COLLEGE BEAT: Deep area connection has fueled 4-0 start for St. Joseph women’s soccer

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WEST HARTFORD — Despite having a brand new coach and not playing at all in 2020, the University of Saint Joseph women’s soccer team is off to a spotless start.

The Blue Jays have four wins in their first four games and they’ve outscored opponents 10-0 along the way.

The early domination has far exceeded the expectations of first-year coach Jenna Kalwa, who was hired on Aug. 9 and first met her team on Aug. 19.

The Blue Jays have responded and a trio of area players who excelled in their high school days are in the middle of it: defender Lizzie Garlock of Meriden and midfielders Marisa Brough of Cheshire and Ariana Gazaferi of Southington.

Garlock and Gazaferi were both All-Record-Journal players during their days at Platt and Southington. Garlock and Brough both scored in St. Joseph’s latest victory, a 6-0 home win over Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Tuesday.

The Blue Jays also feature two girls from Berlin: junior forward Maxine Muscatello and freshman midfielder Jenna Zup.

“We’re doing really well,” Garlock said. “Our whole team has been strong and our defense has been brick walls so far.”

A nursing major who transferred to St. Joseph from Florida Gulf Coast University, Garlock was a three-time All-RJ selection and an All-State pick in high school. At St. Joe’s, the junior is part of a back line that has yet to surrender a goal this season

“She’s an outside back and is very athletic,” Kalwa said. “She’s one of our most versatile players. On and off the ball, she’s quick. We can put her on the left side and the right side. Whether the ball is in the air or on the ground, she’s determined to win it for our team. She has a never-say-die attitude.”

Gazaferi, a senior biochemistry major, is a returning starter. In 2019, when the Blue Jays went 10-6-2, Gazaferi started a career-high 13 games and scored four goals, third most on the team.

As a freshman in 2018, Gazaferi had a goal and three assists in five starts. She was a four-year player at Southington High, an All-RJ selection and a RJ Scholar-Athlete.

“We’ve been coming together as a team and we have a strong connection between the new players and the new coach,” Gazaferi said of this year’s squad at St. Joe’s. “It’s all about working with the player next to you on and off the field.”

Gazaferi has been a steady center-midfielder for the Blue Jays.

“Her soccer IQ is one of her biggest strengths,” Kalwa said. “She’s one of our most experienced players and it helps as a coach to have the support of your upperclassmen.”

Gazaferi teams in the middle with Brough, a sophomore from Cheshire. While Gazaferi is more the defensive-minded midfielder, Brough has been more a factor on offense. Brough is a physical player and looks to attack.

“They balance each other off nicely,” Kalwa said. “Ari will read Marisa and Marisa will read off of Ari.

“Brough is a little quicker to the step and will take players one on one. She’s a forward-thinking midfielder and does a nice job getting those through balls to our forwards. She’s very technical on the ball and its dominant in the air. She’s a nice threat to have and the best part about if for me is she’s only a sophomore.”

Brough has one goal and one assist this season. She is a health science major. At Cheshire, she was a standout soccer player, golfer and track athlete.

“As midfielders we are the wheels for our team and we are in the position to keep the game moving,” Brough said. “It’s been great to start off the year so strong. We’ve been working our butts off and we want to be the best team we can be.”

The goal is indeed to keep the winning alive.

“With ever practice and game we are learning more about our identity and what it means to play Blue Jay soccer,” Kalwa said. “I will provide the opportunity and they will rise to the occasion. Every day we are pushing the standard higher. Regardless of our results, I’m proud of the full commitment of the 21 players on this team. On short notice, we’ve had to hit the ground sprinting.”

 The Blue Jays will look to go 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference this Saturday with a noon date at home with Johnson & Wales.

“It’s a big game,” Kalwa said. “That has been a successful program and I'm curious to see how we match up.”

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