After its first nine games in 2009, the Columbia women’s soccer team was 4-4-1. This year, the Lions are 6-2-1. A major force behind Columbia’s fast start, which the Lions lacked last season, has been this year’s freshman class.
While all nine freshmen have seen playing time, two of them—forward Beverly Leon and midfielder Chelsea Ryan—stand out for their performances.
Leon has played in all nine of the Lions’ games, making eight starts. She has scored two goals and made two assists. Of her 14 shots this year, seven have been on goal.
But Leon’s impact begins with work for which statistics do not exist.
“Part of the work that Beverly does is winning the balls and retaining the ball when we’re in possession, and battling with the—often, two—center backs,” head coach Kevin McCarthy said. “A lot of those things are not tangible in the score sheets.”
Ryan has also contributed in ways that are not visible in box scores.
“Chelsea, too, is in a position along the spine of the team that takes a great deal of responsibility,” McCarthy said. “Chelsea has some very obvious talents, but I think what I’m most impressed with Chelsea is her temperament, and staying focused and level under great stress and during great excitement.”
Of course, Ryan has also achieved concrete successes. She has started all nine of Columbia’s matchups, scored once, and assisted on two goals. On September 13, she received Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week honors.
But Leon and Ryan are far from being the only freshmen to contribute this season. Defender Shannon FitzPatrick, for example, leads the first-years with 693 minutes played. She has played in eight games, missing only one due to injury, and has made seven starts
Forward Coleen Rizzo has seen action in all of Columbia’s matchups, while midfielder Lainey Prioleau and forward Kimmy Bettinger have each played in seven games. But the most intriguing freshman may be the one who has played in just one matchup.
After sitting out the Lions’ first eight games due to injury, midfielder Natalie Melo made her debut against Lehigh on Sunday. In 22 minutes, she displayed a delicate touch and took one shot on goal.
“Natalie is a very talented player,” McCarthy said. “Natalie’s challenge is to get her game fitness, but it was great to see her get on the field and find a way to contribute.”
With so many freshmen making immediate impacts, five or six of them usually play in a given matchup. But Columbia’s depth has not led to resentment among the first-years and veterans fighting for minutes.
“The chemistry within the team is healthy—that doesn’t mean it’s always easy or blissful, but that’s not very realistic,” McCarthy said. “The criteria for playing time in this program is very clear—all the players know it, there’s no hidden agenda, there’s no mysteries about it—so when individuals are concerned about their playing time, for the most part, they do not see it in the context of how other players are doing. It’s more about their [own] performance levels, and that’s how it should be.”
Rather than causing discord, the first-years have had the opposite effect.
“They all are just awesome people and awesome players as well,” senior captain Kelly Hostetler said. “They’re fun to have around.”
While young players always have room for growth, these freshmen have displayed a drive to succeed that should serve Columbia well as the season continues.
“They’re problem-solvers—they’re not waiting for people to provide solutions for them,” McCarthy said. “They go out and get things done. So I’m sure they’re going to learn a lot, and I’m sure they’re going to continue to improve. And we’re certainly going to benefit from that.”