really leaned into leaving a legacy with our team, especially from the firsties, who were really strong leaders and had a big hand in how the team’s culture has shifted,” Chao said. “Those standards, that accountability, and who we are as a team trickle down into how the current firstie class continues that culture and integrates the plebes. At the end of the day, you have about a quarter of your team as new players, so it comes down to how quickly can you integrate them and incorporate them into the culture, while also continuing to sustain the culture that was already there.”

Being a student-athlete at West Point can be challenging; so, according to Chao, having the returning experienced players help the new players manage and understand the team’s structure, as well as help them find a rhythm, is key. And the earlier these players begin to take on leadership qualities, the better.

“We are a strong team because of the amazing 31 girls that make up our roster. We can do nothing without the support of the entire team and without each member truly feeling valued and heard.”

— CDT Jasmine Talley ’24

The goal is to prepare the younger players to start leading so that they’re ready for the next season’s incoming players, rather than waiting until they become firsties to lead. In order to help this process, the team has a leadership council made up of two players from each class, so that each class has voices within the team and the ability to start leading now. This way, younger players begin to take on responsibility and are ready to lead when they become firsties.

And while winning games always matters, Chao maintains that there has been a consistent focus within the team on developing who they are as Army soccer players, as members of the Corps of Cadets, as student-athletes and as leaders of character. By focusing on consistency and not thinking too far ahead, the team can enjoy the journey, Chao said, while also maintaining their momentum.

In 2022, the team came incredibly close to winning the Patriot League Championship, but ultimately lost to Bucknell on penalty kicks. “That was a tough moment for us,” recalled Cadet Kaitlin Palaian ’24, who was a team captain in 2023. Palaian said the team was keeping the momentum alive in 2023 by maintaining a strong and determined mindset and by focusing on one game at a time. “The disappointment of the 2022 loss motivated us to work even harder, and we focused on continuous improvement in all aspects of our game,” she said.

Team Captain and forward Jasmine Talley ’24

Cadet Jasmine Talley ’24, who was also a team captain, said that, in order to keep the momentum going from 2022, she saw her role as helping each teammate understand the value they provide to the team. She also took it upon herself to continue fostering a winning culture and mentality through consistent hard work and the tenacity lessons learned from the 2022 season.

According to Talley, the team relied heavily on their team values: Agape, Invictus, Ubuntu.

“‘Agape’ means unconditional love,” Talley said. “We play for the love of the sport, not to impress others or prove anything to anybody except ourselves. ‘Invictus’ means to be unconquerable. We will never give up and never accept defeat. We define it as a gritty mentality, an attitude that nobody will beat us in our personal battles, and that hard work often leads to victories. ‘Ubuntu’ means ‘I am because we are.’ We are not a strong team because of one or two star players…we are a strong team because of the amazing 31 girls that make up our roster. We can do nothing without the support of the entire team and without each member truly feeling valued and heard.”

Defender Sydney Bender ’24

Both Talley and Palaian took their roles as team captains seriously and saw the opportunity as preparation for becoming Army officers. For Talley, the team-building skills she honed on the field will help her as an Army officer.

“From jumping toward a keeper’s fists to continuing to run sprints even after reaching peak exhaustion, soccer is a unique opportunity to undergo genuine personal development alongside 30 of your best friends,” Talley said. “The Army is essentially one big team. Starting at the platoon level, I hope to use these team-building skills, along with instilling a culture of excellence, to help my future platoon be the best we can be as a team.”

According to Palaian, both competitiveness and teamwork are needed to win soccer games. In soccer, passes, positioning and patience are required, and this type of teamwork and planning will be applicable in her Army career after graduation.

Team Captain and forward Kaitlin Palaian ’24

“As a forward, my favorite sound is the ball hitting the back of the net and the sound and feeling of a perfect strike coming off my foot,” Palaian said. “In the military, competition exists, but it’s teamwork, hard work and strategic thinking that often makes the difference in achieving objectives. Soccer has taught me these traits, and they will serve me well as an Army officer.”

When she looks back at her time as captain, Palaian is happy to see not only a winning record but a strong foundation for the team’s future success and leadership development, which she helped build.

Chao saw that strong foundation at play last fall on the Women’s Soccer Team and is counting on it going forward. She attributes her players’ success to not only putting in the work but also to the “village” of athletic staff that supports the program, including the coaching staff, athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, performance psychologist, academic advisor, and staff of officer representatives. All the awards and achievements show that everyone, from the Superintendent all the way down to the Army West Point Athletics Department, supports the Women’s Soccer Team and sees them as a consistent contender for a championship.

“We don’t get to this point with just a ‘Coach of the Year,’ whether it’s a head coach or assistant coach,” Chao said. “We get to this point because of all the people that are a part of the program. It means that we have the ability to put ourselves in a position to compete for a championship every year.”

Grounding Air Force

The Army West Point Women’s Soccer Team earned their first victory of the 2023 season by defeating Air Force, 2-1, on September 7. Air Force scored first, but Army West Point scored two goals in the match’s final 15 minutes to secure the win, including a goal by team captain Kaitlin Palaian ’24 with just over a minute left to play. Madison Niebish ’24 kicked a cross that Palaian was able to head into the goal to give the team the win over its service academy rival.

Winning the Star

Army West Point Women's Soccer Team

In a rain-soaked match on October 15, the Army West Point Women’s Soccer Team earned the right to sing second by beating Navy, 2-1. Madison Niebish ’24 put the Black Knights ahead just 12 minutes into the game, and they never looked back. After a Navy handball penalty, Kaelan Bradley ’25 made it 2-0 before the half. Sage Strohman ’25, the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week coming into the match, made six saves during the game, with only a late Navy goal preventing the shutout. The win gave the Women’s Soccer Team back-to-back victories against Navy, their longest winning streak in the Star Series.

Read the complete Winter 2024 edition of West Point magazine here.

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