Sports player of the month

Lauren Ullmann ’17 talks soccer and support systems

There is an old adage that defense wins championships. While the backbone of any team’s sustained success is often the defense, it is usually the offensive players who hog the limelight. But in this September 2016 edition of the Player of the Month we shift our focus to women’s soccer’s outstanding goalie, Lauren Ullmann ’17.

Ullmann has been under the sticks since 2013. In her rookie season, she tied the program-record for the fewest goals allowed in a season (six) as the Engineers lost a program-record low two games all season. The shot-stopper has since guided the Cardinal and Gray to regular season championships in the tightly-contested New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) in each of the past three seasons.

Despite being a key cog in women’s soccer’s recent success and emerging as a leader on the team, Ullmann preaches a team-first mantra. She spoke about the incredible support system that the women’s soccer team has always been, how the team tries to play its best on the field when the firehose is at its fiercest off the field, and her evolution as a leader, teammate, and friend both on and off the pitch.

The Tech: Congratulations on a great start to the season, including a 6-game win streak and 5 straight clean sheets. What do you think makes the team click?

Lauren Ullmann: We lost the first conference game of the season in double-overtime against WPI [2-1]. That was very disappointing. Following that defeat we all took a look at ourselves and realized that we have so much potential. We had a sports psychology PhD candidate [Robert Diehl] from BU work with our team. We had some awesome sessions. Since that loss against WPI, the energy on that field has been amazing. Everyone seems to be working that much harder and wanting it that much more.

The Tech: As a goalie, how important is the chemistry between yourself and the two center backs to the team’s success?

Ullmann: I think one of the reasons why the MIT women’s soccer program has been generally successful is that the team gets along really well. I am really lucky that my locker is next to one of the center backs, Hailey Nichols ’19. We spend a lot of time together both on and off the field and I think the defense has awesome chemistry. Liz Porter ’17, co-captain, is the outside left back. I also get a sense that the whole team wants to give the seniors an amazing season. I have a lot of fun playing with Hailey and Jacqueline Simmons ’18, the other center back on the team.

The Tech: Just like you are in the midst of a good stretch this season, you guys went on an 8-0 tear during October, 2014. In pro sports, people often talk about “mid-season form” referring to a team playing consistently at a high-level after the rust of the first few games have been shaken off. That being said, at MIT it appears mid-season also coincides with midterm examinations and lots of psets. As players, how do you prevent the peak academic pressure from interfering with the level of your game?

Ullmann: It is definitely difficult. The work-life balance here is challenging. Everyone knows that when you step on the soccer field, you are there in the moment, and you are working for your teammates. I think the soccer team is an incredible support system; the team recognizes when someone has a really tough week so they are extra-encouraging and supportive of her. It is a lot more fun to go back and do your homework when you have won.

The Tech: You mention the soccer team as a support system — as a senior on the team, have you always found this to be the case? To take a step further, is the tone set by the head coach or is it more of a legacy handed down from seniors on the team to the juniors and so on?

Ullmann: Yes, I have always felt the soccer team to be amazing outlet in terms of guidance, advice, and community.

I think it is a mix of both. Part of it is the team culture. I think the girls on the team genuinely like each other and that shows. Everyone wants to hang out together after practice. But I also think the coach fosters a very positive environment and he is really supportive of the team. For example, he set up the sessions with the sports psychologist, Bob Diehl.

The Tech: Do you think you have gotten better each season?

Ullmann: Yeah, I would like to think so. Part of it comes from the wisdom of playing soccer and getting to know some of our opponents. I think the MIT athletics staff does a great job in helping the students get to where they want to be.

The Tech: What constitutes improvement in a goalie? For example, from the outside you can look at goals allowed and saves but you know those are more a reflection of the team defense rather than just the goalie.

Ullmann: I try to avoid looking at my statistics. I think it is easy to pay attention to shutouts or save percentage or goals against average (GAA), but those aren’t really tell-tale of what a goalie brings to the table. I like to think my contributions to the team are not to limited to my shot-stopping ability, which is what those [statistics] measure. I think being involved in more plays, ball distribution, being a leader on the field, and figuring out how I can be most useful to the team are all part of what a goalie can bring to the team.

The Tech:  When people look at penalty shootouts in an elimination game (which is one of the most heartbreaking ways to lose), the focus is usually always on the person who misses the last kick or the players who missed their kicks. As a goalie, you get to be involved with 50 percent of those kicks. How do you approach penalty shootouts? Would you rather have time team win without them or do you feel like you can contribute more during a shootout?

Ullmann: I don’t really have a strong preference. I enjoy penalty kicks as I don’t have much pressure on me. I am expected to save maybe one out of five. I feel my role on the team is that if my teammates need me to step in for the penalty kicks, I am ready to do it. On the other hand, if there is another goalie who is better at penalty kicks then by all means I am happy to let that person step in for me. The goal at the end of the day is for the team to advance.

The Tech: Finally, what are your expectations of this season?

Ullmann: I like to take it one game at a time. I think we are well on our way to achieving our goal and having a successful season but I think one of our keys has been taking it game by game and day by day.

The Tech: Thank you for making the time to talk to us and all the best for rest of the season!

Ullmann: Thank you.

Editors Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.