2023 Marist Women’s Soccer Roundtable: New Coach, New Storylines

As women’s soccer gears up for MAAC play, we asked some of our writers to analyze the team’s start and outlook for the 2023 season.

Who on the team has impressed you so far?

Sam Murphy, Women’s Soccer Beat Writer: When Marist is successful, it’s a group effort. They have created their best offensive chances through build-up play and quick passing to get the ball towards the net. Having only scored one goal, their offensive woes are yet to be behind them, but the key to success this year will be on the wings. Senior Grace DiVincenzo has been occupying the right midfield role and has created space and opportunities by attacking the space in front of her. 

In my preseason interview, Head Coach Nicole Pacapelli highlighted playing up the wings as a key to their play style. To score more goals, Marist needs to capitalize on the chances the game gives them, something they’ve struggled with so far. The dynamic movement DiVincenzo has shown on the right side of the pitch–opening up space and connecting with teammates– will be pivotal for Marist to start putting the ball in the net.

Cara Lacey, Social Media Director: It’s  no surprise that Graduate Student Samantha Sturno is a standout on the Red Foxes once again. Sturno is a captain for the Red Foxes for the third consecutive season, as last season she started all 17 games, playing every minute of the season. She was also named All-MAAC first team last season and has earned preseason All-MAAC for the 2023 season. She is a dominant defensive player who knows where to be on the field at all times. Sturno is an outside back with a unique athletic ability to push the ball up the field and create scoring opportunities for her team. Her talent for moving off the ball and beating opponents in one-on-one situations is integral for this year’s Red Foxes. 

Finn Corcoran-Doolin, Contributor: Grace Hotaling has impressed me the most so far this season. Hotaling is the only one of two players to write herself on the scoresheet this fall with the goal she scored against Seton Hall. The midfielder can be seen as a versatile player, playing strong defense for the Red Foxes. I believe Hotaling can be a game changer going forward for this Marist who have been lacking to get the ball to hit the back of the net.

William Rosen, Contributor: Amanda Caldarelli has used her speed and immense energy to assist the Foxes so far in her five games started. Totaling a resounding 395 minutes, Caldarelli looks comfortable on the field, especially at home during the two-game stretch versus Cornell and Seton Hall, respectively. In the Red Foxes’ victory against The Big Red, she was on the field for a whopping 86 minutes. With six shot opportunities, two of which have been on goal, Caldarelli, a senior and an All-MAAC 2nd Team award winner in her previous season– seems to be Marist’s constant.

Nate Babcock, Contributor: Marist needs to get points on the board one way or another. The Red Foxes have inked in just one goal and two total points through their first five games, all recorded by Grace Hotaling. She has been remarkably efficient in her 246 minutes– only seventh highest on the team– and has gotten open for four shots. She only trails Amanda Caldarelli, who has six. Caldarelli is no stranger to the spotlight, as she had a team-high 51 shots and 20 shots on net last year. Through their first five games, she continues to pace the team with six total shots and two shots on net. She consistently creates opportunities in a struggling offense. Once again, Marist needs points on the board, and Caldarelli’s playmaking has been one of their best shots, no pun intended, at mending their offensive woes. 

New Head Coach Nicole Pacapelli seems to be breathing new life into the team, how will her leadership (and previous experiences) impact their season?

Sam: Pacapelli is no stranger to adversity. Being a head coach right out of college and an assistant at a high-level program for many years will teach you how to handle tough times. The first hurdle put in her way was rebuilding the team culture with a largely veteran team, which she cleared with ease. In Pacapelli’s own words, Marist’s non-conference schedule is challenging and designed to test them before getting to MAAC play. 

After losing the home opener 2-0, Pacapelli switched their formation from a 4-1-2-1-2 – which set up the midfield in diamond and allowed Cornell to drive right down route one to the goal – to a much more protective and condensed 4-2-3-1, which helped them earn a 1-1 draw with Seton Hall. Pacapelli’s soccer intellect will be paramount as she makes her first run through the MAAC.

Cara:  Coach Pacapelli is a positive light for the Marist Women’s soccer program. Pacapelli came to Marist after being an assistant coach for Binghamton’s very successful women’s soccer program. During her time at Binghamton, the team went 14-5-3 overall in American East play, winning the American East regular season championship in 2022 and reaching the conference championships in both 2021 and 2022. Pacapelli knows what it takes to make a team reach that championship level. 

In a preseason interview, graduate student Samantha Sturno said that she is usually anxious for preseason, but this year, something felt different. And that something different was Pacapelli’s positive impact already shifting the program. Pacapelli and the Red Foxes have faced strong competition during preseason which will only help the team more once conference play begins. Pacapelli’s history with soccer and her attitude of bringing back a strong sense of culture to the program will be key to this team’s success. 

Finn: I think that Pacapelli’s experience prior to coming to the Marist Women’s soccer team is eye-opening. It will be interesting to watch her build this soccer team, and I believe if given time she will deliver results, as it is hard to win right off the bat. This will be one of her toughest challenges yet,  but she has already got a massive result against Seton Hall which is no easy team. The out-of-conference schedule was tough for Marist, however their 1-0 win against Rider could set off a new winning start for this team.

William: Nicole Pacapelli has kept some of the same values that Marist has relied on in the past, while bringing some winning-mentality to the Hudson Valley. I’ve noticed that like her predecessor, Pacapelli makes sure her team stands for the entirety of regulation instead of being slumped and not ready on the bench. She uses a plethora of players each match, so everyone gets some run, no matter their age or experience. She has some New York State Coaching experience at Queens College and Binghamton University where she faced talent arguably tougher than the MAAC. Pacapelli and her staff have shown that even if the early season results have been underwhelming, gaining an understanding on each player prior to MAAC play is equally important.

Nate: Coach Pacapelli is a winner. All she’s ever known is winning, whether it is during her time as an assistant coach at Binghamton and Queens College, or as head coach at Richmond. Her success began early in her playing days at Richmond where she boasted a 31-20-4 record throughout her time at midfield for the Spiders. The decorated coach is aware of what it takes to succeed at the highest level. She infuses a talented team with a fresh culture. Though there may be some immediate growing pains, there should be a new level of comfort knowing someone of her pedigree is at the reins. 

Despite the team’s 0-3-2 start, hope should remain for the Red Fox faithful, as Coach Pacapelli introduces a new family-oriented culture to the program in the notoriously tough MAAC. Pacapelli is positioning Marist women’s soccer to find not only immediate success, but to be great for years to come.

So far Kelly Lambertson and Maddy Catalanotti have been splitting time in goal. Should they keep splitting time or pick one starter?

Sam: Let’s start with Lambertson, who has played the first half in most games so far. The senior has posted a 0.722 save percentage through five games and made nine saves in the last two matches. Lambertson was a standout in high school, recording 15 shutouts. However, she did not make her collegiate debut until this year due to the reign of 2021 MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year Natalie Kelchner. Sophomore Maddy Catalanotti also made her Red Fox debut this year and has proven herself worthy of those minutes. Catalanotti has a 0.625 save percentage and is averaging two saves per game. Both goalkeepers have shown they can be capable starters in the MAAC and can secure what will be valuable points down the stretch. It seems that entrusting one keeper with the number one role and giving that vote of confidence would help the Red Foxes find their consistency. I would pick Lambertson because of her additional experience with the program and the conference. But having Catalanotti as a backup is by no means a weak spot.

Cara: Both Lambertson and Catalanotti are strong in the net and have a big spot to fill after the team lost Natalie Kelchner. Kelchner played every minute for the Red Foxes last season meaning that this is the first time both Senior Lambertson and Sophomore Catalanotti have seen the field. To me, it’s not much of a question of which keeper is better because the two have been putting up similar stats. As time progresses the team does need to pick a starter and it would be better to choose sooner than later. A starter should be selected because switching goalies in the net constantly shifts the dynamics on the field. The defense needs to be able to build trust with their goalie. It must be frustrating having to switch goalies at the half as soon as you are getting comfortable with one the other one comes on the field. Both Lambertson and Catalonotti are great in the net but it may come down to who fits better into the puzzle of dynamics with the rest of the players on the field. 

Finn: In lower levels it is not uncommon for goalkeepers to split time. Marist is doing just that with Lambertson and Catalanotti. You can’t blame the Red Foxes coaching staff for trying this out and I doubt they will stick to two goalies sharing the net for much more of the season. Hopefully–at the end of the day– it will help them find their starter.

While Marist’s 5-0 loss to UConn was tough, it should be noted Catalonotti also landed five saves on the stat sheets. The game before that, Maddy Catalonotti forced a clean sheet for herself against Seton Hall and had three saves on the day. While these two performances make it hard to pick the starter, my gut says it will be Lambertson. I tend to agree that the older goalie is the safer option, but Catalanotti put in a great shift and had a clean sheet in Marist’s first game of MAAC play. When I think of the goalie position, I think experience. That being said, Catalanotti seems ready for the task.

William: College athletics vary significantly between the different sports a university has to offer, but one thing remains constant: if a player commits his or her future for four years to one school, they should be able to prove themselves. That opportunity is one Kelly Lambertson has to have this season. Lambertson, a senior, had not appeared in a game prior to this season’s opener at Big East’s Villanova. It is just unfair to Lambertson to have to start the season splitting time with sophomore, Maddy Catalanotti. Not to bash Catalanotti in the slightest, but it does not make sense for the time frame and current state of the team. It is unknown to everyone outside of the staff and team’s immediate circle which goalkeeper has the edge. Even in the immediate circle, they seem unsure about it themselves. I believe to start MAAC play, Lambertson should be manning the posts, it is her job to lose, not to win. 

Nate: You could easily lean either way, do you put Lambertson at the reins for her last go-round and put Catalanotti in more of a developmental role as she is only a sophomore? Or do you lean the other way and build up your young promising goalie’s confidence by keeping her in the goal past the half and have Lambertson as an experienced mentor in this new family-oriented culture Coach Pacapelli is introducing? Personally, the latter sounds more appealing, if you want to build a culture for seasons to come, make the tough decision and get your starter for next season, game-ready. If you need experience to win games, you go with experience, but it’s worth airing the option where you prioritize the future and maybe that means putting your younger player lower in the pecking order. But with that being said, the best experience is being in the game.

Predict the team’s overall and conference records.

Sam: I predict the Red Foxes to finish with a 4-2-4 record in the MAAC and 4-6-6 overall. The Red Foxes were unable to grab their first win of the year before starting conference play. The pressure of entering the critical part of their season without a victory to back them up will add some motivation in the beginning of the season and help them collect points early. All of this is predicated on the fact that they need to score. After playing against disciplined and compact defenses in non-conference play, Marist will start finding more space in their first two MAAC games against Rider and Saint Peter’s. With the record I predicted, Marist would have 16 points, a five-point upgrade from last year.

Cara: Last year the team ended the season with an overall record of 5-7-5 and a conference record of 3-5-2. In preseason, the Red Foxes have been playing tough competition leaving them with a current record of 0-3-2. Although a win has not been secured I believe that the team is looking better than last year, they just need to find the back of the net. Going into MAAC play without a win will push this team to want it more and prove something for themselves. I predict that the Red Foxes will end the season with a conference record of 4-3-3 and an overall record of 4-7-5.

Finn: In my mind, the Red Foxes will finish with an overall record of (4-4-8) and will then go onto the MAAC conference and earn a (4-2-4) record. For me, this team will have an ultimate turn around when conference play starts.  It feels they had tougher competition in the preseason than their actual schedule would offer in the regular season and it is my hope that because of that they will be better prepared to find those wins in conference.  I believe they will have a new type of motivation with coach Nicole Pacapelli and she will lead this team to find a few wins in conference play.

William: In the MAAC, the Red Foxes will go 3-7-1, and have an overall record of 5-11-2. The subpar result from out-of-conference play does not give me that much hope for in-conference play, however I would love to be proven wrong. With a first year head coach and an unset roster that still has not been set with a constant rotation has me worried. This season will be a ‘rebuilding’ year for women’s soccer. The coaching staff needs to figure out who works with who, and which players are needed in recruitment, especially the goalkeeper situation. Compared to last season’s MAAC powerhouse and pre-season favorites Quinnipiac, they are inferior talent wise. However, I think they will fall in the lower-middle tier of MAAC contestants and possibly make the last tournament spot. 

Nate: All things considered, Marist’s 0-3-2 record thus far is not indicative of lack of skill or knowledge from the coaching staff. The early turbulence should be attributed to growing pains as players get comfortable with their new system and the coaching staff builds trust amongst their players. Given the circumstances, they could have had a worse start. There is still time for improvement and each game the team resembles something that looks more like, well… a team. If they continue to trend in the right direction it is applicable to see Marist end the season with a conference record of 4-5-2 and an overall record of 4-7-7. The Red Foxes will find their footing soon and start sprinting in the right direction.

Edited By Dan Aulbach and Ben Leeds

Photo Credit: Gavin Hard

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