Rebecca Cooke and the women’s soccer team reach NCAA Tournament in breakout season

November 15, 2022

Rebecca Cooke running on the soccer field during a game.

Quinnipiac junior Rebecca Cooke and the women’s soccer team submitted a season for the ages this fall.

After winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, the Bobcats earned the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000. The team was rewarded with a first-round game at No. 2 seed Penn State on Sunday.

QU played the Nittany Lions tough in a 4-1 loss to end the season at 15-3-1 overall, 9-1 in the MAAC. For the Bobcats, it highlighted a remarkable year that brought Quinnipiac national and international attention.

Cooke, a forward from Ireland, played a key role in bringing that history to Hamden this fall.

Cooke scored an NCAA-best 22 goals this season for QU. She also led the nation in points (51), paced the MAAC in game-winning goals (six) and set single-game conference records with a four-goal, eight-point outburst against Siena on Sept. 28.

And, thanks to the magic of live-streaming video, friends and family in Portmarnock, Ireland, didn’t miss a minute. But in Cooke’s case, the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t always the best buffer against unsolicited feedback. Her grandfather, Martin Cooke — a renowned former Irish association club manager who coached her on boys teams until she was 12 — was “always giving me an in-depth paragraph on how I played,” she said recently with a laugh.

Quinnipiac coach Dave Clarke can be just as demanding. He concedes that his standards for his star striker are exceedingly high — “is it nitpicking or is it pushing a player to be better?” he said.

But Cooke, the winner of the MAAC’s inaugural Golden Boot award, will only face increased scrutiny over the remaining two years of a college career that could one day lead her to a spot on a World Cup roster.

“We could sit here and say, just be comfortable being the best player and the best athlete at Quinnipiac. But we’re doing her a disservice if that’s all we challenge her to be,” said Clarke, who just completed his 23rd season. “Even being the best player in the MAAC is not good enough. She’s got the ability to be better and that’s what the challenge is.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Clarke and Martin Cooke are so aligned on their expectations. A lifetime ago, Cooke coached Clarke on Belvedere F.C., establishing a connection that eased the Cooke family’s concerns about shipping the oldest of their four children to Connecticut without taking a campus visit.

Cooke has adjusted just fine to life in America. A fan of the TV shows “Homeland” and “Criminal Minds” and all things espionage, Cooke is studying criminal justice and psychology and hopes to work for the FBI someday. For now, she remains an unsolved mystery for MAAC defenders, a ruthless scoring machine capable of running as many as 12 miles in a 90-minute contest.

“Her strength is she’s always on the move,” Clarke said. “She’s very hard to [defend]. Half the time you don’t know where she’s running. She’ll pop up on the left. She’ll pop up on the right. She’ll run back 80 yards.”

Bobcats first-year assistant coach Shauny Alterisio was an elite defender at her alma mater, Central Connecticut State University. Her assignment was often to “man-mark” the opposing team’s best scorer, shadowing their every move. It’s a tactic that can grind down a player’s psyche, but Cooke is a different breed.

“You can see it — they get defeated,” Alterisio said. “Their heads are out of the game. They don’t want to be there. She rises above it all.

As one of 13 Quinnipiac players born outside the U.S., Cooke has emerged not just as an offensive linchpin but as a willing leader, the kind who sends pre-game text messages amping up teammates and reminding them of scouting report details they may have missed.

Together, the Bobcats proved particularly adept at stringing together crisp passes in tight spaces this season, a trait that saw them finish fourth in the NCAA with 2.81 assists per game in the regular season.

And Cooke, with her boundless energy, was the ultimate finisher. Her flair for the dramatic dates back to her debut season in the spring of 2021, when she announced her arrival as a budding star with the golden goal against Marist in the MAAC quarterfinals.

Although it’s not just her goals that register “style points,” as Alterisio put it. She borrowed the signature celebratory pose of all-world striker Cristiano Ronaldo after burying the decisive penalty kick in a tense, 1-0 win over Canisius in the MAAC semifinals earlier this month, revving up a hearty student section.

Now, a two-time First Team All-MAAC selection, Cooke was admittedly uncomfortable with all the accolades and media attention afforded her amid the team’s banner campaign in 2022. Nevertheless, her second full season in Hamden will go down as a measuring stick for the program — until she tops it.

Here are some numbers that illustrate just how potent Cooke and the Bobcats have been since she landed on the Mount Carmel Campus:


Consecutive games in which Cooke scored at least one goal from Aug. 25 to Oct. 12, a record-breaking streak by MAAC standards and six shy of the NCAA record shared by Penn State and North Haven High graduate Tiffany Weimer and Portland’s Christine Sinclair.

That’s also how many goals Cooke scored against MAAC opponents during the regular season, helping the Bobcats post a 9-1 conference mark.


Career game-winning goals.


Goals scored in the 80th minute or later in 2022. In addition to being a prolific scorer, Cooke is also as clutch as they come.


Cooke goals assisted by junior forward Courtney Chochol, her roommate and fellow First Team All-MAAC selection. Chochol, who hails from Ontario, ranked fourth in the NCAA with 12 regular-season assists.


Multi-goal games in 2022.


Career hat tricks (three or more goals in a game). Her latest was the four-goal outing against Siena.


Regular-season goals scored by Marist, the sixth seed in the MAAC Tournament. That’s one fewer than Cooke tallied by herself — in one fewer game.


Quinnipiac’s scoring average heading into the postseason, which ranked second in the country behind Saint Louis. The reigning NCAA champions Florida State and the 2013 champions UCLA were among the notable Power 5 programs to trail the Bobcats in this category.


The Bobcats’ RPI before a 1-0 loss at Iona on Oct. 15, their only blemish in 10 conference outings. It was the high watermark in program history and briefly put an at-large NCAA Tournament berth within reach.

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