Niagara women’s soccer out to 7-1 start | Sports

Niagara women’s soccer out to 7-1 start | Sports

The occasion of his 200th coaching victory gave Peter Veltri a sense of deja vu. Reconnecting with alumni and reflecting on Niagara’s most memorable women’s soccer seasons, old feelings were revived in Veltri.

“That feeling you get when you coach a good group,” he mused.

Off to their best start in Veltri’s 23 seasons on Monteagle Ridge, the Purple Eagles (7-1) have won seven straight, their longest unbeaten streak since the 2006 team went 10-0-1 on its way to the program’s only NCAA tournament appearance.

“It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s a good vibe,” Veltri said. “You get that familiar feeling of what winning feels like, and you don’t want to let it go.”

Paced by national scoring leader Florence Vaillancourt, Niagara’s attack leads the MAAC and ranks 15th in the country with 25 goals in eight games.

Vaillancourt has nine goals and five assists in seven contests. Ahead of Saturday’s match at Manhattan, the junior from Quebec City leads all NCAA Division I players in points (23), per-game scoring (3.3), goals per game (1.3), game-winning goals (four) and shooting accuracy (.875). She’s tied for second in goals.

“It’s a good feeling to see myself there but it comes from the whole team working together and capitalizing on our chances,” said Vaillancourt, who was named MAAC Player of the Week after scoring her second hat trick in the Purple Eagles’ conference opener against Saint Peter’s on Sunday that gave Veltri his milestone win.

“We are proud to be the team that got him there,” Vaillancourt said.

Vaillancourt recorded her first hat trick in Niagara’s confidence-building win at Syracuse that started the current streak following an opening loss at Buffalo.

That surpassed her production over 19 games (one goal, one assist) through her sophomore season. The long-legged, 5-foot-9 Vaillancourt was rebuilding her fitness following injuries in both knees when she arrived on campus at 17, a year younger than most of her freshman classmates. She was quarantined for much of the pandemic-shortened season last spring.

“It happened a little later than we expected, due to injuries and COVID, and things out of our control,” Veltri said. “But credit goes to Flo for getting her body ready in the summer and being in her best physical shape.”

“And her teammates are playing great to put her in position to be successful,” Veltri added. “As a striker, that’s what you need. You can’t do it alone. I don’t care who scores the goals, and I don’t think Flo does either. Whether she scores or she rolls it across for a teammate to score, what we preach is, let’s just put the ball in the back of the net and worry about who gets credit for the goals later.”

Eight different Purple Eagles have scored, five more than once. Freshman Maia MacLean (four goals, three assists) and spring scoring leader Djeynaba Thiam (four goals, two assists) rank in the top 10 on the MAAC points list, while Emma Davies and Emma Bough are tied with Vaillancourt leading the MAAC with five assists. Annie Ibey, Niagara’s leading scorer with 10 goals as a freshman in 2018, scored a hat trick against Cornell after notching an assist in the win at Syracuse.

“I could tell from our first practice that his team is deep,” Vaillancourt said. “Everyone who goes in has an impact and their own strengths they bring to the field.”

Niagara placed seventh in the preseason poll of MAAC coaches, but after strong results against one of the toughest non-conference slates Veltri has ever put together, the Purple Eagles expect to be among the six teams that qualify for the MAAC tournament.

“We have to stay humble and know every game is something we have to fight for and not take for granted,” Vaillancourt said. “We worked hard to get here and it would be disappointing to get cocky and think we are going to win every game, and it’s going to be easy. We have to be strong mentally and play our game.”

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