Coming off of their best season in program history, it’s hard to expect improvement in the College of Staten Island women’s soccer program, but that’s exactly on the agenda for Head Coach John Guagliardo and his crew, as the Dolphins look to continue its forward momentum into the 2012 campaign. Set against the backdrop of an expanded conference slate, the season will carry extra importance when the Dolphins lace up their cleats in 2012. For the first time in CUNYAC history, an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament will go to the winner of the conference, and for the six-time and defending champion Dolphins, that means the bullseye will be squarely on their backs from the opening kickoff.
Reciprocating the 13-5-1 season and ECAC appearance a year ago will still be a tall order for the Dolphins, especially given the fact that the Dolphins ran through a perfect 6-0 CUNYAC record a year ago, one that saw them completely shut out their opponents over a total of 740 regular and post-season minutes. Defensively, the team held opponents to under two goals on 13 occasions, averaging 2.97 of their own in the process. All of those numbers will be tested this year, even with a healthy core of returners.
Topping the list of returning talent is CUNYAC Player of the Year Demi-Jean Martorano, who scorched opponents for a team high 18 goals in 19 games a year ago, adding eight assists and a team-best 97 shots. Just as dangerous in the midfield, Martorano’s role could grow given the senior losses of Lauren Neglia (six goals, four assists) and Paige Buono (three goals). Still, CSI is not without firepower. Fellow junior Natalie Tombasco, whose natural position is as a defender and could see more of that role this year, punched in 10 goals a year ago, while sophomore Samantha Wysokowski scored five goals in limited duty. Last year’s freshman sensation was the game-winning goalkeeper in CSI’s 0-0 win over John Jay College in the CUNYAC Final, and finished 6-3-1 in-between the pipes. Back to her normal role on the pitch, Wysokowski’s numbers should balloon. Mix in fellow sophomore Melissa Gelardi, who was among the nation’s leaders in assists (13), and CSI should still hover among the best offensive teams in the CUNYAC.
“We are so much stronger that we have ever been offensively and it’s going to make us a lot better,” said Guagliardo. “The biggest improvement we have this year is the ability to create. We leaned a lot on our right side attack with Melissa (Gelardi) creating shots, but this year we have the ability to attack at multiple angles, making it harder for defenses to double-team our goal-scorers.”
As good as the team was offensively a year ago, Guagliardo’s call to duty is through defense, as evidenced by CSI’s magnificent shutout streak, capped by a defensive showcase in the CUNYAC Final. After a year’s absence due to injury, sophomore Victoria Donegan returns between the pipes after a sensational freshman campaign in 2010, and together with defensive stalwarts Alyssa Colasurdo, Amanda Percaccio, Christina Jacob, and with Tombasco thrown into the mix, the team figures again to be awfully stingy when they take the field.
“I think we can be extremely physical and strong on defense this year,” the coach said. “One thing we have this year is the ability to send the ball across the field without having to make two and three passes and that changes the game. Our defense is not only sound at shutting down the opponent, but we have a better ability to turn defense into offense this year.”
After graduating four players a year ago, CSI returns plenty of ammunition, 16 in total, but it’s the new faces that are sure to also add an impact, and it has the coaches giddy about the present and future of CSI soccer. Defender Nicole Molinelli is being targeted as a major defensive addition while Danielle Alexandrini should battle with Donegan for a spot in front of the net. Two-sport star Sara Gugliucci (women’s basketball) could figure as an anchor in the midfield along with Deanna Kvetkoff and Kathryn Dowling. Together with increased production from returners Jean Notholt, Matea Marie DeNoble, and Gabriela Galeano, CSI is excited about its combination of first and second-year talent.
“Our first and second year players are going to be a real asset for us, and we are going to see a lot of them this season,” Guagliardo stated. “We have more depth than we ever have and that goes a long way, especially at the end of the season, when the rigors of the season are taking a toll and the games get bigger and bigger.”
After a two-year absence from a CUNYAC Championship, the Dolphins took back the crown in 2011 in the four-team conference. In between then and now, Lehman College and Brooklyn College have added varsity women’s soccer programs, while Medgar Evers College re-instituted its program after a one-year hiatus. That brings the teams to seven all-together, meriting the conference an automatic berth into the NCAA foray for the champion. With the new format, CSI will only play a single conference game against each school. Four teams will then qualify for the postseason tournament. The feverish competition will make thinks interesting for Guagliardo as he prepares for the year.
“The NCAA automatic qualifier is something we have trying to get for a long time and we are excited about the opportunity,” Guagliardo said. “We have some formidable programs already in the conference that are only getting better and the new programs will certainly not be overlooked. The reality is we don’t care how we get in but that is the focus and anything short of that would be a disappointment for us.”
CSI will open up their season on Friday afternoon, kicking off their first annual Fall Classic against Benedictine University at 10am, followed by a 2pm contest against Wisconsin-Platteville the following day. A week later, CSI will introduce the conference portion of their season against Lehman College (9/8, Home, 12pm). A rematch of last year’s championship with John Jay College is scheduled for October 6 at the CSI Soccer Complex (4pm). All CSI home games are free of charge and CLUE Certified for all students.