Interview with Amherst Women’s Soccer Coach Jen Hughes

Jen Hughes, the head coach of Amherst women’s soccer, graduated from Colgate University, where she was one of the best women’s soccer players in Colgate history and is one of only two players in Colgate women’s soccer history to have her jersey number retired. Hughes, in her 17th season as head coach, has led Amherst to a 194-59-33 overall record, three NESCAC titles, and 11 NCAA Division III Tournament appearances. In 2011, Hughes was recognized as the NESCAC and NSCAA New England Coach of the Year. 

How have you been doing?

I’ve been doing O.K., given the circumstances. I miss having the whole team around and the joys and challenges of being in season, but we are trying to make the best of the situation.

How did you and your team react to the cancelling of the fall season?

My heart broke for the players, especially the seniors, since the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics is so fleeting. That said, I wholly supported the decision. The health and safety of our students, coaches and staff are the top priority.   

How has the team been practicing during the pandemic?

We have been training three times a week and lifting once a week. Even though we are limited in what we can do at practice, it has been really fun. When we first started training in early September, we were training in two separate pods and limited to individual technical work. Recently, we were able to combine the pods so we can train as a full group and we’ve been able to pass, shoot and even add some passive pressure. 

How has the team been keeping in touch this semester?

Most of the communication among the players and coaches has been informal, but we did have a team zoom recently facilitated by the Queer Resource Center [QRC] and LEADS. It was awesome to get everyone together and the facilitators were terrific. 

How have you had to adjust recruiting strategies this year?

Recruiting is all virtual now. Meetings with prospective student athletes, campus tours — everything — has shifted to Zoom and FaceTime. The silver lining is that it has made campus more accessible to everyone (virtually, at least), but we do miss the ability to connect with prospective student athletes in person. Evaluation has shifted exclusively to video, which certainly has its challenges.  For prospective students, it can be challenging because many students don’t have footage, especially higher quality footage that’s helpful for coaches.  For coaches, it’s challenging because the quality of the footage varies — it’s not always terribly reliable and it’s incredibly time consuming to sift through it all.

How did the team do last year? And how did you feel about those results?

Last year was amazing — we had a lot of talent, wonderful chemistry, amazing leadership. As a result, we won the NESCAC — one of the most, if not the most, competitive DIII conference[s] in the country — which was truly incredible. We were playing our best soccer in the NCAA Tournament, and I truly felt that we had a real shot at the NCAA title. We lost a game in the NCAA Tournament that we dominated, which was absolutely heartbreaking, but for good or for bad, that’s the nature of soccer.  

As of right now, do you have any expectations for how the team will do when soccer season starts up again?

Given all of the uncertainty, I have absolutely no expectations. I’m just really looking forward to the day to day of being in season again.  

What is one piece of advice you tell your players that you think can help other Amherst students during this time?

Control the controllables! There is so much out of our control, so it’s important to focus on what we can control.   

What is your favorite part about your job?

Hands down — the opportunity to work closely with such amazing people — student-athletes, coaches, staff and faculty.