When discussing The College of New Jersey women’s soccer team, the popular subject is the Lions’ defensive prowess. TCNJ is traditionally one of the stingiest NCAA Division III teams in the nation and through its 10-2 start this year had allowed just three goals and recorded 10 shutouts.
But there is an offensive star on the team who is also making a name for herself in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Through the first 12 games, Robbinsville High grad Christine Levering led the Lions in goals (8), assists (7), points (23), shots (43) and shots on goal (22). Last year, Levering paced TCNJ with 11 goals, four assists and 26 points, earning the NJAC Rookie of the Year award.
“I was not expecting that at all,” the sophomore forward said of her honor. “I didn’t know anything about other freshmen. When I found that out, I was pretty surprised. I just felt like our whole team won it. I didn’t feel I helped any more than anyone else.”
One person who was expecting this kind of Levering production is her former Ravens’ teammate, Carly Setaro, who urged Christine to join her at TCNJ.
“I honestly thought she would be this good,” said Setaro, a junior midfielder who got to TCNJ a year before Levering. “Just from playing with her in high school I had really high expectations. And she somehow topped the expectations I had of her.”
When Setaro heard that Levering had gone to clinics at St. Joe’s and TCNJ while still in high school, she got into recruiting mode.
“I was pushing her to come visit me; I knew she would work well with the girls on the team after I met them all,” Setaro said. “Even off the field, she and I are extremely close and I thought she would fit in well. I think one of the main things that pushed her toward TCNJ versus St. Joe’s is the players’ personalities. We’re goofier and funnier.”
Evidently there is something to that goofy and funny thing, as it sold Levering.
“After visiting here and meeting with players, I felt I connected with this team more, got to know them more,” she said. “It didn’t matter to me whether I went Division I or Division III, I just wanted to play with a team that I fit in with.
The prospect of playing on the same team as Setaro was an added bonus.
“She knew everyone already and that was one of the reasons I came,” Levering said. “I felt I knew this team because she would tell me about them, and she loved it so much. It helped with my decision.”
And her decision affected TCNJ’s continued success, as Levering gives the Lions a legitimate goal scorer. That became apparent when she was a freshman with the Ravens and helped them to the NJSIAA Group I championship. She continued to just keep scoring through her four seasons.
Levering burst on to the season in a big way last year, scoring five game-winning goals in the Lions’ march to the NCAA Sweet 16.
“I was definitely not expecting to be the leading scorer,” Levering said. “I had seen their games before I came here, and I was really impressed with how they played. And I couldn’t have done it this year and last year without my teammates. The team makes plays happen, and we all work together to make the goals happen.”
But setting someone up for a good shot is just half the battle. Teams need someone who can put the ball away with regularity, and that’s what TCNJ got when Levering came on board. And Setaro noticed an improvement in her play from when they were last teammates in 2012.
“She’s always been the type of player to finish any opportunities, so she’s still good at that,” Setaro said. “She definitely got faster, even from this year to last year. She spent her whole summer working hard every day.”
Levering is a pure finisher. She won’t dribble through players and launch long rocket shots from the top of the 18 — but she will work herself into a dangerous spot and then find herself on the other end of a cross or a pass off the end line that she’s able to convert.
The Lions have been playing with an altered formation this year, though. Last season, Levering played an outside forward but said “it was more like playing midfield.” This year, she is the lone striker up top, which she prefers. It allows her to make more runs and get more of her teammates involved in plays.
“In some games I notice with certain teams I get their best defender, but since playing in the middle up top I can go against any one of them. I can make certain runs where I know weak spots. They can’t stay with me because I’m all over the place up top.”
Levering feels that she has not changed her game much since high school, nor did she have to. Since Robbinsville coach Karen DeRossett played for TCNJ under coach Joe Russo, she implemented a similar system for the Ravens.
“We did a lot of the same drills, and she taught us a lot of the same ideas,” Levering said. “I’m used to the way it’s run here. I just push myself to get better. In college, you’re playing year round, in high school, I played other things but now I’m just playing soccer.”
One thing Levering has done since arriving in Ewing is get a little more authoritative.
“She was a little timid when she got here,” Setaro said. “It’s funny, she’s one of the loudest girls on our team. Our freshman year they thought she was one of the shyest. She didn’t even speak. I think she finally just realized the impact she had on the team, and it kind of boosted her confidence.”