by Santino Torres / Staff Reporter
After Roosevelt’s integration with Robert Morris, the women’s soccer team has evolved into an elite contender in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC).
“Last year, we had a lot of focus on growth,” said Lorena Diaz, senior accounting major and midfielder for the Lakers. “With my new teammates, I am really excited to play some of the best teams in our league. I believe we will have more competitive games against these opponents.”
Former Robert Morris Head Coach Tom Czop takes over this season and brings with him over 22 years of experience to a women’s soccer program that now finds itself thrust into CCAC contention. The Eagles were annual contenders with Czop at the helm.
Czop will also have his three All-CCAC players returning for the upcoming season. Senior Marbella Rodriguez, who finished third among all CCAC goal scorers with 13 goals, and last year’s CCAC Freshman of the Year Gabi Christidis made the All-CCAC first team, while junior Sarai Gomez made the All-CCAC second team.
“They’re all three talented players, and leaders in their own way on the field,” said the new head coach, who spent the last four years in charge of the Eagles. “It’s how they gel together, as a unit and individually, on the field and in training.”
“Last year, facing Robert Morris, Gabi Christidis scored the game-winning goal for them,” said senior marketing major and Lakers winger Julie Garcia, who led last year’s Lakers with four goals. “She’s a great skilled player, she’s definitely another threat.”
Diaz and Garcia described initial sentiments of shock and excitement with the offseason changes.
“We almost doubled in number of girls in the program since last year, which is amazing, but definitely not the number of people on a team that I’m used to,” said Diaz. “RMU has a lot of talented girls that will be key players for our upcoming season.”
Robert Morris finished 11-7-1 last season with an 8-4 CCAC conference record. They advanced to the CCAC semifinals before they were eliminated by Olivet Nazarene.
“I was surprised when we found out about the merger, but we hadn’t had the best season prior to this, and they did, so it just meant more talent merging together,” Garcia said. “I’m really excited. The idea of merging two schools with such talented players coming together to make one is crazy. I feel like that only happens in movies.”
With more prolific goal scorers added to the roster, Roosevelt is stacked at the forward position. Garcia and Rodriguez, along with junior Lexy Langloss, had a combined 24 goals between the three of them last season.
“Now, it’s coming together, figuring out who plays the best together,” coach Czop said. “Having that depth and that strength is going to be very important leading into our spring season. We’ll have the ability to use many different people. We can take advantage of that by rotating some players out.”
Coach Czop emphasizes that the forward position is not the only area where the Lakers have gotten stronger. “I think we’re strong and deep in every positional sense,” Coach Czop said.
For instance, Diaz, Christidis and Gomez will test the depth at midfield for schools like Trinity International, Trinity Christian, and Olivet Nazarene. Also, Mather sophomore Johana Camargo is coming off a six-goal season, while junior Claire Asmus continues to improve by the game.
“We definitely all understand how important it is to come together as one unit in order to have success in the upcoming season,” Diaz said. “With the few practices we’ve had, the environment has been great. Everyone works hard, but we still have fun while getting to know each other.”
As the Roosevelt women’s soccer program emerges from the integration as perennial contenders in the CCAC, everyone is still having fun playing the game while acknowledging what’s at stake this season.
“One thing I always want my teams and players to have incorporated in practice and games is to still have fun,” coach Czop said. “That’s why they started playing it. That’s why they continue to play it. I want them to come to training and games with a level of excitement and look forward to it.”
The Roosevelt Lakers women’s soccer team opens CCAC conference play at home against the St. Xavier Cougars on Feb. 20 at Morris Field in Arlington Heights. For her senior season, Garcia feels a sense of urgency to leave it all out on the pitch.
“I feel like anyone being a senior this year, you get this urgency of making it your best season yet and leaving it all on the field because this is it, your last shot at winning a title,” Garcia said. “From day one, I have felt that my teammates are fully aware of how much potential this team has, and we are all determined to win.”