This transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Sun assistant sports editor Raphy Gendler sat down with senior co-captains and best friends Jessica Ritchie and Meghan Kennedy to discuss Cornell women’s soccer and their upcoming season. Ritchie, a midfielder, and Kennedy, a goalkeeper, talked about their growth in three previous seasons, a team “culture change” and their roles as co-captains.
Raphy Gendler: How do you see your roles as co-captains?
Jessica Ritchie: We both pride ourselves on being really hard workers and being incredibly competitive. We both love to compete and hope to keep fostering that culture. I also think we do want to encourage team participation in all senses of that word, so [players aren’t] afraid to speak up, to criticize us if they think that’s what needs to be done.
Meghan Kennedy: In the past [the team] been pretty hierarchical based on age, and that comes with any college or high school team … We want to blend the classes together and make it less distinct and more fluid so anyone, of any age or position, feels that their voice will be heard and that they can say anything. If a senior isn’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, a freshman should be able to call them out and say ‘hey, that needs to be better.’
R.G.: What’s your relationship as co-captains like?
M.K.: We’re best friends, I would say. We’ve gotten very close over the years. We’re very similar, on the field especially, in that we have to lead by example, we’re very dedicated people and I think we’re team players.
J.R.: I feel like we complement each other pretty well … Just position-wise, Meg’s a goalie and I’m in the midfield for the most part. Having two voices in two different parts of the field is really important.
M.K.: We consult with one another before we make decisions and we’ll take turns doing that. We’re both not afraid to speak out. We’re very open with communication.
R.G.: What types of changes or decisions have you implemented together?
M.K.: Before every game now each player is randomly [assigned] a partner and they write on an index card before the game something nice about the other … It gives you confidence, and for players who are more shy it lets them speak out and say something they wouldn’t otherwise say.
J.R.: We’ve talked about how to react to certain things happening on the field. Ideally we don’t get scored on that frequently this season but if we do, what do we want to do afterwards in terms of kind of coming together. We talked about different ways to increase the competitiveness of practices and we put a really big emphasis on celebrating when things go well.
R.G.: How do you think you two have grown in your now three-plus years here?
M.K.: I definitely think that I have grown confidence-wise. Going through the years and having the experiences I’ve had on and off the field in a team-like structure like this, I have the confidence to say ‘this is what we’re going to do and this is what we need to do.’ I feel confident that I’m making the right decision, because there’s no other way to gain that confidence other than experience.
J.R.: Also comfort is a big thing. Any sports team you’re on there’s going to be a huge range of personality and I think soccer … attracts a certain type of outgoing … genuine, authentic type of character, but everyone is really different in terms of personalities … Being able to find your own voice in that chaos … and realizing the value in individuality is really important.
M.K.: And with that, being able to recognize the role you play: not your position, but your role, so whatever position you play on the field has nothing to do with what role you play. Whatever your team needs of you is something that you learn as you go through the years.
R.G.: Why is it that soccer attracts this ‘genuine’ type of personality?
J.R.: It’s really interesting because I was abroad last semester and I had a very hard time trying to find a team to play with in Spain, actually, because soccer’s not that big for women, surprisingly. And I didn’t join a team for a few months but then with about two months left in my program I was finally able to find one. It was quite far away, but when I ended up playing with them, they were all speaking Spanish … and I was quite quiet at the beginning. But even with that, that type of atmosphere and personality still came across to me, that same authenticity, that genuine, fun atmosphere.
It’s a really physical sport, you’re throwing yourself around at all positions, not just goalie, making crazy tackles. It’s a sport that requires a ton of physicality and I think it’s the sport where the most physical abilities [are needed] in terms of foot skills and the ability to not care if you get hurt, because I think we have one of the highest injury rates of female sports … You need a specific type of person to want to do that … I do think there are underlying traits that make it so, so special.
M.K.: Playing at this level and playing for as many years as we have brings you to a certain level. You’ve sacrificed so much over the years to grow and play this sport: physically, emotionally, socially … There’s a certain level of physicality that’s just different … As a female playing at this level, and at an Ivy League school specifically … the sacrifice is pretty immense. If you dedicate this much time and commitment to the sport then you really are that type of person.