The Stony Brook women’s soccer team’s 1-0 win against Hartford on Sunday, Oct. 1 followed a nail-biting version of this season’s familiar formula: a hard-fought victory won with the help of a strong freshman class.
Freshman forward Alyssa Francese found the back of the net for a game-winning goal in the 106th minute of the match. The goal, which came off a shot from the corner of the penalty box, was Francese’s sixth score in the last five games. The newcomer now leads the Seawolves in goals and is tied for the third-highest scoring total in the America East Conference.
“It’s been a big confidence booster for me,” Francese said. “Starting off the season not having scored and coming from past teams where scoring was like an every-game thing for me, it’s making me feel a lot more comfortable on the field and at practice.”
Francese’s finishing touches have not come in a vacuum, however, and the forward feels the team’s fast-forming chemistry is responsible for her strong form.
“It’s happened because of the chemistry we are developing on the team,” Francese said. “We’ve been playing a lot more with the same girls on the field, so we’re understanding the way each of us play, and I think that’s been beneficial.”
Francese is far from the only freshman making waves for the Seawolves. First-year players make up 12 of the team’s 27 roster spots, with eight freshmen among the top 15 in minutes played.
Head coach Brendan Faherty never expected to bring in so many first-year players this season, but he is far from disappointed with the results.
“This was our first recruiting class, so we were unsure about the type of player we were going to bring in,” Faherty said. “So all of the sudden it went from six to 12. The idea was never to bring in 12 kids, but I think all 12 are talented and they’ve all helped us at different parts of the season.”
Francese and fellow freshman forward Rachel Florenz are the team’s two most prolific scorers thus far this year, tallying six and five goals respectively. Freshman goalkeeper Sofia Manner has started all but one game this season, while freshmen Chelsie DePonte, Chase Rome and Kimmy Chavkin have taken the lion’s share of minutes at the two crucial central midfield positions.
The new class’ development has been aided by a selfless and supportive group of upperclassmen who have helped the freshmen adapt to the rigors of both college academics and college soccer.
“I think our seniors and juniors and sophomores have made it an easy transition for our freshmen,” Faherty said. “I think that’s why they’ve been able to have success, because they’re great role models. They understand what I want, so they’re able to help out the younger players when it comes to defending and how we want to play as a team.”
For Rome, adjusting to the team’s style meant sacrificing some of the most basic facets of her game.
“It’s been difficult,” Rome said. “I came in and [Faherty] didn’t exactly like the way I played my position initially, and I didn’t start a few games initially because of it. I was doing a lot more running than I needed to, so I needed to hold a stable position for everyone and not attack as much as I wanted to.”
Florenz found her time as an attacking player was directly related to her willingness to focus on the finer points of the game.
“You really need to focus on the little things and the things that’ll help your teammates,” Florenz said. “Brendan pays very close attention to detail, he wants to make sure you’re playing on the right foot and you have good body positioning. It was hard for me paying attention to those details.”
Technical adjustments aside, adapting to the new environment has been a challenge in itself for several players. But Manner, who came to Stony Brook from Helsinki, Finland, had to work her way over a language barrier to better lead the team out of the backfield.
“In the beginning it was hard,” Manner said. “Especially because I’m a goalkeeper, and I feel like communication with the team is the most important thing. It was hard for me to learn the words and I still keep struggling at times. I have to really think about what I am going to scream.”
Despite the challenges each freshman has faced in their first semester at the university, these new Seawolves have quickly formed the nucleus of a team filled with grit and potential. Their 6-7 overall record was marred by a five-game losing streak, which ended in the middle of September, but the team has posted a 4-1 record since the skid.
Chavkin said the team’s losing streak taught them how to stay resilient and keep on pushing through adversity.
“We just can’t get down on ourselves, we have to continue to move forward,” Chavkin said. “In a lot of those games, at halftime, we’d be down 1-0 and we’d just never recover. But now we’re scoring early, we’re scoring lots of goals and getting a lot better. [At Hartford] we all knew that we were winning that game, we had a hard time finishing but we deserved to win that game.”
Even in the midst of their struggles, Faherty said his team never lost faith in themselves and their mindset, which has continued to pay big dividends ever since.
“We were 2-6, and I don’t think many people thought we’d be 6-7 five games later, but we are,” Faherty said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the players on our team and the staff. We believe in what we’re doing, we believe in the process and how we’re trying to play. Overall there were little things we had to tweak, but the style of play was there, and now we’re getting the results.”