NEW BRITAIN - Following a season that included a NEC championship and a trip to play the No. 5 team in the country in the NCAA Tournament, the CCSU women’s soccer team wanted to be tested early on in the 2019 season to ensure it would be ready for another showing on the national level.
The tests began in the first match of the new season.
Facing a nationally ranked Rutgers team on the road last week, the Blue Devils battled into overtime before dropping a 2-1 contest in New Brunswick, New Jersey, kicking off the new season with a match that rivaled the intensity of the team’s final match of the 2018 season, when it took a 1-0 lead into halftime against the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas.
For head coach Mick D’Arcy, starting the season and the team’s conference title defense with an immediate battle was exactly what he was hoping for.
“It's always good to play against good competition,” D’Arcy said. “Last year we finished off down in Georgetown and they were ranked in the top five in that stage, and we know if we do everything we're supposed to do through the season that we'll get back there and have another opportunity to play one of those top teams. We want to see where we're at early. When you play good teams, you're flaws are easily identified, and that offers a good chance to learn. Some deficiencies were highlighted, but some of what we did well was highlighted as well.”
D’Arcy saw a critical penalty result in an equalizing goal for Rutgers and eventually an overtime loss, but when the first match of the season results in a one-goal contest against a top-20 team in the nation, there is plenty to be encouraged about. The 20-year head coach wanted to see how his group would fare against the type of competition he hopes to face in three months, and his Blue Devils showed him a lot in a little more than 90 minutes of play.
“Some of the staples we've built this program on over the years is having a hard-working team with a blue collar mentality,” D’Arcy said. “I think anyone that watched the Rutgers game saw that. We went toe-to-toe with them and didn't back down. You also saw some creativity with the team. That's kind of what this program is about. We bring in kids that want to give everything, but we like to think we have a little flair as well.”
One encouraging sight for D’Arcy was the play of new goalkeeper Amanda McQuillan, who tallied nine saves against Rutgers to earn the NEC Defensive Player of the Week. The sophomore is taking on a new and important role for CCSU this season, but with a defensive unit almost fully intact from last season, including NEC Defensive Player of the Year Shauny Alterisio, D’Arcy is confident his defense will be among the best in the conference once again. Alterisio earned plenty of personal accolades in 2018, but D’Arcy knows his captain benefited from a total defensive effort.
“I think it's the collective,” D’Arcy said of his defensive unit. “Shauny played alongside Emily Hogan last year, and she was first team all-conference as well. The two of them together were fantastic. The third one who's back this year is Erica Bardes. They all earned a lot of experience together last year, and we have three of the four back for this season. There is a lot of consistency from last year.”
Leading the offense will be sophomore Roma McLaughlin, the reigning conference Rookie of the Year, who scored the Blue Devils’ lone goal against Rutgers. With a full season of experience, D’Arcy is looking for more success from his standout midfielder.
“She's taken on a little more responsibility,” D’Arcy said. “She and Shauny are now the two captains of the team. Last year was her first introduction to America [coming from Ireland] and she was learning the college process and working her way through that, and this year she's much more well-rounded. You see her working with the younger players, and she's clearly taken on more of a leadership role this year.”
The return of McLaughlin and the majority of CCSU’s defense has the Blue Devils atop the preseason NEC rankings, but D’Arcy doesn’t pay much attention to that. In his mind, preseason rankings are earned from past performances, which mean nothing in 2019. He’s more focused on the team’s early lessons to start the season, and based on what CCSU showed in its season opener, the preseason rankings may be warranted.
“It's still a little bit of show and tell,” D’Arcy said. “We've been back for three weeks or so, so we had two good weeks of preseason and then it was a great challenge right off the bat at Rutgers. They're one of the best teams in the country, and we played really well. We're just learning from game to game right now.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org