Thursday, October 22, 2009

A New Era For UAlbany Women's Soccer

Mary-Frances Monroe knew she inherited a mess when she took over the University at Albany women's soccer program four years ago.

She didn't sugarcoat the situation to her first two recruits, back Jaclyn Rosada and forward Ashley Tirabassi.

"I told Jaclyn and Ashley their freshman year that they wouldn't see ultimate success or the program change until their senior year," Monroe said. "They just kind of looked at me. I said, `It takes time and you guys are the ones starting the tradition here at Albany.' "

That tradition used to be one of futility for the women's soccer program, which won a total of 25 games (against 154 losses) in the school's first 10 years of Division I competition after upgrading in 1999.

But it's a new decade and a fresh start for the Great Danes, who can make program history with a home win today over Hartford.

A victory would ensure UAlbany (8-7-1) of its first non-losing season in Division I and its first bid to the America East Conference Tournament.

"(Monroe) told us it was a rebuilding program and by our senior year, it would be what a program is expected to be at the Division I level," Rosada recalled. "And sure enough, she was absolutely correct."

The Great Danes had gone 0-for-34 on the road in America East play entering this season. They're unbeaten in four conference road matches this year, including a 2-0 upset at first-place Stony Brook this past Sunday.

"That was a great achievement for us," Tirabassi said. "That was probably one of the best wins that we've ever had. Beating a team like that was amazing and boosted us up a lot."

The architect of this turnaround is Monroe, who was 25 years old when she took over the program after the 2005 season.

She had coached for only two seasons, including one as a UAlbany assistant under Kalekeni Banda, who resigned after going 4-54-1 over three seasons.

Yet UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy overlooked her inexperience and saw the energy and potential of someone who was an elite player.

Monroe was an All-America midfielder at UConn and UCLA and played for the U.S. national team. She still competes during the summer for the Boston Breakers of Women's Professional Soccer.

Monroe had second thoughts about accepting the job with struggling UAlbany because she could have gotten an assistant's job at a major program.

"I decided to take this challenge," she said. "And I'm happy I did. I have no regrets about it. It's something to be proud of, for sure, taking a program and building it and making it a winning program."

She laid the foundation with Tirabassi, an Ontario native who's become the program's career leader with 18 goals and 44 points. Rosada, from Wyckoff, N.J., leads a defense that's allowing 1.06 goals per match.

Monroe said her players had become too accustomed to losing. That mentality began to change last year, even as the Great Danes went 3-17 with eight freshmen starters.

"I think last year was the first time they realized that it's not OK to lose, even though we had so many losses," Monroe said. "Now they know what I meant, that losing's not acceptable and we will be a winning program."

Mark Singelais

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