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Style and Culture

Junior Kiana Rugar scored the lone goal in women's soccer America East semifinal win against UNH on Sunday. (Photo by Bill Ziskin)

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 1, 2016) – The 1-seed UAlbany women’s soccer team is looking to this Sunday with hopes of a second straight America East (AE) Conference championship.

Just three seasons ago, this circumstance would have seemed very far-fetched.

In Head Coach Caitlin Cucchiella’s first year at the helm of the Great Danes, UAlbany went 2 wins, 14 losses and 1 tie. The program's Division I history was already rather dismal: just one non-losing season since 1999.

The next year, 2014, the team went to the semifinals of the AE Tournament. Last year, they went 11-9-1, then won the AE tournament at Hartford, achieving the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

This year, after winning the AE regular season title for the first time and defeating UNH 1-0 in the semifinals, the Great Danes get to host Hartford on Sunday for the tourney championship and another NCAA berth.

A remarkable turnaround. “Caitlin and her staff have done a wonderful job in the past four seasons building the Great Danes into an America East championship program,” said Athletic Director Mark Benson.”

UAlbany soccer Caitlin Cucchiella

UAlbany women's soccer coach Caitlin Cucchiella.

Cucchiella looks back at that 2013 year as one where she and Associate Head Coach Nick Bochette began to change the team’s style of play and culture.

“Whenever you have a new staff that takes over, you have players who have worked in a different style,” said Cucchiella. “It’s an adjustment, and the first year was tough, breaking down what was before and creating something new.

“Myself and coach Nick knew it would take time, not only with a new style of play but also with developing a more positive culture. That began being felt in both the locker room and in the relationships the players had with the University: they began to have pride in representing the institution.

“In addition, we started involving them in programs with community youth. They found that these young girls want to look up to them, and that’s something to live up to. That made a difference.”

Added to that, of course, was recruiting the type of people that would lend to the team’s system and the University. “We preach that it’s a family environment, and we’re part of the Great Dane Family,” said Cucchiella. “We coaches take that very seriously. Having kids of our own, we know the value of it — garnering respect from the players to us, but also from us to the players.

“We were never going for the quick fix, but what was going to sustain us in the long run.”

That suits AD Benson just fine. “We have a motto in our department of developing Great Leaders + Great Champions + Great Danes,” he said. “Our student athletes, coaches, staff and supporters continue to put us in a position to succeed whether in competition, the classroom or the community.

“Our women’s soccer program exemplifies these traits.”

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than
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