It was another year of success for the Rowan University women’s soccer team, thanks in part to another year of contributions from Steinert graduates.
Junior Darah Wagner continued to be one of the top players in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. Arianna Durling recovered from injury for a strong finish in the back; and Lynzie Morgan endured the usual maturation process that most freshman experience.
And then there was a fourth Spartan who emerged to help spark the Profs both offensively and defensively. Sophomore midfielder Aidan Sheehan chipped in with three goals and three assists while starting every game for the Profs, who finished 13-4-2 and reached the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Last year, Sheehan came off the bench in 16 games, averaging 25 minutes per appearance. She did not hit the score sheet and took 10 shots. This year, she played more than 50 minutes per game, launched 21 shots, nine which were on goal.
“She just needed the confidence to move forward,” coach Scott Leacott said. “By mid-year she gained more confidence in herself and the playing time increased. She’s a very technical player with deceiving qualities. She has good attacking tendencies and knows her role tactically. Overall she had an outstanding year for us.”
Getting a season to learn the ropes certainly didn’t hurt.
“I think that after having a year under my belt it definitely helped my confidence coming into this year,” Sheehan said. “Kind of knowing the drill, knowing the girls on the team, and how the coaches ran the program made me completely more comfortable this year. I feel that helped me on the field.”
Sheehan felt her entry to college soccer was helped by a strong support system upon arrival last year. Wagner and former Steinert teammate Kylie Kieffer were on the team; although Kieffer’s career ended sadly when she had to have surgery after suffering compartment syndrome.
But having friends can only go so far once the other team shows up.
“It was definitely a huge transition from high school,” Sheehan said. “The game itself, the intensity is just higher, the girls are bigger, stronger, faster. The biggest thing was my strength. I felt a lot of times last year I would get knocked off the ball. I was not used to playing girls that much bigger than me. That was something I worked on a lot to make myself stronger because it’s a whole different game here.”
A game that Sheehan has managed to adapt to, thanks to a strong mindset.
“It definitely is hard, a lot of it is mental,” she said. “I feel like you can’t let it break you down. It’s OK to have doubts and be nervous but a lot of times you have to use that to your advantage and work through it. I was in the gym a lot this summer working on upper body strength. I lifted a lot and worked on building on my upper body and it paid off.”
‘Honestly I didn’t think she could get any better from playing with her at Steinert, she was so good then, but she proved me wrong.’
Sheehan’s improved physical prowess went along nicely with her soccer intuition, which she brought with her from Steinert.
“Aidan has a tremendous soccer IQ when her confidence is high,” Leacott said. “She is very composed and sees the field very well. She’s a dynamic technical player and very deceiving with the ball at her feet. She can run at people and beat them one-v-one or find teammates feet and move off.”
Asked if she developed those soccer smarts over the years, Sheehan feels she just always had them.
“That stuff just kind of came naturally to me,” she said. “I think back to my club coaches always saying I had great vision.”
She needed that vision and IQ when arriving at Rowan. At Steinert, she played center-midfield before moving up to forward and blossoming as a scorer her senior year. But Leacott made her an outside middie for the Profs.
“It was definitely a tough adjustment because I had never played there before,” Sheehan said. “It was just different. I feel like you just have to see things differently from the outside. And it requires a lot more stamina. But I guess it’s a different way to see the field.”
It’s also a different role.
“Being on the outside, he likes us to get up and get crosses into the box; and when you’re on the far side of the field he wants you to be in the box to get the crosses,” Sheehan explained. “I feel like, for the most part, I did what I had to do.”
Another woman doing everything she had to do was Wagner, who has been a driving force at Rowan ever since arriving three years ago after taking a season off. One of Rowan’s captains, she was second on the team with 10 goals and four assists, and was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Midfielder of the Year.
“She was basically our sparkplug on the field,” Leacott said. “When we play well it usually meant Darah was playing well, when we weren’t playing so well, it usually meant Darah was not playing that great. More times than not, it was Darah playing well and so was the team.”
Wagner’s level of play has come as a surprise to Sheehan, only because she felt Wagner was already in high gear during high school.
“Honestly I didn’t think she could get any better from playing with her at Steinert, she was so good then, but she proved me wrong,” Sheehan said. “She has great vision, her technical ability is insane. She wins 50-50 balls out of the air all the time. And her personality helps too. If she wants something she won’t stop ’til she gets it. Just watching her motivated me to better myself as a player.”
Durling managed to better herself in the second half of the season, and started 14 of the 18 games she played in while scoring one goal.
“Ari had an injury early in the year that set her back a bit,” Leacott aid. “Once she got healthy, she was a starter in the back and contributed to a very stout back line for us. We’re looking for big things from Ari next season.”
He’s looking for the same things from Morgan, who saw time in 12 games.
“There were growing pains for Lynzie this year,” Leacott said. “But she is a pretty dynamic player who works really hard. She has a year under her belt now and we look for her to contribute next season.”
Of course he does. If it’s soccer season at Rowan, Leacott is usually looking for an ex-Spartan to contribute.