Leading in new roles

Blugold women’s soccer captains look to set example for underclassmen, whether healthy or not

More stories from Trent Tetzlaff


Photo by Kendall Ruchti

UW-Eau Claire women’s soccer captains, Megan Hanson, Ashley Seymour and Ashley O’Connell all have different roles as leaders on and off the field. With Hanson and O’Connell sidelined with injuries, all three have adapted to new roles.

When serious injury strikes in any sport, not only is it devastating to the athlete, but it also affects every coach and teammate linked to them.

However, when not one, not two but three UW-Eau Claire women’s soccer players’ seasons were ended due to ACL or MCL tears over the past year, all hope was not lost, head coach Sean Yengo said.

Seniors Ashley O’Connell, Caroline Henderson and Megan Hanson were all bit by the injury bug for the Blugolds.

Hanson, whose injury occurred in training over the summer is expected to return at some point this fall, but O’Connell and Henderson who both went down at the beginning of the season won’t get the chance to finish out their final season as a Blugold.

O’Connell, whose injury occurred during the team’s trip to Oregon early in the season said the injury has been hard on her, but she also has been able to take a lot away from the experience.

“It’s been extremely tough not being able to contribute as a leader in the capacity that I am used to,” she said. “However, I find that I am growing much more in my ability to lead from the sidelines.”

Despite two of the three team captains in Hanson and O’Connell being stuck on the sidelines during their senior seasons, Ashley Seymour the third senior captain for the Blugolds has stepped up her role in on-field mentoring.

Seymour who in response to the early injury problems for Eau Claire has moved from her normal spot on defense to an attacking right wing position, said the injuries to her teammates has increased her leadership role even more.

“My role has definitely increased since I am the only captain that is able to play right now,” she said. “It has forced me to be very vocal and make more decisions on my own.”

Although Seymour’s on-field role has increased in terms of leadership, other upperclassmen have jumped in to help her out.

She said fellow senior Tara Dennehy sticks out as someone that has really stepped up as a vocal leader in getting the underclassmen ready for increased roles with the team.

Although all three captains have different styles of play, leadership styles and personalities that help bring out the best in the younger players, Yengo said that Seymour sticks out the most because of her personality.

“Ashley Seymour has a much different personality than our other two captains in that she likes to goof around a little bit and lighten the mood,” Yengo said. “But on the other hand, she’s not afraid to bark at her teammates, and she has had to step into that different role even more so now.”

Yengo said this year has been one of the craziest for the amount of serious injuries they have had so far this season is more than they have had combined in the last four to five years.

Despite these injury problems, Yengo said the team is simply just “dealing with it” and working to try and keep spirits high.

Although ACL and MCL injuries can happen in any sport and at any time, Yengo said they are more common in women’s soccer because hip and pelvic angles are different in women than they are in men. This combined with the physical nature of the sport opens up opportunity for injury.

“I think every one of us knows the risk we put ourselves at for knee injuries every time we suit up to play,” Hanson said. “I know for (Ashley O’Connell) and I, we’re just upset we will never get the chance to play together our senior year.”

Hanson, who is expected to return later this season after an MCL, PCL and meniscus injury that was re-aggravated over the summer, said despite the setbacks in the season so far, that the team’s goal is still to work towards a WIAC championship and take the season one game at a time.

As the Blugolds continue to work towards their goal of a conference championship, O’Connell and Hanson have begun to get acclimated in their roles as leaders from the sideline.

Hanson said that although she would much rather be on the field with her teammates, the experience on the sidelines while recovering has taught her a lot and helped her as a player.

“I have learned that there is a lot to be done on the sidelines as a captain,” she said. “While I would love to be out there competing, and hopefully will be soon, it has been a pleasure to cheer and watch them grow as a team.”

O’Connell said the Blugolds have become resilient and been able to fill whatever holes needed after injury, and will need to continue to be as the season rolls along.

As the Blugolds currently sit at 3-4-3, 2-0, after recent wins against UW-River Falls, UW-Stout and No. 14 Augsberg College (Minn.), Yengo said the team needs to continue growing as a whole.

“We had a really nice result against Augsburg a top ranked team in our region and hopefully that gives us some confidence going ahead” he said. “We have to keep playing with that attitude and belief that we can win, and continue to believe in ourselves and we will go places.”