On senior night for the Johns Hopkins women's soccer
team, a duo of sophomores produced an
ESPN top-10 play moment.
In the 71st minute of the Blue Jays' game versus
Ursinus College, fullback Rhiannon Desideri
juked past several Bears defenders to create space for
herself on the right flank. She then blasted a
Beckham-esque cross into the box that curled over a pack of
players and into the waiting path of
midfielder Allie Zazzali. With peerless timing and form,
Zazzali launched off her feet and headed the
ball into the back of the net. The Ursinus goalkeeper
didn't have time to flinch.
The goal, Zazzali's second of the night, made it 4-0,
firmly cementing the win and assuring the
Blue Jays of their first unbeaten season in team history.
The team finished the regular season 15-0-3
and with a perfect 10-0 record against Centennial
Head Coach Leo Weil said he couldn't have drawn up a
better exclamation point to cap the
"That was a great goal on any level," Weil said. "It
Just as impressive has been the team's form all
season. With the win against Ursinus, Johns
Hopkins claimed its 13th shutout of the season and extended
its unbeaten streak at home to 14 games,
a run that dates back to Oct. 1, 2007.
The Blue Jays headed into last weekend's Centennial
Conference Women's Soccer Tournament,
which it hosted for the third consecutive year, ranked No.
7 in the nation.
Speaking before the tournament, Weil said he was
confident that even with a loss over the
weekend, Johns Hopkins had done enough to earn an at-large
bid to the NCAA tournament, which now
has a 60-team field.
An at-large bid, however, would not be his first
"We'd rather get in through the front door and not the
back," Weil said. "We want to be as high
a seed as possible and host a few rounds of the NCAAs [at
Homewood Field]. Quite honestly, we want
to be conference champions."
In the team's history, Johns Hopkins has won six
conference championships but never gotten
past the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Weil, who was named Centennial Conference Coach of the
Year last week, said it's been the
team's depth and chemistry that have been the keys to
success this season, and the reason for
optimism going forward.
Five members of the team recently earned
All-Centennial Conference honors: freshman Erica
Suter, the team's leading scorer with 10 goals; sophomores
Jenn Paulucci and Sarah Gieszl; junior
Karen Guszkowski; and senior Molly Steele. Suter and
Paulucci earned first-team honors; Steele,
Gieszl and Guszkowski received second-team nods.
Paulucci, a gifted athlete who plays the fullback
position, also earned ESPN The Magazine
Academic All-District Second Team accolades. The Manalapan,
N.J., native and biomedical engineering
major sports a 4.0 GPA.
"Jenn is fantastic," Weil said. "She is great at
everything. She is so composed out there. She
rarely gets beaten. Any coach that watches us tells me she
stands out. She's probably been our best
player these past two years."
Weil has helmed the women's soccer program at Johns
Hopkins since it began in 1992. He boasts
an impressive 206-83-26 (.695) career record, including two
18-win seasons. Under his leadership,
Hopkins has made 11 consecutive postseason appearances and
has advanced to the second round of the
NCAA Tournament twice. Before joining Johns Hopkins, the
University of Maryland graduate coached
from the youth club level through the high school and
Weil said he knew going into this season that the team
looked good on paper and could be his
best squad ever, even though they had some adapting to
The Blue Jays had to blend in 12 new players out of a
squad of 28. Weil said it took a while to
figure out the best lineup and formation, eventually
settling into an unconventional 4-3-2-1 formation.
The team also had a new assistant coach, Tim Wittman,
a former Baltimore Blast player and
During his professional soccer career, Wittman was a
three-time Major Indoor Soccer League
all-star and the Blast's most valuable player in the
1987-88 season. He was an assistant coach for the
Blast's 2003 MISL championship team and the head coach of
the organization when it won its third
MISL title in 2004.
Wittman, who said he is enjoying every minute in his
new role, admits that he did have his
doubts about how he would adapt to the women's game.
"I knew that coaching is coaching and this was just
another challenge, but my one concern was
[whether] these young women wanted to play at a really high
level," he said. "But when I talked to
them during the interview process, I had my answer right
away. They showed me from day one their
desire to learn and the want to win. That was all I needed
On and off the field, Weil and Wittman are near polar
opposites. Weil is subdued and analytical,
looking more the part of a history professor. On the
sideline, Weil quietly surveys the action, often
with hands in pockets.
Wittman, on the other hand, is frenetic. His body
undulates to the flow of the play, and he
seemingly never stops moving, or talking. He's quick to
compliment the players or react like a fan.
Jane O'Connor, a senior who has become a bedrock of
the team's defense, said that the players
have been feeding off Wittman's enthusiasm.
"He gets excited, and we hear all his compliments and
want to hear more," O'Connor said. "I've
had three assistant coaches, each with his own style. Tim's
very supportive and gives instant feedback.
It's been great."
O'Connor, who is easy to spot on the pitch with her
bright-red cleats, said that goals like
Zazzali's are a sign of the team's increased confidence and
"We do things like that now, and it's fun to watch,
but it's become our style and what is
expected of us," she said.
As for the team's undefeated season, O'Connor said
that the goal was never emphasized, but
the players certainly appreciate the feat.
"We all looked around after the game and said, Do you
realize what we just did?" she said. "It's
a great accomplishment and a product of all the hard work
we've put in."
The team's work, however, is not done.
"That was just the first chapter," she said. "Our
focus now is on the playoffs and how far we
can take this."
Weil said the aim is to get past the second round of
the NCAAs, which start later this month,
and then see how far they can ride this wave.
"We'll need a little luck along the way," he said. "We
have had some close calls this year. It
takes a little bit of luck to keep winning like this. But I
wouldn't consider us just a lucky team; we have
our fair share of ability, too."
To keep up on the team's postseason play, go to: