By Joseph Staszewski
The St. John’s University women’s soccer team doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder.
The Red Storm made the NCAA tournament for just the second time in program history last season and picked up their first win there by beating the University of Central Florida in the first round.
The returning roster wants to make the trip an annual occurrence and expectation by doing it again this year.
“The main thing we talked about in the preseason was establishing a tradition,” star junior forward Rachel Daly said. “We don’t want to be a team that just makes the NCAA tournament once. We want to try to establish a tradition of making it multiple times in a row, repeating what we did last year and, if not, getting further.”
Daly is a big reason why St. John’s has a chance to build off its success. The English import was the nation’s leading scorer last season with 50 points, including a program single season record 23 goals. Daley was tabbed as the Preseason Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
The Red Storm will need to find someone to replace the physical play of graduated forward Amy Marron alongside her. She took the pressure off Daly. Daly and St. John’s Coach Ian Stone are not sure who that person will be yet this season, but there are candidates.
Emily Cubbage, Caitlyn McLaughlin and Morgan Tinari all have experience. Stone has also been impressed with freshman midfielder Allie Moar and freshman forward Shea Connors in the preseason. This group of complementary pieces, however, are more quick and technical players that physical forces.
“It can’t all be her,” Stone said of Daly. “We need someone else. Amy Marron last year was fantastic. She was big, strong, physical and good in the air. She took a lot of punishment for Rachel.”
One of St. John’s’ biggest strengths last year was veteran defense and the emergence of sophomore goalie Diana Poulin. Losses to graduation mean plenty of new faces on the Red Storm defense despite the return of Poulin and defender Georgia Perry Kearney, the Preseason Big East Player of the Year.
Stone expects to have one or two freshmen starting, which he knows is not ideal. Red shirt senior Rachel Hoffman, who saw some time back the last season, and classmate Jen Gibbons, who is coming back from a torn ACL, are also in the mix.
“They are great players, but they lack the college experience,” Kearney-Perry said. “I hope to be able to help them. They can hold their own, but I have to help them grow.”
St. John’s was picked by the league’s coaches to finish third in the Big East this season behind Georgetown and Marquette. The Red Storm did not beat either team last year, but play both at Belson Stadium this time around.
The Red Storm, which open their season against St. Francis (Pa.) at home Aug. 22, will also host the Big East tournament there this season. Stone knows the process for this year’s club will be different after losing a number of veteran players. There is talent, but there will also be a learning curve.
“We have to learn in a short period of time, especially with all these newcomers,” Stone said. “I think they’ll do it, but it’s not going to be as easy as it was last year.”
The expectations of another run to the NCAA tournament and the pressure that comes with that remain. It’s something this group and its leaders are embracing and will settle for nothing less.
“We know we can do it,” Perry-Kearney said. “We are going to try to make it even further in the NCAA and we are going out to win the Big East tournament.”