ALBANY — Sade Ayinde’s first major task in her first season as UAlbany’s women’s soccer coach? Figuring out where the Great Danes’ goals are going to come from.
The answer? Well, at least heading into Thursday’s season opener at UMass, it’s still up in the air.
“We have players that have the ability,” Ayinde said after practice on Wednesday. “Now, they have the opportunity. So, how are they going to take advantage of that?”
UAlbany lost the bulk of its scoring touch from 2021 with the graduation of standout twins Jasmine and Jada Colbert, who combined to score 12 of the Great Danes’ 22 goals last season as the team went 6-8-4 overall and 4-3-2 in America East play before bowing out to eventual league champion Vermont in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
For Ayinde, who was hired in February after Leigh Howard stepped down as UAlbany’s head coach to take a full-time position with Special Olympics New York, her first preseason with the Great Danes has been about tweaking formations and lineups as much as she can to find a combination that will work best for her team this season.
It’s a process that figures to continue Thursday at 4 p.m. when UAlbany heads to Amherst, Massachusetts for its season opener, and could roll through the entirety of the nonconference schedule until America East play opens Sept. 18 at New Hampshire.
And, while last year that scoring punch was more often than not provided by the Colberts, this year things are likely to be much more evenly distributed.
“It’s a growing year for us, for sure,” Ayinde said. “We lost some good goalscorers in the last graduating class. Now it’s time to see who steps up and fills those shoes. It’s open for a lot of people, but we’ve had some really strong people step up in training, in friendlies … I think it’s going to be a team effort.”
Among the candidates to lead the line for UAlbany is junior midfielder Olivia Piraino. The Niskayuna High School graduate tied Jada Colbert for second on the team in scoring last season with three goals, and along with Jasmine Colbert was one of UAlbany’s two America East first-team all-conference selections in 2021.
“We’re all so excited,” Piraino said. “It’s a fresh start. We’re pushing each other to the limits.”
Piraino’s also confident a number of younger players will quickly step up to fill the scoring void. She said that freshman Emily Jozwak made an impression in UAlbany’s preseason exhibition matches, including a goal against Manhattan that Piraino described as “a banger.”
Senior midfielder Marisa Tava, who led UAlbany with three assists last season, is similarly bullish on the Great Danes’ offensive prospects.
“We’re not going to have that one player. It’s going to take several girls to step up,” Tava said. “We’re going to be looking at several goalscorers this year.”
Tava’s also relished getting to work under Ayinde and assistant coach Gabe Kleinert.
Prior to arriving at UAlbany, Ayinde spent three years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Yale, with three years as an assistant at Stony Brook before that. A former University of Maryland standout during her playing career, she’s also served as a youth national team scout for U.S. Soccer in the Northeast region, focusing on New York and New Jersey.
Tava’s noticed a change in the way the Great Danes get to work since Ayinde’s arrival.
“A lot of us were used to our set ways,” Tava said. “The biggest challenge is fixing ourselves, working and playing how Sade wants, how Sade and Gabe want to run things.”
Ayinde’s enjoyed the vibe around the Great Danes since they reported for preseason at the start of August.
“It’s been fun to get to know the different personalities,” she said. “We have a lot of off-the-field characters, and on the field I think we have a lot of different players off the ball, different players on the ball.
“We’re trying some different things from what they’re used to. Getting them to learn, teaching, really diving into the soccer side of things, that’s probably been the most exciting part of preseason.”
SIENA OPENS SEASON
Also Thursday, the Siena women’s soccer team will open its season at 6 p.m. with a road game against Central Connecticut State in New Britian, Connecticut.
Siena went 9-9-2 last season, including a 6-4 mark in the MAAC, and reached the semifinals of the conference tournament after having won the league title during the spring 2021 season.