The phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn” may just be true for the Seton Hall women’s soccer team. The Pirates finished the season 5-11-1, but improved 77 spots in the NCAA’s RPI rankings. The season, while full of losses, was a step forward for head coach Rick Stainton and his players.
Seton Hall began its season with eight games against local, out of conference teams. The Pirates played every team close, with every match being decided by one goal, and four of the eight going into overtime. The Hall would escape the non-conference schedule with a 4-3-1 record, already surpassing its win total from all of last season.
The Pirates would then enter a grueling gauntlet of Big East opponents. It began at home against St. John’s during Pirate Weekend on Sept. 24. An energetic crowd was not enough, as the Hall fell 1-0, a precursor to the struggle Big East soccer matches would prove to be.
Eight days after the result against St. John’s, the Pirates season-long streak of not allowing more than two goals was broken when they allowed four in back-to-back losses against DePaul and Creighton.
“The Big East, as our team is aware, it is a whole different level,” Stainton said. “It’s not forgiving, you know, we play teams in our conference that if you do make one mistake, they’re going to make you pay for that mistake. And unfortunately we weren’t…mature enough I guess you can say, to really try to make up for some of those mistakes.”
Freshman Marissa Aniolowski addressed similar struggles.
“There are times where it’s tough because it takes a lot to go out every game with energy, knowing all the games we are going to be playing in are games against the best teams in the nation,” Aniolowski said. “I’m hoping in the next two years we’ll be able to push through more. Push through the adversity of losing, and the next game we’ll be able to come out with more intensity than we have.”
The following game was the one bright spot in the Pirates’ Big East schedule, a triumphant 1-0 home win against Xavier. The game came shortly after Stainton had switched to his preferred 4-3-3 formation, moving Aniolowski, the winning goal-scorer, from fullback to forward.
“I think the Xavier game was one of our best games,” Aniolowski said. “There’s moments where it’s really good and we can play like a team, but there’s times where our communication isn’t there, or we’re playing as individuals. But the times where we are playing together and we’re playing as a team, we are successful. So I think the more united we get, the more we’ll be set for future games.”
The Pirates’ next and final home game of the season was Senior Night, Oct. 20, against Georgetown. The Pirates honored five seniors: Illisa Blackshear, Cathy Chukuka, Sarah Cortes, Sarah Fiorino and Frankie Maier, who Stainton called “pioneers” for the program.
“Even though we didn’t find much success in the results, because that is what everyone looks at, they’ve really helped blaze the trail in regards to our progress,” Stainton said. “Every year that they’ve been here we’ve seen improvement in the program, and every year that they’ve participated, we’ve grown as a whole.”
Aniolowski admires the seniors for what they have overcome in their years at Seton Hall.
“They’ve dealt with not the best seasons for the last four years, yet all of them pushed through and made the most of it; which I think is really something to look up to,” Aniolowski said.
The Pirates will look to keep that attitude of perseverance set by the departing seniors, but change the results on the field come Fall 2017.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MLSTakeover.