Montclair State University women’s soccer team ended their 2022 season in disappointment, both in conference play and in the NCAA DIII national tournament. After a successful regular season, the Red Hawks found themselves in the NJAC final and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Ultimately the team fell short in both tournaments and ended their season without raising a trophy.
Coming into this season, the Montclair State women’s soccer staff looked to add talented and experienced players to strengthen the roster, and they found a gem.
Fitzgerald originally went to the University of Rhode Island for her first four years of college, playing soccer there as a central defender. Once she became a graduate student she decided to transfer, eventually picking Montclair State.
“I wanted to be near home for my last season because my family is really big on soccer,” Fitzgerald said. “I came here and I loved it and out of all my options, I knew I would be really comfortable and happy here. I knew that the team chemistry was really good, and the coaching staff was really good so I knew it was the right fit.”
Transferring schools is not typically a smooth experience, especially for athletes. The pressures of learning a new system, meeting new teammates and settling down in a new environment can be daunting.
However, the transition for Fitzgerald could not have been steadier thanks to the positive culture that has been built at Montclair State.
“On the first day, they welcomed all the new players,” Fitzgerald said. “Freshman, fifth years, graduate students with open arms and that was really obvious on the first day, you (typically) don’t see that. They’re all really nice and really positive. They want to play and they’re willing to win.”
Fitzgerald made an immediate impact as she was named a starter for Montclair State’s opening game against Alvernia University. She has since been a consistent starter and key member of the defense throughout the season.
“Kelly’s been a great addition,” Head coach Patrick Naughter said. “She’s a very good player, she’s an experienced kid. We took some significant injuries in the back this year over the summer and in preseason. Not only did we need quality, we needed experience and she’s provided both.”
The Red Hawks are currently in the midst of an extremely impressive season. Ranked eleventh nationally, and boasting a record of 9-2-2, it is clear the team is both extremely talented and even more determined to win.
A large part of the Red Hawks’ success has been their ability to keep the ball out of the net, only conceding eleven goals over the course of the season. For goalkeeper Haley Martin, the defensive effort has been remarkable.
“They always make my job easier, I owe everything to them,” Martin said. “They make playing this game a lot more fun. As a goalkeeper, you want to do a lot more communicating and moving your players. I don’t need to do much of that, they know where they’re going, they get the ball out when they need to, and if there is a shot they make sure it’s in a savable range. They do amazing by limiting the shots on the net.”
Fitzgerald is not limited to only making a difference on defense. She has contributed two goals and an assist on offense. Her two goals are the second most for a defender trailing only Julie Baker, with three. Much to the delight of Coach Naughter.
“Kelly does a couple of things really well,” Naughter said. “She’s a physical, tough defender. On the attack, she’s chipped in a few goals, and she’s one of our targets on corners and free kicks. She had a big assist the other night to get us going. She hits the ball really well. Both sides of the ball, she’s been a difference maker.”
With only four games remaining in the regular season and playoffs looming, the Red Hawks are more determined than ever.
“I think we can go super far,” Fitzgerald said. “I know last year they went super far and we’re all really positive about the next two weeks and what we can get accomplished.”
With a mixture of new and veteran talent, this Red Hawks team has everything they need to soar to the heights that they want to reach this season.