A common theme of the 2022 Stony Brook women’s soccer team was its youth — in particular, the age of its stars. The Seawolves had eight freshmen field players, all of whom scored a goal in their debut seasons.
A couple of them hit the ground running. Midfielder Linn Beck and forward Hannah Maracina both scored in their first-ever match, and defender Sammy Hannwacker scored in each of her first two appearances. However, it was the latest bloomer of the group that helped Stony Brook make the 2022 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) — now Coastal Athletic Association — postseason tournament.
As a freshman, forward Gabrielle Côté was the last of the eight first-year position players to score for the Seawolves. It took Côté until Oct. 9 at Drexel — the 15th game of the season — to finally break through, and she did so in a vital way for her team. With Stony Brook on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, Drexel jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead. About three minutes later, Côté finally came through for her team and ricocheted a shot into the back of the net off the woodwork to tie the game. However, that effort was undone, and Stony Brook saw itself trailing 4-3 with the final seconds ticking away.
With less than 10 seconds remaining, defender Kerry Pearson sent a free kick to defender Rachael Peters, setting her up for a header. Rather than finding the net, the ball found Côté, who buried it herself with a header of her own to tie the game. The game ended in a draw, giving the Seawolves one point in the standings and allowing them to move into playoff position.
For Côté, ending her 12-match goal drought was a dream come true.
“That was a relief,” Côté said in an interview with The Statesman. “I was just waiting for that goal, and I kind of felt it coming actually against Drexel. I had a dream the night before that I scored two goals. I was just so happy to finally have my first collegiate goal, and the second one was just a cherry on top.”
Two weeks later, Côté gave Stony Brook an encore and carried it to its biggest victory of the year. In the last game of the regular season — needing a win to clinch — the Seawolves trailed 1-0 at Hofstra with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Coming off a feed from her teammate, Côté slipped one past the goalie and found the equalizer they needed. Coming out of halftime, Côté struck again in the 56th minute and gave the Seawolves the lead for good, bringing home the win to clinch a playoff berth.
Her goals against Drexel and Hofstra gave Stony Brook four points in the standings, helping it jump from ninth place to the sixth seed in the conference tournament. Being an unsung hero never quite set in for Côté, who was just happy to contribute.
“I never processed it like that,” Côté said. “I’m proud. I’m happy that I could actually change something in my freshman year.”
Given her struggles at the start of her freshman year, Côté is more so an unlikely hero than an unsung one. As a Canadian from Quebec, Côté was only fully fluent in French, relying on basic knowledge of the English language from classes in high school. She struggled to communicate with her teammates, often missing out on the jokes that they would tell. After being around her teammates long enough — along with watching several Netflix shows in English — Côté eventually caught up to her teammates in that area.
However, she still lacked in others. Côté was behind other players in her development, and she felt that her high school career did not prepare her for the NCAA Division I level.
“It’s a big change,” Côté said. “Play is much quicker, the players are stronger and it’s more of a mental game. You need to stay focused all the time, which I was not used to, so it did take me a bit to adjust to that.”
Her difficulties also stemmed from her role on the team, as she had to learn a new position. Traditionally a center forward back home, Côté was forced to learn a new position on the left wing, which she did not get the hang of until later in the season. Matters were made worse by several health issues, such as asthma and a concussion suffered on Sept. 8 at Columbia. The concussion sidelined Côté for the following two games.
But being able to sit out for some time allowed Côté to finally settle in and acclimate to the NCAA Division I level.
“After my concussion, I just let the pressure down,” Côté said. “I could just concentrate on having fun, and that’s when I actually started to do something on the field.”
Côté’s heroics boosted her confidence, allowing her to bury the bumpy beginning of her Stony Brook career and leave it in the past. Now, with her morale higher than it has ever been since coming to the United States, Côté has no doubts that she is right where she belongs.
Coming into year two, Côté wants to pick up right where she left off.
“I want to have more goals [this] year,” Côté said. “I’m going to work for it.”
Mike Anderson also contributed reporting.