By Jessica Ganga
For soccer players, there is nothing comparable to stepping out on the field under the stadium lights, to the sound of the crowd cheering, knowing that they are getting a chance to play the sport that they grew to love.
For a majority of the five seniors on the College’s women’s soccer team: Christina Roach, Justine Larocca, Jessica Weeder, Taylor Lusardi and Brianna Cummings — it will be the last semester they experience the pregame rush again.
Luckily, they’ll tell you, the women have had the chance to make many memories while playing for the Lions, and at the same time, have learned life lessons that they will take with them even after they step off the field for the last time.
To some, the journey on the team hasn’t been an easy one. For forward Roach, there were some ups and downs, but the experience is still one she will never forget.
“It has been one hell of a journey. But as each year progressed, the journey got easier and the people you get to know make each season more memorable than the last,” Roach said. “Then once you hit senior year, that current season becomes your season. Currently, and reflecting, it has been super fun and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.”
For others, their journey on the team has allowed them to overcome obstacles — both physically and mentally — that have helped them become a better player.
“My biggest obstacle while playing on the team was overcoming my lack of confidence,” forward Larocca said. “I had always been a confident player, but had a hard time adjusting my freshman year. My coaches and grad assistants worked with me a lot on it and I can still see myself improving every day.”
Goalkeeper Weeder’s biggest obstacle was a physical one that, in the long run, has given her the opportunity to play for the team one last semester.
“The very first day of preseason, I ended up tearing my hip flexor,” Weeder said. “It was both a physical and mental blow and it was difficult to stay positive and commit to a lot of physical therapy when all I wanted to do was get back on the field.”
One thing all the women collectively agreed on was the opportunity and experience for playing for head coach Joe Russo, who has been the head coach for the Lions since the program began in 1990.
According to the seniors, Russo is a coach that understands the meaning of the word “team” and emphasizes the team as a whole. He has a respectable following due to his presence and how he composes himself. Russo is an organized coach who reminds each player that they have an important role on the team.
To midfielder Lusardi, she is grateful for the opportunity to have been coached by Russo.
“(He) has provided me with four years of soccer knowledge and experience that you can’t get anywhere else. He knows the game so well, and he knows how to develop championship teams,” Lusardi said. “I can’t thank him enough for all the dedication and support he has provided for the girls and me. He breeds winning teams for a reason, and its been an honor playing for him these past four years.”
While Russo provided the women with advice and helped them become well-rounded players during their time on the team, as seniors they have become mentors and someone else that the younger players can look to for help.
Most of the girls stressed the importance of working hard and believing in their abilities.
Put simply by defender Cummings, her advice to younger players is “to work hard and to enjoy themselves as they do it.”
Roach gave advice that will really help the women in the future.
“My advice for the younger players is to wear sunscreen. Everybody should wear sunscreen,” Roach said and then gave the girls more advice to help them as they continued to play. “If I had to expense one thing it would be to have fun and enjoy it. It doesn’t last forever and it’s supposed to be fun. Don’t get in the way of yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. Your time will come.”
Together, the women have made memories that they will keep close to them. Whether it was winning an NJAC tournament and dogpiling on the field or watching other players score amazing goals for a win, it’s the friendships made on the team and the strong bond between them that has made them a championship-winning team — something they’ll keep close with them.
“These past four years being on this team have meant everything to me,” Lusardi said. “This program has given me so many incredible memories that I will hold in my heart forever. It has taught me about the value of commitment, teamwork, and time management. And most importantly, I have gained friendships that will last a lifetime. This team has been my family for the past four years, and I couldn’t imagine sharing my final season here with a better group of girls.”