From NCAA Division II: DII Women's Notebook: A new No. 1, a familiar face and surprising Skyhawks

By: Wayne Cavadi 

Soccer: Stonehill Skyhawks remain in the top five this week

If you have watched the NSCAA Coaches Poll the last half decade, you may not be accustomed to seeing the Stonehill Skyhawks amongst the top 25. That's why it was a bit surprising when they jumped from No. 18 to No. 5 last week. Still, undefeated, the Skyhawks remained in the top five this week, jumping up one spot to No. 4.

Head coach Alex Wilson took over in 2013, knowing that it would take time to develop Stonehill into a powerhouse. She was just 12-26-7 over her first three seasons, coming off a 4-10-4 2015. The numbers don't show the whole story, however. Wilson saw players buying into her system and improving, letting their coach know that this team was close.

"There's a lot of good and progressive soccer behind those numbers," Wilson said. "Each season we've played better technically and tactically, and it's a great feeling to experience this hot start. The key is to remain focused on what we do daily and how we execute each session and game."

"I knew it would take time when I took over in 2013," Wilson continued. "These seniors were my freshmen at that point, and they bought in straight away to the changes both culturally and on the pitch. I had high expectations coming into 2016, with 22 returners and a strong cast of 10 seniors. I knew the individual talent was there, but what the team has shown thus far is that the chemistry and ability to play together is also present."

Lauren Kapatoes is amongst that group of seniors. She has been a leader since she first donned the Skyhawks uniform, taking home NE-10 All-Rookie Team honors in 2013. This season, she leads the team with 11 points, including two game-winning goals. She is at the forefront of this turnaround.

"Obviously, being nationally recognized for the first time in my four years at Stonehill is pretty awesome," Kapatoes said. "It's a feeling that's indescribable, especially because most people would have never expected us to come out on top. As a senior captain, I am so proud of our team and what we have accomplished.  It's an honor to be nationally ranked and compared among the best teams in the nation, and I most certainly think it is something we deserve. It is definitely a confidence booster, but we try not to let it get to us.  We know what it is like to be at the bottom and not get the results you've worked hard for."

The Skyhawks made their mark right out of the gate this season, defeating first Assumption and the Saint Anselm to take home their first ever Catholic Cup Title. The MVP of the tournament? Lauren Kapatoes.

"I think coming into the season, as any season, there are always nerves," Kapatoes explained. "But for us, the Catholic Cup was something we were excited for.  A goal of ours has always been to win, so beating Assumption and Saint Anselm, who are both talented teams, was a great feeling.  Starting the season off on two wins against NE-10 opponents really boosted our confidence and brought the team together.  We had a fire in us that I haven't seen in years past.  Last year, we struggled finishing the ball, so to score four goals in the opening round of play and only allow one proved that we were capable of competing with the best."

Another senior who has been monumental in her strong start is Kapatoes's co-captain, goalie Jamie Block. The last name is quite fitting, as Block has done just that all season, sitting at 10-0-1 behind seven shutouts and a 0.53 goals against average. 

"The senior leadership is tremendous," Wilson said. "I really can't say enough about this group — they mean a lot to the team and program on and off the field. We've been through some highs and lows, and I think those experiences have made the seniors even more determined to reach new heights. Jamie has been key to our defensive success throughout her career, and now as a senior, I think she is playing some of her best soccer and expanding her leadership skills as a second-year captain along with Claire O'Brien. However, the leadership of all the seniors is present every day, and I'm beyond proud of them. But I also make it clear, we have much work to do, and I know they understand we aren't done yet."

The Skyhawks have gone from the hunters to the hunted. This week seemingly only gets tougher as they have a rematch with Saint Anselm on Friday and then a matchup with AIC on Monday. The Yellow Jackets currently sit in second place in the NE-10, right behind the red-hot Skyhawks. While the season has been nice so far, Wilson knows it won't get any easier.

"We've done some nice things through the first half of the season — many things to be proud of, to celebrate and to motivate us for more," Wilson said. "I've felt something about this group of returners since the spring, and I knew adding a talented freshmen class for Fall 2016 was only going to deepen our abilities. The whole group, all 30 players, are invested in our journey and willing to do whatever it takes. They play for each other and have a strong sense of team — the fight and determination comes from the strength of the group and it adds an element to our style of play."

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