By, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Non-conference play in college sports is by no means like the preseason for professional soccer from a competitive standpoint. There might be the basic commonality or two of trying to see how minutes should be distributed, or the need to get the new players acclimated to the system. But the dividing point between the two is that what happens in college sports, such as the Manhattan women’s soccer team’s 5-1 start, is usually some sort of indication of how the season will go.
Manhattan has swept through their non-conference season with a quality of spunk that has escaped them over the last couple of seasons. Besides their season-opening loss to Fordham, a game they led 1-0, the Jaspers have taken care of everyone else and have done so by showing an ability to win close games; an important trait for any good team to have.
“When the players have experience winning those 1-0 games they now believe they’re gonna go their way instead of the other way around,” head coach Brendan Lawler said. “They may take that little extra push to win a ball up the field and get a cross off, or hit a shot one time when they may have been a bit hesitant in the past.”
The 3-0 win over Delaware State on Sept. 12 was a nice change of pace for a team that had previously won three games by a 2-1 count.
The outcome became easy to predict when graduate student Sydney Harwood found the back of the net from 20 yards out in the 5th minute. In the prior two games in which Harwood scored, the Jaspers were victorious and that trend remained.
The Jaspers piled it on in the second half scoring two more goals. Freshman Corrine Jackson notched her first career goal 11 seconds into the second half off a pass from classmate Brooke Zimmer. The lead mushroomed to 3-0 when another combination of new faces linked up. This time it was freshman Makena Ward finding Sami Derrico for her first goal in the Kelly Green and White after transferring from UConn for her sophomore season.
Kim Mains, who had been tested throughout most of the non-conference season, only needed one save against Delaware State to earn her second career clean sheet. Mains has 22 saves in her second season as a full-time starter.
“Kim brings great leadership and great passion to not only wanting to be her best but for the team to be their best,” Lawler said. “She didn’t have much to do against Delaware State but she made one huge save in the second half.”
Then there’s the newcomers who have provided a jolt that the program hasn’t seen since Harwood, Gemma Perez, and Bri DeLeo came on to the scene in 2017 to help lead the Jaspers to the MAAC Championship Game before falling to Monmouth.
Lawler looks to have a lot of exciting talent to develop based on the early performances from newcomers like Jackson, Derrico, Ward, Zimmer, and Nicolette Caneda. They have stepped up to fill the voids of DeLeo’s departure and the absence of star defender Chloe Davis due to a season-ending ACL injury suffered last spring.
“The freshman class as a whole has made up deeper and raised our average ability up,” Lawler said. “We can go to the bench and not have drop offs and we can also keep people fresh.”
The defense has only conceded six goals in six games, thanks in large part to the efforts of Ianah Mackey, Kaitlyn Cooke and Perez in the back. Their reliability has allowed Harwood to play further up in a midfield role for the first time in her collegiate career. Mackey has also helped make things more flexible with the way she has replaced Davis in the back. The most important priority now is carrying the momentum over into the MAAC season. However, the non-conference has at least shown that the team is in a better position than at any point since coming one win away from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
“When we win a game we’re happy that we won but we un- derstand that it’s on to the next thing,” Lawler said. “We don’t want to get hung on wheth- er we lost this game. If we’re learning from it then we’ll be better next time we play.”
On Sept. 18, the Jaspers won their MAAC opener at Canisius by a 2-1 count. Julia Nichols scored twice, including the game-winner in the 90th minute. Har wood added an assist to her name, giving her a team-high nine points on the season. Mains registered a career-high nine saves in net.