Young forwards leading the charge for women’s soccer

Reilly ’20, Berzolla ’20, Apostol ’19, and Struckmann ’18 on this season’s goal and what it means to play for the women’s soccer team

Working hard on and off the field, the MIT women’s soccer team is engineering a season to remember. At the start of the season, the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference women’s soccer preseason coaches’ poll placed MIT as the top school favored to win the league championships.

Things did not start all that smoothly as the Engineers suffered a painful double-overtime loss (2-1 to WPI) in their first conference game.

Rookie Montana Reilly ’20 reflected, “That was a wake up call for us. Since then, we have beaten all the other teams in our league.”

Currently, the team’s record is 11-4, which included a seven-game unbeaten streak, the last six of which were shutouts. The streak was broken only this past Sunday when the women’s soccer team, playing away on less than a day’s rest, lost to the current Division III national champions, Williams College.

The fantastic front-four of Reilly, Emily Berzolla ’20, Amy Apostol ’19 and Olivia Struckmann ’18 has been hugely influential in carrying the team toward victory. Combined, they have a total of 19 goals, 12 assists, and 50 points.

When asked about her stats ranking, Apostol said, “Being a leader in stats is exciting but it’s not the most important part of the game. When I play, I play for my teammates. I know how badly they all want to win and I want to help make this a reality for all of them.”

Competitive soccer began pretty early for all four of these forwards.

Reilly started playing soccer at the age of five, transitioning to club at the age of 11 and played for Real So Cal. Her Harvard-Westlake High School team was ranked first nationally her junior year and she stepped up to be a captain in her senior year.

Berzolla, on the other hand, immersed herself in the soccer world at the even younger age of three and played in her town travel league from second to fifth grade. After playing for Beachside SC for a year, she transitioned to a brand new team, New York SC.

Reflecting upon her experience, she said, “I played there for six years and it was great.”

Meanwhile, Apostol started playing recreationally at age five, but joined a competitive club soccer team at age eight. In high school, she played in a national league, culminating in a national title her sophomore year of high school.

Similarly, Struckmann started playing recreational soccer when she was five years old and joined her first club team when she was eight. She continued to play on the same club team, Sereno SC, for eight years before graduating high school and playing for MIT.

This year, Struckmann is an upperclassman on a younger team, so she feels responsible for the mindset of the team during games and practices.

“We have some really talented younger players who have stepped into big roles for the team early on, and so the it has been the job of the older girls to get them on the same page as the rest of the team tactically and make sure they feel comfortable being a presence on the field,” she said.

Last year, the the women’s soccer team had a record of 11-6-3, and suffered a heartbreaking loss in the NEWMAC semifinals, losing to Springfield in penalty kicks. This year, they are determined to bring home the gold.

“One of our biggest [team goals] is to not lose two games in a row, and so far we haven’t,”said Reilly.

Last week, the Engineers celebrated victories over two NESCAC teams, both 1-0 victories of one over Tufts and Bowdoin.

As the season progresses, the team remains steadfast on its primary target: fulfill the NEWMAC preseason prediction of winning the league.

Apostol noted, “As one of the best teams in the league who is constantly winning the regular season, we are due for a tournament win.”

For Struckmann, with only one more season left after this, she is determined to make every game count, so that the team can win the NEWMAC tournament and make it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA.

In addition, due to the roster size of 31 players, the practices are intense and include friendly competition to improve each other’s skills.

Apostol added, “Because there are so many players on the team, you have to work every single day in order to earn playing time on the field, [which] pushes us all to become better players and stay focused 100 percent of the time.”

The MIT mindset of working hard translates really well onto the field.

Reilly stated, “We have limited time for practice [because we put academics first], but everyone is so focused, meaning that practices are productive.”

Despite prioritizing academics, the girls agree that being able to play on MIT’s soccer team has incorporated a necessary balance in their daily schedule, and definitely enhanced their MIT experience thus far. Soccer provides a stress outlet, a support system, and above all, a solid foundation of best friends on and off the field.