Along with losing a 2015 NSCAA DIII Women’s Soccer All-American, Martina Landeka, and the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Midfielder of the Year, Shawna Grabowski, the Montclair State women’s soccer team lost five additional seniors to graduation.
It hasn’t mattered — at least not yet. The Red Hawks have outscored their opponents by a 19-0 margin and have jumped out to a 4-0-1 record in their first five games. Montclair State dominated the Mount St. Mary Tournament on Sept. 9-10, and they’ve been successful while more than half of their players are underclassmen.
“We don’t care if you’ve played here 75 games or 5 games,” Head Coach Pat Naughter said after his team’s 6-0 victory over Brooklyn College on Sept. 7. “You have to bring it every day. You have to work every day. Sometimes it is just not about playing good soccer, it’s about working real hard and being consistent.”
Seven out of Montclair State’s 11 starters from 2015 have returned to start for the Red Hawks this season, and two freshman have already cracked the starting lineup. Freshman midfielder Ryelle Sansone has averaged over 46 minutes per game and plays a crucial role in setting up the Red Hawks’ attack, and forward Emily Beenders has notched four goals and two assists in her first six games.
“There’s so much depth on this team and everyone is good, and every single player came into the game today and contributed,” Sansone said after the team’s win against Brooklyn College. “There’s a lot of good players here, so I have to keep working hard in order to stay in the starting lineup.”
To Sansone’s point, Naughter has used at least eight bench players in each of the Red Hawks’ last three games. In other words, Naughter uses 20 different players during the course of any given game.
Still, the team can’t replace Landeka and Grabowski’s contributions right away. Landeka started every game in 2015 while Grabowski logged an average of 64 minutes per game. Naughter admitted that his team lost a ton of experience without Landeka and Grabowski on the field.
“Those kids were really good players and did a great job for us,” Naughter said. “But, the [underclassmen] are good. Part of the reason why we’re able to get these good, young kids is because of what the kids who were here before did. [Landeka] and [Grabowski] and those kids won us a bunch of games and that’s going to attract really good players to come to school here.”
In the meantime, senior defender Erin Sullivan was named as one of the team’s three captains and will try to fill the leadership void. Sullivan, like a few of the team’s freshmen, stepped in her freshman year and played in all 22 of the Red Hawks’ games in 2013. Sullivan has talked to some of the younger players and given them advice on how to adjust to college soccer.
“I’ve just told them not to get overcome with how big some of the games are, just to play their own game and be comfortable,” Sullivan said. “We’re a very accepting, close team and I think that they fit in very well right away.”
The Red Hawks have breezed through their out-of-conference schedule so far, and their first test will come against NJAC opponents. The women’s soccer team will open NJAC conference play at Ramapo College on Sept. 17.