A banner year for QU’s fall sports teams
February 27, 2023
February 27, 2023
Four teams — men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and women’s cross country — captured the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s ultimate prize, earning the right to continue their seasons on the NCAA’s grandest stage. “Hamden has turned into title town!” hailed the MAAC’s official Twitter account.
Additionally, the women’s rugby team — winners of three National Intercollegiate Rugby Association national championships — completed a remarkable midseason turnaround to clinch a berth in the national semifinals.
Quinnipiac Magazine caught up with all five coaches to unpack the drama, hand out some superlatives and look toward the future after a historic autumn on the Mount Carmel Campus.
Record: 13-5-3 (lost in double overtime, 3-2, to No. 8 Vermont in NCAA first round)
MVP: David Bercedo. The senior captain from Spain received the MAAC’s Golden Boot Award after leading the conference with 14 goals and 35 points. His goal tally ranked third nationally and put him in a tie for seventh on the program’s single-season scoring list.
Key stat: An elite passing unit, the Bobcats led the NCAA with 59 assists. First-year midfielder Alexander Stjernegaard, a native of Denmark, finished in a tie for fourth in the country with 13 assists, and Bercedo and Tomas Svecula (10 goals) were the primary beneficiaries.
Turning point: There wasn’t a single game during the regular season, nor a specific moment that propelled the Bobcats to the conference crown. Rather, it was the team’s collective resolve when the players first gathered for training in the spring of 2022 that “put us in a position to have the season we did,” said coach Eric DaCosta.
Unsung hero: A pair of Connecticut-born, fifth-year midfielders — North Haven’s Alex Holle (two goals, two assists) and Berlin’s Noah Silverman (four goals, three assists) — share the title for embodying the Bobcats’ hunger to bounce back from a tough season and return to the MAAC playoffs, according to DaCosta.
In their coach’s words:
“The thing I’ll remember about this group is their commitment to restoring our place as a team that’s competing for championships. In order to do that, we need to be one of the top teams in our league. Those guys really had that mentality from the beginning. They didn’t want to go down as a group that missed the MAAC playoffs and then it took a couple of years to get back. As coaches, we have a bit more perspective. We know it’s not easy to have sustained success. Year in and year out, this is a really competitive league. But the players were really committed to restoring us to that position, and they were able to do that. That’s what I'll remember this group for — just being resilient. Having that focus and that concentration for an extended period of time and never really losing it. [The Vermont game] was a heartbreaking way for it all to end. We all felt we could’ve gone deeper. So hopefully that’s the spark we need to come in this January with that same intensity and see what we can do next year.”
— Eric DaCosta
Record: 15-3-1 (lost, 4-1, to No. 2 Penn State in NCAA first round)
MVP: Rebecca Cooke. Not much mystery here. The junior forward from Dublin, Ireland, was honored as the inaugural recipient of the MAAC’s Golden Boot Award and named a United Soccer Coaches Third-Team All-American. She led the NCAA in goals (22) and points (51) and registered a MAAC-best six game-winning goals.
Key stat: The Bobcats were one of the country’s best passing teams, finishing the regular season fourth in the NCAA with 2.81 assists per game. Junior forward Courtney Chochol paced the team with 13 assists, tied for fourth-most in the country.
Turning point: A 1-0 loss to Iona on Oct. 15 was the Bobcats’ only blemish in 10 conference games. It snapped Cooke’s run of 11 consecutive games with at least one goal and refocused the Bobcats for the stretch run. They rebounded to win their final three MAAC games by a combined score of 10-1 before shutting out Canisius and Niagara, respectively, to win the first MAAC tournament title in program history.
Unsung hero: While it might be hard to declare anyone “unsung” on a team that put seven players on the All-MAAC First Team and another two on the second team, senior midfielder Olivia Scott was an indispensable playmaker who always seemed to contribute the timely tackle or the pinpoint pass that initiated a scoring chance.
In their coach’s words:
“The players are already training for next season. They're back at it and they're very focused right now. And all the feedback from everyone around them is that they want to repeat. They felt like they could compete with Penn State. They want to go experience it again and push to win the game. So they're very, very focused on that. There aren’t too many teams at our level that would be training and switched-on the way they are. They need their downtime, of course. But there’s nobody that’s not showing up, and there's nobody not focused on getting better, stronger, fitter.”
— Dave Clarke
Record: 14-15 (lost to top-seeded Wisconsin, 3-0, in NCAA first round)
MVP: Aryanah Diaz. The senior outside hitter from Miami merited First-Team All-MAAC honors, pacing the Bobcats in kills (337) and total points (385). With 811 career kills (third in school history in the Division I era), 854 assists (seventh) and 1042 digs (second), her name is all over the program record book.
Key stat: The Bobcats finished second in the MAAC with 1,334 kills, an average of 12.47 per set. Helping Diaz fill up the stat sheet in this category were Alexandra Tennon (249), Nicole Legg (175), Ginevra Giovagnoni (160) and Lexi Morse (123).
Turning point: After struggling a bit out of the gate, the Bobcats finished the regular season on a hot streak, winning their final four matches while surrendering just one set. It carried over into the conference tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, where they upset third-seeded Iona in the opening round, cruised past seventh-seeded Rider and wrapped up the dream run with a 3-1 victory over top-seeded Fairfield.
Unsung hero: Damla Gunes. The first-year setter from Bursa, Turkey, made a huge impact in her debut season with the Bobcats, earning All-MAAC Rookie Team honors on the strength of her team-leading 734 assists.
In their coach’s words:
“It's the pride I have for them. The pride I have for them sticking together — that will be my lasting memory of this season. And just the way they stayed committed to the task, the goals we set as a team and what we’re trying to build here. I’ve been to the NCAA tournament now six times dating back to my time at Long Island University. This is different because this is something that we built from the ground up whereas LIU had been established before I took it over. It’s just something different when you almost birth a mentality, a culture. It’s just a different kind of special.”
— Kyle Robinson
Record: Finished first as a team in four meets, including the New England Championships and the MAAC championship meet.
MVP: Emily Young. The fifth-year senior captain ran with the patience and savvy that comes with experience, according to coach Carolyn Martin. Her second-place finish in the MAAC championship meet was the third top-10 finish of her career. But beyond some impressive individual results, her leadership was an invaluable asset on a relatively young team.
Key stat: The Bobcats had five of the top nine finishers in the MAAC championship meet, highlighting what a differentiator their depth was all season. Martin said she was delighted to coach a “team that ran as a pack” with a “dynamic” pecking order in which the top runner would change from meet to meet.
Turning point: Martin, who considers herself a bit of a “dreamer” when it comes to her expectations of the team, said she started to believe a MAAC title was in the Bobcats’ grasp after five runners finished inside the top eight at the New England Championships in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Unsung hero: Rachel St. Germain. The first-year runner from Somers, Connecticut, had a handful of top-10 finishes in her debut season. But a 13th-place finish in the Siena Invitational might’ve been her most impressive performance when you consider she lost her shoe about midway through the race and gutted out the final couple of miles without it.
In their coach’s words:
“We had eight consecutive titles in the [Northeast Conference], and when we joined the MAAC, the Iona women had eight consecutive titles. So we basically were like, ‘OK, we're going head-to-head.’ In the year we joined, they had the national champion on their team along with several other international athletes that were Olympic-level runners. So it’s like, ‘Wow, we’ve got our work cut out for us.’ I remember one of the coaches in the conference telling us, ‘You’re never going to be Iona.’ In my head I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe we will. We’re going to go after them.’ When we did it in 2015, I thought that was the start of us building something, but then we lost the next year by two points. It was hard to get that momentum back, so I’m hoping that we can grow some momentum from taking this title and building that culture.”
— Carolyn Martin
Record: 5-4 (lost, 47-14, to Dartmouth in NIRA semifinals)
MVP: Irish-born sophomore utility back Fódhla Ní Bhraonáin was instrumental to the Bobcats’ success in 2022. “Everything from her composure to her kicking game to her decision-making — she was like our quarterback,” said coach Becky Carlson.
Key stat: Junior fullback Kat Storey was a prolific scorer for the Bobcats, finding the try zone in seven of the team’s nine games and 10 times overall.
Turning point: After opening their season with a resounding 47-14 win over Brown, the Bobcats hit a slide that would have sunk most teams. But a hard-fought, 24-19, loss to Army on their home turf in Hamden — the middle game in a three-match losing streak — changed the Bobcats’ “trajectory,” according to Carlson. They won their final four regular season matches to earn another trip to the NIRA Division I tournament.
Unsung hero: Sophomore flanker Riva van der Valk, a native of the Netherlands, set the tone for the Bobcats defensively all season. “She has this incredible understanding of positioning and where to be,” Carlson said, “and she has this relentless attack defensively. She's so impressive to watch.”
In their coach’s words:
“Looking forward, we just have a really strong junior class elevating to senior class. They've probably weathered a bigger storm than most with the pandemic. But they stayed together. They're a very tight-knit group and that’s making us really hopeful for next year. You don’t want to ever single out one class, but they’ve really had a lot of weight on their shoulders, and I think they’re really hungry. But also there’s Gracie Cartwright, who’s going to be a fifth-year senior. She wants to leave her mark, and at one point during the season, she came over to me and said, ‘Coach, we want rings.’ That’s the first time I had heard it. I hadn't heard it the seasons previously, and it's not something where you go into a season as a coach saying that and asking for that. They have to decide that for themselves. The mindset changed, and that’s something really great to hear and see as we move forward.”
— Becky Carlson
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