Editor’s note: This story appears in the July-August issue of New England Soccer Journal.
The Northeast-10 Conference decided, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that it would cancel the fall 2020 sports season and not play a shortened spring season, which led to a surreal moment for Emma Slade.
The midfielder from West Kingston, R.I., was coming off a tremendous first-year experience with the Stonehill College women’s soccer team, as she scored five goals and earned NE-10 All-Conference first-team and All-Rookie team honors.
“When we were notified in the fall that we weren’t going to have a season, I was trying to think back to the last time I didn’t play a full season, and I was probably 6-years-old,” Slade said. “I’d say weird is the only word that describes it, and it was almost uncomfortable in the sense that I was like, ‘I don’t even know what to do.'”
Slade said small-sided workouts in the fall, followed by more traditional training time in the spring provided a chance to build better relationships with teammates.
“The most beneficial thing was getting to know everybody on a more personal level,” Slade said. “We got to know everybody’s skills and weaknesses, and we worked on those, specifically, and I’m definitely hoping to see that come out this fall as a positive.”
Stonehill coach Alex Wilson said that Slade, despite her initial trepidation about “what to do,” knows how to do one thing exceedingly well.
“With a player like Emma, I never have to worry about her when she’s not under the direct supervision of a training session or a strength and conditioning session,” Wilson said. “She’s an absolute, blue-collar workhorse.”
Slade, a junior who could have three years of eligibility remaining because of the coronavirus-canceled season, loves to be physical. She shows it in the weight room and on the training pitch. According to Wilson, in a match, Slade does not consistently execute technically or tactically to perfection, but her effort is never less than 100 percent.
“I can’t ask anything more of a player than that, and her head is always off wanting to learn,” Wilson said.
One aspect where Wilson wants Slade to continue to learn and refine her game is becoming a better two-way player. Slade is a leader in the midfield, where Wilson said there are some holes to fill around her.
“We’re going to look to her veteran experience to lead the charge in there and get us working on both sides of the ball, because she does a great job going forward. She just has an absolute cannon of a shot with both feet,” Wilson said. “What she does defensively is where she’s worked the most, to up her defensive IQ on how far she can venture and when she needs to drop in and help. I think that’s been her biggest area of improvement.”
While she was able to find the back of the net as a freshman, Slade did not record an assist.
“Emma can bang the ball on the net, but she does have a cheeky creativeness to her style, and I know that she can punch some balls through and really look to connect with her teammates,” Wilson said.
“I completely think that’s the one thing I’m looking forward to, is taking a role in the midfield and supporting my team better,” Slade said. “Knowing where they want the ball now is a huge part of the next level of my game.”
On the second day of preseason training in 2019, Wilson told Slade she was camp’s “biggest surprise.”
“We knew what we were getting when we recruited her, but she just came in, and the work she did all summer long showed that she has an engine on her,” Wilson said.
Slade’s engine has not stopped running since then.
“That’s what I’ve learned most about myself is that my effort, even if I don’t have the best practice, I need to show the best effort out of anyone, just to encourage my teammates to do the same exact thing,” Slade said.