DURHAM, N.H. – Just one week after clinching a playoff berth in the final week of the regular season, coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns forced the University of New Hampshire (UNH) women’s soccer team (5-2, 2-2) to withdraw from the America East Tournament. The timing of the outbreak couldn’t have been worse for the Wildcats. UNH had managed to avoid an outbreak this season, but with the America East Semifinal set to be played Thursday, the positive tests meant a withdrawal from the season.
“The team was exceptional with everything we did in regard to COVID. They just did everything we asked them to do,” said head coach Steve Welham.
Women’s soccer is now the second UNH program in as many weeks to have their season cut short due to COVID-19. Football found a similar fate after only completing one game and having to postpone three more before their eventual opt out.
At the end of the year, UNH will say goodbye to three seniors who helped lead the ‘Cats through a season unlike any other. Co-captain forward Francesca Picicci, her fellow co-captain midfielder Casey Peterson and goalkeeper Cam Droste will all leave Durham this spring with big cleats to fill.
Welham couldn’t have been prouder when discussing the three young women. He emphasized not only their talent and work on the field but their academic success as well.
“What they did over the course of four years has been nothing short of spectacular,” noted Welham.
The head coach said there’s no question that the team will miss the seniors. Picicci finishes her UNH career with 49 appearances scoring four goals and assisting three. Peterson leaves Durham with one goal and three assists in 51 appearances. Droste will depart with five games and zero goals conceded.
Picicci, Peterson and Droste weren’t given the opportunity to help UNH raise a trophy this year but lifted the whole team, according to Welham. He said that his seniors’ experience, especially his captains, were vital to help his young team understand what it takes to find success at the Division I level. UNH fielded 12 first-year athletes this season, and Welham said that his seniors were the role models they needed.
“We call it like it’s like a three-pronged approach,” Welham explained. “You’ve got to be a good person; you’ve got to be a good student and a good soccer player. And that’s what’s most important for us, and along the way to learn some life lessons that are going to help you when you graduate.”
The task will now fall on Welham and the returning Wildcats to build upon this season and ensure younger players can replace the departing seniors’ production and leadership. Every returning member of the team will have the extra motivation of a season cut short.
“There’s certainly an element of unfinished business, having clinched the semifinal place and being one of the final four teams,” said Welham.
Despite a season cut short, the Wildcats had three players honored by the America East. Picicci was named to the All-Conference Second Team along with the All-Academic Team. First-year defender Alivia Kelly was named to the All-Conference Second Team with Picicci as well as the All-Rookie Team. First-year midfielder Anna Hewlett also joins her teammate on the All-Rookie Team.
In the meantime, Welham said his players would get a well-deserved rest.
“They need to take some time, enjoy that. Enjoy what it’s like being a college student as well.”
Photo courtesy of Vincent Dejana.