Friday, 30 December 2011 00:00
Jericho native Amanda Epstein prepared her entire life for the opportunity to play in this particular soccer game, so when she stepped onto the field at Boston College with her Marist College teammates for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the significance of the moment did not escape her.
“When I was little, I read books about players like Mia Hamm playing in the NCAA Tournament. To have the opportunity to experience that as a freshman is a dream come true. I never thought it would happen to me, but it became a reality this year,” said Epstein.
As a Class of 2011 graduate of Jericho High School, Epstein was an AP Scholar with Distinction and a member of the National and Spanish Honor societies. She was also a four-year starter, senior captain and four-time MVP of the girls varsity soccer team. Her standout high school career was capped by two consecutive All-County awards, selection to the All-State Team, and two consecutive Nassau County Class A Semifinal berths, the only such appearances in school history. Outside of school, Epstein was a silver medalist in the World Maccabiah Games in Israel as a member of the U.S. National Maccabi team, a captain of her Massapequa Storm Region 1 Premier club team, and a winner of a Long Island Junior Soccer League Scholarship.
Given these accomplishments, one could expect Epstein to make a smooth transition to NCAA Division 1 Athletics, but calling her record-setting rookie campaign for the Marist College Women’s Soccer team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) successful would be an understatement.
During the August preseason, like most freshman athletes, Epstein was settling into her dorm, adjusting to college life, and getting to know her new teammates. But at the same time, she was determined to emerge from the pack and establish herself as an impact player.
“I knew that college soccer would be more intense than high school ball had been, so I trained with the Long Island Rough Riders Women’s Team last summer to prepare myself. I knew I would have to be more physical and increase my work ethic to compete in college, and I brought that attitude with me into preseason,” she said.
College soccer teams typically carry 25 or more players. Epstein recognized the depth of talented midfielders on the Marist roster, so she took the step of making a position change to improve the odds of getting her opportunity. Despite having been a natural central midfielder throughout her youth soccer career, she became a forward. It wasn’t an easy transition to make in such a short period of time, especially because it carried with it significant pressure to perform.
“I was nervous about trying to play a new position right from the start in college, but I knew I could be successful as a striker if I developed more of an attacking mindset and kept my confidence up.”
With an all-new coaching staff searching for offense, Epstein made her mark by scoring three of four goals in a late preseason scrimmage. The position change turned out to be pivotal for Epstein and the team as she played her way onto the field, became a fixture in the starting lineup, developed into the team’s biggest offensive threat, and led the team to a championship season.
Epstein produced 11 goals during her rookie season, which not only led the team but ranked her first among MAAC freshmen and third in the conference overall. Along with six assists, her team-leading total of 28 points ranked her first among MAAC freshmen, fourth in the conference, and tied the school’s single season record established in 1997 that had held up for 14 years. Remarkably, three of Amanda’s 11 goals won games in sudden death overtime, and 8 of the 11 goals were game-winners overall, which led the team, led the conference, and ranked Epstein third in the entire nation among all Division 1 players.
For these achievements, Epstein earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors six times out of 11 weeks, was selected to the MAAC All-Rookie Team, and received the ultimate recognition when she was named the 2011 MAAC Rookie of the Year, the first Marist women’s soccer player to ever win the award in school history.
Marist finished in first place during the regular season with a program record 13 wins, another first in school history. Seeded #1 in the MAAC Conference Tournament, Marist defeated #4 Seed Fairfield University in a 1-1 tie decided on penalty kicks in the semifinal match. Trailing 1-0, Epstein scored the tying goal late in the first half on an acrobatic diving header, the team’s first shot on goal, which ultimately sent the game into overtime. Facing elimination, Amanda scored one of Marist’s three penalty kicks to help the team advance to the championship game.
“My fondest memory would have to be the semifinal game in the MAAC Championships against Fairfield. I’ve never scored a goal with a diving header in all the years I’ve been playing soccer. But at that moment, I timed it just right. I didn’t even realize what happened until the ball was in the back of the net. My coach gave me a Blow Pop for that,” she said.
Furthermore, when Marist faced #3 seed Loyola University in the final, Epstein scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory, giving Marist their first-ever MAAC Conference Championship and an automatic bid into the Division 1 NCAA Tournament, the first NCAA appearance for the Marist Women’s Soccer team in school history. Epstein was awarded MVP of the MAAC Conference Tournament for scoring both of the team’s playoff goals.
Although Marist was defeated by #16 seed Boston College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, an ACC team that reached the 2010 Final Four, the season was nonetheless a huge success for the team and the realization of a lifelong dream for Epstein.
“It’s cool walking around campus and hearing people say that they saw my picture in the school newspaper. Getting recognized is an honor, for myself, for my teammates, for my coaches, and for my school. It’s an awesome feeling knowing that my contributions mattered to so many people,” said Epstein.
The accolades didn’t stop when the season ended. Top Drawer Soccer named Epstein to their MAAC Women’s Top 20 Conference Player Ranking, the only freshman on the list. She was also selected as one of the 32 finalists in the country for the 2011 Soccer News Net College Player of the Year. She is the only player from the MAAC represented among the finalists. What this player can do for an encore, following such a successful season, remains to be seen.