When the veteran leaders of The College of Saint Rose women’s soccer team discuss last season, there’s an extremely frustrated tone in their voices.
For most programs, winning a conference championship and posting a 21-1-2 overall record would be cause for celebration. For the CSR women’s soccer team, it’s simply not good enough.
CSR, picked once again to win the Northeast-10 Conference championship — which they have earned at least a share of for eight straight campaigns — recorded its sixth consecutive 20-win season and posted a school-record 19 shutouts. The Golden Knights finished second in the country with a 0.21 team goals-against average, and they were 25th in scoring at 2.3 goals per game.
Yet despite reaching their sixth straight NCAA Division II tournament regional championship game, the Knights’ season ended prematurely — without their customary appearance in the DII final four.
“We do not like to lose at all,” said senior defensive back La’Quilla Upton. “Last year ended on a sour note. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end. We have a lot of players on this team who know what it’s like to play in the final four. We want to get back.”
One of the loudest voices during Tuesday’s annual media day at the Plumeri Sports Complex was that of senior Carmelina Puopolo, who after scoring two goals and adding four assists in her first three games was injured and missed the rest of the season.
Puopolo, who is the program’s all-time leader in goals (51), assists (46) and points (148), received a medical reshirt and can’t wait to lead her team back to an elite national level.
“Yes, there is pressure to succeed here, but it’s not anything we can’t handle,” Puopolo said. “If we have to win every game in order to get back to the final four, we will win every game. We have a big core of players back from last year, and we have a lot of strong freshmen coming in.
“There is only one goal on our minds, and that’s to win a ntional championship,” she said.
CSR head coach Laurie Darling-Gutheil, who has guided the Golden Knights to a 150-12-10 record over the last seven seasons, including the 2011 national championship, pulled no punches about where she thinks CSR should finish.
“We understand how important it is to win each and every game and not take anything for granted,” she said.
“Last year was a reflection of what happens when you lose four starters to injury. We only had one loss all year, but we lost so many good players, and that made it extremely difficult to get to where we wanted to be. These girls are so focused. They know that they didn’t get back to the final four because of circumstances that we couldn’t control. I think what happened to us sharpened our character. It gave them hunger and strength.”
Darling-Gutheil said a two-week trip to Europe, where the Golden Knights played three strong international teams, strenghened the team’s chemistry.
She also said that having Puopolo back on the team after missing nearly all of last season is a huge plus.
“We are incredibly thrilled to have Carmelina back,” the coach said. “You never want to see a major injury to a key player, but since her injury happened so early last year, we were able to get a medical redshirt for this year. She understands success, and she also understands how to handle adversity. For our fans, she is worth coming to every game just to see her play.”
Veterans will lead the way, but don’t count out several newcomers, like Mohawk Valley Community College transfer Silvana Giovannone and a handful of talented freshmen, like Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake product Morgan Burchhardt.
“I knew about the Saint Rose program for a long time, and I’ve always wanted to go here,” Burchhardt said. “The mindset here is to win every game, and that’s the same mindset I had at Burnt Hills, where we also went to a final four. There are a lot of similarities there. This is a high-intensity community here. We are all very focused to win.”
The Golden Knights, ranked sixth in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division II preseason poll, return eight starters, including Puopolo and first-team All-America back Jourdan Thompson. They host Nyack in the season opener Thursday at the Plumeri Sports Complex.