LOUDONVILLE — They knew from the outset that it would be a sprint, not a marathon, and the Siena women’s soccer team headed into the spring season with that in mind.
The MAAC’s regular season was crammed into less than two weeks, and without the benefit of a non-conference schedule for the Saints to get their legs up to speed, head coach Steve Karbowski’s team took advantage of its sizeable roster by playing about a dozen full-field, 11-on-11 scrimmages during its five weeks of preseason practices.
“It’s helped us tremendously — fitness-wise, skills-wise,” redshirt junior defender Sophia Dimkopolous said prior to practice Wednesday at Hickey Field. “Situationally, we’re prepared for everything. We’ve gone through being up, being down, and it’s helped us in our season a lot.”
The preseason plan has obviously worked. Siena erupted out of the gate when its season opened March 25 against Iona, scoring five first-half goals in a 6-0 win, and kept the momentum up through its short burst of a regular season.
Five games in 10 days, resulting in four wins and a draw, resulted in Siena claiming its first-ever MAAC regular-season women’s soccer championship. In turn, Siena has the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the MAAC tournament, which opens Friday at 3 p.m. with a quarterfinal match against Iona.
“It’s definitely exciting to be part of a team that’s making history,” junior forward Carrie Krohn said. “This has been a very historic year, with COVID-19 and everything. I think it’s kind of fitting that we’re the team to make history throughout this unprecedented time.”
Though the team was picked to finish eighth in the MAAC’s preseason coaches’ poll and was coming off winning just four games in its 19-game 2019 campaign, Karbowski said his team’s breakout performance in the shortened spring season was “not a huge surprise.”
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group,” Karbowski said. “Typically, games are tight and close. If you get things to go your way a couple times, good results happen.”
In its five games, Siena has outscored its opposition 13-2, with junior midfielder Emily McNelis scoring a team-best five goals and senior midfielder Deanna Lomino providing five assists.
The Saints opened with four straight wins, but it may have been the final game of the regular season — a 1-1 tie this past Saturday against four-time defending MAAC champion Monmouth — that has Karbowski the most confident about where his team stands heading into the conference tournament.
“That was the team you measure yourself against,” said Karbowski, who is in his 22nd season as Siena’s head coach and led the team to MAAC tournament titles in 2010 and 2015. “They’ve been at the top every year.”
The team was able to spend a little extra time breaking down the video of the Monmouth game, as Siena’s scheduled regular-season finale Tuesday night against Marist was canceled due to a campus-wide COVID-19 pause at Marist.
That break helped the team put some added focus on what the Saints need to improve heading into postseason play.
“We’ll get the win next time,” Lomino said. “The tie was great for us, but we’re going to put the win on it next time, for sure.”
A potential rematch with Monmouth for the league championship is a goal, to be sure, but Karbowski and his players echoed the sentiment that the Saints can’t afford to look past their quarterfinal contest with Iona — even considering the 6-0 result in the teams’ first meeting this year.
“We’re coming out [with a] clean slate,” Dimkopolous said. “New game, new 90 minutes. Put the rest in the past, and we’re here to win the game on Friday.”
“All our sights are set on Friday,” Lomino said. “We’ll take care of business Friday and then go from there.”