LEWISTON, Maine -- Joe Vari and his family moved across the continent this year from Tacoma to Lewiston, exchanging a head coaching job at the University of Puget Sound for one at Bates. Vari won a lot of games at Puget Sound, and picked up Northwest Conference Coach of the Year honors less than 12 months ago.
Vari didn't move from Washington to Maine to raise his career winning percentage, it would seem, but rather for other reasons, including the challenge of competing in the best women's soccer conference in Division III.
"When the NESCAC calls, it's definitely something you've got to feel out," Vari recalled on last week's Bates Bobcast podcast. "That was the next big jump [in my career], I think, to get into the best Division III conference and try and compete. When I got on campus, it was definitely something I felt we could be successful at."
Vari mentioned a variety of other Bates' draws, from the direction of the athletic department and the college's reputation for commitment to social justice to the artificial turf that was recently installed over the skating rink in Underhill Arena, which will significantly augment varsity teams' training options on campus.
Vari also cited the players returning to play in the Bates women's soccer program's 40th season.
"I think the group that is coming back, there's some talent there," Vari said. "I feel like we get a special breed of kid here at Bates, kids that are a little gritty, a little blue collar, who want to get in and grind, and that's really kind of the way I want to build a program. I think there are some opportunities where we can make some jumps pretty quickly with the program."
The Bobcats finished 5-10 last season, but that included a 0-10 record in New England Small College Athletic Conference games, which was countered by a 5-0 mark against non-conference opponents. Three of Bates' league losses came by one goal, and four others were decided by a two-goal margin.
Eight returning players on the roster made seven or more starts in 2018, including senior defender Adena Bernot (Old Westbury, N.Y.), junior midfielder Caroline Bogue (Glastonbury, Conn.), junior defender MacKenzie Kelly (Dallas, Texas), junior midfielder So Kim (Thornhill, Ontario), senior forward Riley Turcotte (Middletown, R.I.), senior forward Sarah DiPillo (Medway, Mass.) and sophomore defender Annie Doig (Wayne, Pa.). Junior Katherine Nuckols (Los Angeles, Calif.) was Bates' starting goalkeeper in all 15 games last season, earning four victories with a .730 save percentage and 2.07 goals-allowed average.
Kim leads a crew of five returners who scored three or more points in an otherwise offensively challenging 2018 campaign. Kim scored a team-high five goals and has 19 points halfway through her Bates career. Turcotte tallied nine points in 2018 and has 23 in her career, while Bogue (5) and DiPillo (3) also ranked among the team's top five point-scorers.
Eleven first-year players populate Vari's first Bates roster. "It's going to be more about just trying to compete and can you be better than you were yesterday. That'll be a big thing that we'll focus with this group. Our plan is to try and put them in an environment where they can be successful."
Bates opens the season with two road trips, perfect for team bonding. The Bobcats play at Maine Maritime Academy Tuesday at 5:30pm, followed by their NESCAC opener at Hamilton College Saturday at 11am.