If you’ve ever taken the time to watch the Northeastern women’s soccer team play, you’ve probably noticed an impressive unit putting on a show for 90 minutes. At a school home to one of the nation’s best hockey teams featuring future professionals, other sports tend to be overlooked – women’s soccer being no exception.
With former head coach Tracey Leone and current head coach Ashley Phillips at the helm, the Huskies have transformed themselves into a force to be reckoned with in the CAA, advancing to the NCAA tournament two of the past four seasons and falling one game short of a third appearance in the same time frame.
While soccer is strongly believed to be a team sport, a notion aided by last season’s defensively-minded Huskies team, there tend to be standout offensively-minded players who fuel a fire underneath a team. Think along the lines of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Andrea Pirlo. To perhaps a lesser extent, the Huskies have their own Pirlo: Kayla Cappuzzo, a speedy forward from Merrick, New York, a hamlet along the southern coast of Long Island.
Cappuzzo joined the Huskies in 2014, a highly-touted recruit with mixed feelings about beginning her collegiate career.
“Coming in a rookie, you’re nervous,” Cappuzzo remembered. “Everything is new to you, there’s a lot of emotion and there are so many new challenges you have never seen before on and off the field.”
At the same time however, Cappuzzo prides herself in her self-proclaimed fiery attitude.
“When someone throws something my way and tells me I can’t do it, I am that person that will do everything to prove to them that I can.”
A proven scorer in high school with 25 goals and 35 assists in four seasons, the determined Cappuzzo struggled to find the back of the net during the early stages of her freshman campaign. The first month of the season did not see Cappuzzo score once, and the pressure built up on the eighteen-year-old rook.
“It mentally started to affect my game,” she noted. “However, I learned to cope with these pressures and was then able to play with confidence”.
The tutelage of her teammates helped reinforce the renewed faith in herself, she mentioned.
“They taught me everything it takes to be a member of this team and program,” she lauded. “They set the tone of the necessary attitude it takes to be a successful player in a Division I environment. They set the standards high, pushed me harder than I have ever been pushed before at the time, supported and believed in me.”
The confident Cappuzzo and the Huskies rolled to a 13-1-1 record in the final games of the regular season and postseason before dropping a close one to eventual national champion Florida State. Though this was the most successful season in terms of tournament progress she had been a part of, her rookie campaign was only the beginning of a Husky star in the making.
Under the guidance of former interim coach and current head coach Ashley Phillips, Cappuzzo quickly grew from a cog in the Huskies’ well-oiled machine to a leader on and off the field.
Over the course of four seasons, Cappuzzo has racked up quite the stat line, collecting two All-CAA First Team and two All-CAA Second Team awards while etching her name in Husky history as the all-time program leader in assists (25) and solidifying a role as a top-five point scorer in program history (59).
She garners nothing but the highest praise from her teammates, especially those who have benefited from her senior leadership. Freshman striker Chelsea Domond, a player most similar in play style to Cappuzzo, believes Cappuzzo has had a major impact on both her own individual game and the team’s culture.
“The way she makes things look easy on the field is impressive,” Domond explains. “I aspire to work just as hard as she does on and off the field. Ever since coming to Northeastern, I’ve always looked up to [Kayla] as a player and a person. I love having her as a mentor and looking to her for any type of advice. She’s also one of the most impactful, determined teammates that I have ever played with.”
Phillips notes that Cappuzzo’s innate motivation and natural intelligence made her a strong role model for her teammates.
“In the classroom, she currently has a 3.664 cumulative GPA, and she is as committed, if not more, to being a good person in society, as shown through her involvement in numerous community service projects.”
The off-field commitment Cappuzzo prides herself in most is Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that works to connect children suffering from chronic and severe illnesses with collegiate athletic teams. The forward was responsible for connecting the Huskies with Caeleigh Brown, a Norwood, Mass. resident recovering from leukemia. To Cappuzzo, giving back to the community is an easy way to say thank you for the love and support she has received throughout her Northeastern career.
“Through the power of our Northeastern soccer team we have given her endless support, love, motivation, inspiration, a fun and positive atmosphere to be a part of,” said Cappuzzo. “Having Caeleigh as part of the program has been one of the greatest experiences of my four years here as her story is inspiring and motivating to our whole team.”
Speaking of support, Cappuzzo’s fan base quite possibly may be rivaled by none, with the her parents having attended nearly every game to support the standout senior.
“I can’t put into words everything they have done for me since day one. They would do anything to see me play,” Cappuzzo said. “Living in New York, they made the trip there and back consistently on the weekends just to be there for me.”
A Renaissance woman of sorts, Cappuzzo’s presence will most certainly be difficult to replace on this tightly-knit squad. Both Domond and Phillips emphasized the difficulty the team will face in replacing her pace, work ethic and charisma. Equally as important, however, is the void she will leave behind as a person, notes Phillips.
“I believe I will miss Kayla more as a person,” she reflects. “[She] is everything a coach hopes for and when you find people like that, they are so hard to lose.”
The Huskies, built around a solid core of returning defenders and a strong presence in goal, certainly have the talent to remain dominant within the CAA. Recruiting is the seemingly obvious solution for any club losing such an important player, but Cappuzzo’s unparalleled drive, leadership, and love for the game will certainly be a tough, if not irreplaceable, loss for the pack.
When a team flies under the radar as much as the women’s soccer team, its athletes tend not to get the recognition they deserve. If you didn’t know any better, you could easily find Cappuzzo at Rebecca’s, ordering a buffalo chicken wrap (with no cheese or tomato) and studying for an exam, and fail to notice her. Her name may not have the acclaim associated with a Gaudette or a Sikura, but Kayla Cappuzzo is a name that will be recognized within the Northeastern athletic community for years to come.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics