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Adelphi women's soccer up to No. 5 in the country

Last season, head coach Brooke DeRosa — a rookie to the Division II head coaching ranks — was instrumental in making program history. She led her Adelphi Panthers women’s soccer team to the program's first Northeast-10 Tournament championship title behind a very impressive 18-3-2 record. Their magical run would come to an end in the East Regional championship at the hands of Bridgeport in a close 2-1 loss in the 81st minute of play.

“It was an awesome experience for sure,” DeRosa said. “Our success last year definitely gave us more belief to go further this year.”

They entered 2016 as the No. 13 ranked team in the nation in the NSCAA Preseason Coaches Poll. Each week, reeling off win-after-win, the Panthers have climbed the charts, reaching No. 11 by Week 1, breaking the top ten at No. 7 in Week 2 and now, at a perfect 5-0, sitting as the No. 5 team in the country.

“Last year didn't end the way we wanted, and that stung,” AU's senior midfielder Morgan Santoro said. “We know what it feels like to be so close and lose it all. This year we made it our goal to come out on top. That's our focus, and I have full confidence in this team to get that done.”

Santoro is part of an experienced squad that sees seven of last year’s starters returning as part of a group of 23 returning letter winners. Santoro, the team leader in points at 14 behind a balanced attack of five goals and four assists, sets an example that trickles down through the rest of the team. Like Santoro, the second-leading scorers on the Panthers, juniors Jeanine Nunez and Taylor Sipos, have done it with unselfish play, scoring three goals and assisting on two others a piece.

Adelphi goes on to play multiple ranked opponents in the games to come.
Adelphi Athletics
Adelphi goes on to play multiple ranked opponents in the games to come.
“That is definitely a huge advantage for our team,” Santoro said. “The unselfishness is why we have been so successful. We have a lot of talent on this team and many goal scorers, but every player on the field doesn't look to just score for themselves. We look for the best chance that will give us the best opportunity to score. We won't just shoot to shoot, we look for that pass for a guaranteed goal.”

Along with Santoro, two returners play a pivotal role in Adelphi’s success. Returning to the team is the 2015 NE-10 Goalkeeper of the Year, sophomore Anne Marie Ulliac. While Ulliac holds down the last line of defense, senior forward Laura Gomez— the reigning NE-10 and East Region Player of the Year as well as 2015 All-American — helps lead the attack on net. 

“Annie [Ulliac] in goal and Laura [Gomez] up top have shown a tremendous amount of leadership in their positions,” DeRosa said. “These two players are always working to improve their game in the training sessions, and it shows in the games. Annie [Ulliac]'s leadership in the back has given the players in front of her confidence to defend and attack out of the back.  Laura has been a reliable finisher for us in all types of games, and our team respects her for that.”

Santoro and Gomez actually share a bond that goes beyond the Adelphi campus. Before they were Panthers, the pair played together at Central Connecticut State University. Gomez came to Adelphi her sophomore season, a year prior to Santoro, which made the adjustment for Santoro appear seamless.

RELATED: DII notebook: North Georgia women's soccer starts season on right foot

“Laura [Gomez] and I first met at Central Connecticut State University,” Santoro said. “We became friends right away, we both came from Long Island and had a passion for soccer, so we instantly connected. When I transferred to Adelphi my junior year, it was an easy change because she was already here. Through the years, we have gotten so close. I look to her like a sister. I know she has my back both on and off the field. Through the years, we also got very comfortable playing together. She is an amazing player, and I can always rely on her to get the job done.”

While Gomez’s skills are undeniable, and Ulliac has played goal like a brick wall thus far, allowing Adelphi to outscore their opponents 21-2 this season, Santoro has been red hot of late. This past week, she captured the NE-10 Player of the Week, currently amid a streak in which she has scored at least one goal in her last four consecutive games.

Adelphi remains undefeated so far this season with a 5-0 record.
Adelphi Athletics
Adelphi remains undefeated so far this season with a 5-0 record.
“Morgan is a different player than she was last year,” DeRosa said. “She’s more confident on the field and has a hunger to score goals.  She's an extremely competitive player, and I'm very happy with her performance so far.  She is capable of changing games at any level of competition that we will play this season.  The Bridgeport game was an example of her ability, and it was clear for every one to see.  She's been able to motivate our team to do their best, and we continue to improve each game.”

The first goal of Santoro’s current hot streak was a game clincher, coming in the 51st minute of play. That was against the same Bridgeport program that ended Adelphi’s season early last year. She has been a scoring machine ever since.

“I have been very fortunate to have scored in the previous games,” Santoro said. “The goals come from the drive of the players around me. We do feel very confident this year. Everyone puts in the effort, and it shows on the field. When we are up by four goals, sometimes we aren't satisfied. We want more, and we are hungry for big wins.”

The week ahead is the first big test for the Adelphi Panthers. This coming Saturday, they square off with NE-10 rival Stonehill, who jumped six spots to No. 18 behind a perfect 6-0 record. On Monday, they host the No. 4 team in the nation, East Stroudsburg. 

“We will prepare for one game at a time,” DeRosa said. “We’ll continue to push ourselves mentally, physically, technically and tactically throughout the week. Our belief in the strength and support of our team will carry us a long way this year.”

Upset of the week shakes up women's soccer rankings

It’s not easy to rise from unranked to the No. 13 team in the country. The easiest way to do it is to upend the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. But, that is exactly what Lee University did last week, defeating then No. 1 Columbus State University by a score of 2-1.

“It was a very big game for us,” Lee’s forward Summer Lanter said. “We all knew going into [the game] that we had to play well as individuals and as a team.”

Lanter is currently the team leader in goals with three on the season. None was bigger than her goal against CSU. Trailing 1-0 at the half, the Flames fought back, and Lanter scored the go-ahead goal with 83:33 ticks off the clock against the Cougars. 

“I want to give credit to Lauren Peters because she played me the perfect ball,” Lanter said. "She played it just behind the defender, so I was able to run onto the ball. Once I was on the ball, the goalie came out, and I was able to touch it past her and able to have a shot on goal. It was such an exciting moment. All the girls on my team ran up to me in celebration. Beating the No. 1 team in the nation was such a powerful moment for our team. It gave us confidence and a sense of identity. It showed us that we can compete with any team in the nation.”

Lee is no stranger to winning. The team was slated the preseason favorites in the competitive Gulf South Conference coming off an 11-5-4 season. Its season came to an end by losing in dramatic fashion on penalty kicks to University of North Alabama in the GSC Tournament before falling to Tampa in their first game of the NCAA Tournament. This past weekend, the team opened its GSC play against none other than UNA. This time around, the team arose victorious.

“I would definitely say that the way last season ended had an effect on the way we came out against UNA,” Lanter said. “I feel like the girls played with a lot of heart and emotion. I know the returners really wanted to beat UNA, and the new girls really bought in to our mindset and gave it their all. Beating UNA was huge for us. It was a great way to begin conference play, and the win continued to build on our team's identity.”

The Flames are a relatively young team. From their roster that is donned with just two seniors to their second-year head coach Chris Hennessy, each game paves their way to their identity. Lanter, a red-shirt junior, is one of the leaders helping pave that path.

“I do feel the responsibility to step up and be a leader,” Lanter said. “I feel like I have the ability to influence the girls on my team through my attitude and work ethic. This fast start has been so exciting for us as a team. We have been able to figure out who we are as a team and continue to grow with each game. I am super excited going into GSC play because I feel like our team is playing with so much passion. It makes every practice and game so much fun. I absolutely love being part of this team.”

The 4-1-1 Flames begin a three-game road trip on Saturday in Rome, Ga., where they continue GSC play against Shorter.

Matchup of the Week: Field Hockey's No. 1 vs. No. 2 Showdown

The East Stroudsburg field hockey team has not had an easy start in defense of the team's first national title. More than half of its games this season have already been against the nation’s top-10 teams. This past Saturday, the ESU Warriors went to Shippensburg in a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

It took 2:46 into overtime to decide a winner, but senior back Emily Howell scored the game-winner, giving ESU the hard fought 1-0 victory. Shippensburg’s sophomore goalie Ally Mooney continued her hot start by registering six saves before letting Howell’s goal past her for the loss.

RELATED: DII women's notebook: East Stroudsburg ready to defend title

ESU maintained the top spot in the country this week, registering a 4-0 victory over Molloy to follow up Saturday’s big win. Shippensburg only fell one spot to No. 3 by shutting out No. 6 Kutztown on the road following their first loss of the season.

The road back to the championship doesn’t get any easier for ESU in the coming week. The team first hosts No. 6 Kutztown before heading to No. 10 West Chester, whom they defeated 4-0 a week ago at home.