Former coach attracts talent from Canada
Nearly 2,600 miles separated Rutgers women’s soccer sophomore Jonelle Filigno and junior Shannon Woeller during their high school careers, and both were well removed from playing soccer in New Jersey.
In fact, Filigno admitted to having very little knowledge of Rutgers prior to paying a visit to the Banks.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know what Rutgers was, as bad as it sounds,” Filigno said. “My dad had known a little bit about Rutgers, but I didn’t even expect to come here. My dad convinced me to come on a visit and just to see what it’s all about.”
For many of the five Canadian players at Rutgers, the same reaction may hit close to home. Four of the five, including Filigno, Woeller, freshman Amy Pietrangelo and senior Karla Schacher, boast experience playing for the Canadian National Team in some capacity.
And aside from Filigno, whose hometown of Mississauga, Canada, lies near the American border, the rest of the group, along with junior Maija Savics, are no closer than about 550 miles from their native towns to Piscataway.
So what caused the influx of world-class Canadian players to join head coach Glenn Crooks and the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey?
For Filigno and Woeller, former assistant coach and the Canadian National Team’s former goalie, Karina Leblanc, made their decisions much easier.
“I really wanted to come play in the NCAA because it’s a great place to play soccer and develop,” Woeller said. “One of the old assistant coaches here, Karina LeBlanc, she’s from Vancouver, where I’m from, and I trained with her with the national team. She sort of brought this place to my attention.”
LeBlanc played for the Canadian National Team since 1998 and proved to be a standout in net for the Canadians in the 2003 Women’s World Cup and in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
Her time coaching at Rutgers proved to be instrumental in grabbing the attention of most of the Knights hailing from Canada.
With four players familiar with Canada’s National Team, Leblanc relayed Crooks’ coaching mentality and attracted strong players all over the field, solidifying the attack with standouts like Schacher, Filigno and Pietrangelo, and the back line with Woeller.
Filigno leads the team in goals scored (5) and points (11) through seven games this season, and Pietrangelo is tied for second in points (4).
Woeller continues to captain the defense, and the Knights continue to shut teams out, posting three clean sheets this season and two in a row entering Friday’s Big East opener.
Schacher also provided unparalleled stability as a midfielder over her Rutgers career, accumulating 18 goals and 155 shots before tearing her ACL earlier this season against No. 6 UCLA.
“I think it starts with the culture we’ve created, which is the players,” Crooks said on how he attracts players. “When players come to visit us, they love the personality of the team because they’re great kids. But they also see there’s a high level of commitment to be the best — not to be good, but to be great.”
And with so many high-level Canadian athletes as parts of the Knights’ culture, being competitive year in and year out in Big East play has been a little bit easier.
New Jersey still has its roots with the program and still provided its own fair share of athletes, an expectation from Rutgers as the State University of New Jersey.
But make no mistake, the Rutgers-Canada connection is a vital part to the program’s success.
“Over the past five to six years the program has taken major steps forward,” Crooks said. “I know where the program is headed and you can just see it in the commitment of the players.”