It was dark out when first-year Alessandro Sternini walked into the dining hall lobby, freshly showered after an evening soccer practice ran late. He hadn’t even had time to grab dinner yet when he met to talk with me about the men’s soccer season.
After looking around the empty lobby he spotted me in a corner booth and smiled as he sat down. We skipped the introductions, having corresponded via email for several days. Wearing a disarming smile and a wholesome, kind, open attitude, Sternini quickly won me over, despite having never met him in person before.
It was in a similar fashion that he won over his coaches earlier this season. Hailing from Rome, Italy, Sternini grew up on soccer.
“I played goalie on a youth professional team – Lazio,” he said, then quickly began to spell the team name for me, pronouncing “Z” as “zed,” in European fashion.
COVID hit Italy hard, and once the pandemic had died down, Sternini found himself looking for a change.
“Post COVID, I moved to the U.S for my senior year of high school, in Massachusetts, near Springfield,” he said, “I played my senior season there.”
He was connected with Goucher coach Bryan Laut through a friend and now, one year later, he’s enjoying the experience.
The men’s soccer team has posted a successful season; the Gophers claimed nine wins, the most in a season since 2006.
“The strength of the team is not in the individual, it’s in the group,” Sternini said.
He realized this during the first chunk of the season, during which he did not get playing time.
“In the beginning, I didn’t start, but I was putting 100% effort in practice,” Sternini said.
The coaching staff noticed his hard work, and when the Gophers played at Neumann on September 05, Sternini was put in the game. Goucher ended up winning 5-3, and Sternini became the main goalkeeper for the Gophers.
From the beginning, the coaches told this team they were a special group.
“They kept saying we could end up doing something good,” said Sternini of the coach’s expectations, “but words aren’t something where then you can just go on the field and play; you need something behind it, and with every win, we got more confidence and the chemistry was…” Here Sternini paused, searching for the right word, before apologizing, as he laughed and shook his head in mild frustration. He continued, “The team was bonding, building confidence that it was an important group and could do something good.”
Something good indeed. The Goucher men’s soccer team finished out October with a return to the playoffs for only the second time in program history, and the first time since 2014. The team came from behind to win 2-1 against Moravian on Saturday, October 29, and successfully clinched its spot to advance to the playoffs.
When I asked him about the energy the team had following that come-from-behind victory at home, Sternini ducked his head, chuckling. He then told me that, with less than ten minutes left in the game, he was subbed out. He had received a hit to the head, and required staples to close the wound.
“Neither me or Coach wanted it, but apparently it was a bad injury, and the trainer said I needed to get staples immediately. So I missed the celebration,” he paused for comedic emphasis, before chuckling as he finished his thought, “But I know the team was celebrating while I was in the hospital.”
Energy was high the days before the first playoff game Wednesday, November 02. The school hosted a bus to bring rowdy students out to support their team as they aimed to create history in the postseason. However, for Sternini, Wednesday’s game wasn’t a guarantee.
“I went to Coach three hours before the bus left to try [playing] with a helmet and see how it would feel.” he said.
The trial ended up going well, and together he, the trainers, and the coaching staff decided Sternini would play goalkeeper in Goucher’s first postseason game for nearly a decade, with a helmet on to protect his recent wound.
The Gophers, sitting as the third-seed team, went on to suffer a heartbreaking loss to number-two-seed Elizabethtown that night, in a penalty kick shootout after a 0-0 double-overtime tie.
“Their third place finish is the best all-time and we couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to compete in the Landmark Conference Tournament,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Andrea Ricketts-Preston, “While the result in the semi-finals at Elizabethtown wasn’t what we had hoped for, seeing our students, staff and faculty come out to support the team was impressive.”
Another silver lining is that, despite the loss, the team played well both offensively and defensively. Goucher got a number of solid shots off during the game, but all were blocked by the Blue Jay’s goalkeeper. Likewise, Sternini made six saves, leading to what was his fifth shutout of the season.
“It was an important game,” Sternini said, his face getting serious for the first time in the entire discussion. “It ended up with penalty kicks. I saved the first one, but unfortunately penalty kicks are a coin flip, and we ended up losing it.”
He hesitated, before adding softly “the atmosphere was pretty bad after that.”
Now, less than a week later, hope is renewed for the men’s soccer team. The coaches’ predictions of this group being special have indeed rung true; It was announced on Monday, November 07, just hours before my meeting with Sternini, that Goucher had secured a spot for the ECAC tournament, for the first time in program history.
The school will host games Saturday, November 12 and Sunday, November 13, with Goucher playing in Game One on Saturday afternoon. Their opponent? Neumann, the team Sternini started his collegiate career defending against two months ago. Speaking for the team, Sternini said “We’re excited about being… here at home Saturday, to play Neumann, who we already faced during the season. We hope to feel strong, as we did in every game we faced, and just play.”
For more information regarding the tournament schedule and results, please visit athletics.goucher.edu.