By: Erin Madden
BEREA, Ohio – Before the Baldwin Wallace University women's soccer team starts every practice, they come together in a huddle and pick out goals and objectives for the team and for that particular practice. When practice is over, they come back together as a team, reinforcing a "You with Me" attitude that the team has embraced this year.
Why has this "You with Me" culture, introduced by first year Head Coach Jim Wojtkun, been successful so far? Because seniors Alex Elliott (Blacklick/IMG Academy), Lauren Haynam (Minerva) and Anna Poptic (Dublin/Jerome) have incorporated this new team approach into the leadership roles that come with the title of team captain.
Elliott says that everything the team does revolves around this theme. "If the captains are leading and incorporating the 'You with Me' in every practice, then everyone will follow. It's a lot bigger than just us, though. It has a lot to do with the coaching staff. They really make sure that everyone is working together, and it's working so far."
Haynam adds, "'You with Me' is not about playing for yourself or for your own personal stats. It's about looking at the people beside you on the field and knowing that you have to give 100 percent for them."
While all three players lead by example with this "You with Me" attitude, each girl goes about being a captain in her own unique way.
The only two-year captain out of the group, Poptic approaches her role with a different mindset this year, especially after participating in the Center for Innovation and Growth's student athlete leadership colloquium. Embracing Aristotle's seven virtues of a servant leader – courage, justice, temperance, wisdom, faith, hope and love – Poptic works to instill those virtues in her teammates and set them up for success when she graduates.
"I still was a leader last year but it is a different kind of important to me now," Poptic says. "This year, I really want to help the juniors and the underclassmen develop their leadership, make sure that their leadership is something that will continue after we leave. … Helping them figure out their leadership is something that is really important to me being elected captain this year."
Meanwhile, Elliott, a two-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference selection, focuses on making sure her teammates are accountable to each other. For example, during the off-season, the team gets together twice a week to play futsal inside Ursprung Gymnasium. The team's leaders are solely responsible for organizing futsal and getting their teammates to show up, separate from the coaching staff.
"It's easy for people out of season to say 'Oh, I'm out of season, I don't need to do this," Elliott says. "This was the first year that we actually made sure futsal happened and that people came. They need to continue to stay on top of each other and hold each other accountable."
Team culture and cultivating a positive attitude is where Haynam notices a direct correlation to the Yellow Jackets success or failure on the field.
"My goal is to keep our culture good, to keep everyone positive, and then that helps us a lot throughout the games and the season," Haynam states. "As long as we aren't nagging on each other, we are usually more successful. It's important to be positive and to involve your teammates, no matter what role they're in, to make sure that everyone feels like a part of the team."
All three captains give credit to Wojtkun not only for instilling this "You with Me" attitude but for bringing them to Baldwin Wallace in the first place. Wojtkun, an 11-year assistant with the women's program before being elevated to the top job in June, was a key figure in the recruiting process for all three captains.
"Jim really got to know us," Haynam recalls. "He was always on the phone with us, always checking in on our game scores. He really made us feel important."
Poptic was deciding between playing for a Division I program at the University of Kentucky and Baldwin Wallace and credits Wojtkun's persistence in helping her make her ultimate decision.
"I wouldn't have heard of BW if it wasn't for Jim," Poptic says. "I guess deep down I kind of knew I was going to pick BW because Jim was really persistent when he was recruiting me."
Even though Elliott initially chose Bowling Green State University before ultimately transferring to Baldwin Wallace, Wojtkun continued to remain in touch with her and her family throughout her time at BGSU.
"He just really cared about me and how I was doing, even though I decided not to come here at first," Elliott says. "Basically, the reason I'm here is because of Jim. I wouldn't be here without him."
Three years and three varsity letters later, Elliott, Haynam and Poptic have one common goal in mind before graduating: winning an Ohio Athletic Conference Championship. The Yellow Jackets have come up short all three years that the girls have been on the team, losing in the finals their freshman year and in the semifinals the past two years. However, all three agree this "You with Me" mindset is the edge the team needs to go all the way this year.
"I think, this year, we're good enough to win it all," Elliott said. "I just think we can do it this year because Jim has created this really good atmosphere."
Poptic agrees, saying, "I think his passion for his job is contagious and infects this team with a good attitude."