Taking on the world: St. John’s women’s soccer thriving at an international level

St. John’s junior Claudia Cagnina, pictured with her sister Grace, trained with the Peruvian national U-20 team last week, the latest Red Storm standout to compete on the international circuit.
Red Storm Athletics
By Troy Mauriello

There’s a storm coming.

Under the tutelage of longtime head coach Ian Stone, St. John’s women’s soccer has emerged as one of the top programs in the Northeast. The Red Storm have racked up seven winning seasons in the past decade, along with NCAA Tournament berths in 2009, 2013 and 2016.

But they’re not limiting themselves simply to Queens.

St. John’s has quietly become a hotbed for international soccer prospects in recent years, and that fact once again has been on display throughout the offseason.

Last week, it was Claudia Cagnina who was invited to train with the Peruvian national U-20 team June 26. Then two days later, Vaila Barsley received an offer to play for Scotland’s squad in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 next month.

For Stone, the main reason for this international impact comes from the diversity of Queens, and its surrounding areas.

“St. John’s is pretty diverse, so if we can be a reflection of St. John’s and Queens, I’m obviously very proud of that,” he said. “And we have a bunch of players that have played for their different national teams, and those stories are tremendous.”

Cagnina and Barsley are not the first Johnnies to make an appearance for their respective international teams, and they almost certainly will not be the last. The honor, however, is not lost on either athlete.

Cagnina, a rising junior at St. John’s, has progressed steadily for the Red Storm in each of her first two seasons, but this isn’t her first moment on the international stage. She tallied three goals in the Copa Lima 2016 with Peru last summer, and trained with the team in April.

“She did this last year, went to Peru as well, and it helped tremendously,” Stone said. “They’re training a couple of days a week and then fitting in games as well. It gave her some confidence. And certainly last year we saw a big difference after she was in Peru, so I hope that we get that again.”

Cagnina, while excited for the opportunity, has almost the same mindset as her head coach.

“It means a lot to me to be able to represent my home country and be able to play different countries,” she said via email. “And it also helps me learn different styles of play because everyone from across the world plays soccer differently and it gives me an ability to improve and learn different ideas of the game.”

For Barsley, the path to international competition isn’t nearly as direct. After graduating from St. John’s and playing her final game as a member of the Red Storm’s 2009 NCAA Tournament squad, she found an office job in New York City. The passion for soccer still remained, and after stops in Iceland and Sweden, Barsley has found a spot with the Scottish National Team.

“Vaila is just really a story of her perseverance,” Stone said. “And to see her to get this opportunity now at this stage in her career, it makes us all very proud.”

Barsley will be one of the eight defenders of the Scotland roster for Euro 2017, set to kick off Sunday in The Netherlands.

Cagnina and Barsley are just two of the many players from the St. John’s program to shine professionally over the past few years.

Most notably, Rachel Daly, who last appeared for the Red Storm in 2015, has succeeded for both the English National Team and for the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Stone believes that the success of his past players on a professional stage can be linked to his longtime love for the game of soccer.

“I think part of my job is to try to grow the game of soccer and to convey my love and passion of the game to the girls that play for us,” he said. “So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a bunch of them have gone on to either coach or continue to play.”

And most importantly for Stone and the Red Storm, these success stories also make life on the recruiting trail much easier.

“It’s now a viable option for young girls coming in to college to go on a play professionally, so some of them will ask if I have any contacts or people that I can guide them to after they finish college. So that only opens up doors for recruiting,” he said.

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