By: Cory Kefauver, Staff Writer
Towson University (TU) Women’s Soccer freshman goalkeeper Riley Melendez impressed coaches and teammates this season with her easy transition to Division I (D1) soccer, earning three Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Defensive Player of the Week honors throughout the 2021 season.
Throughout the season Melendez completed three shutouts, notched a season high eight saves against University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and had five saves against Saint Joseph’s and Drexel.
“It was a team effort,” Melendez said of her defensive player of the week honors. “It’s always great to be recognized for an award.”
Tigers Head Coach Katherine Vettori said she knew during recruitment that Melendez would have an impact on the team. She credited Melendez’s composure and footwork as reasons for her quick transition to D1.
“We’ve been here for three years now, my staff and myself, and she was our first recruit,” Vettori said. “It’s a very specialized position and bringing in another goalkeeper was a high priority for us.”
According to Vettori, recruitment proved that Melendez would have a chance to come to TU and play immediately. She said that it was important for her staff to bring in freshmen who could help build a winning culture at TU.
“Players want to play so I think that was exciting for her,” Vettori said. “Everything about it was just a great fit for everyone concerned.”
Melendez says at first, she struggled balancing school and play.
“You have to manage your academics and your soccer, and it was a little bit of struggle there, but other than that, it was great and it’s great to play at a high level, fast level,” Melendez explained.
Sophomore defender Jacey Miller highlighted the importance of having freshmen who can come in and immediately make a difference, especially after losing upperclassmen and missing time during the pandemic.
“It was great that we were able to rely on freshmen to fit in pretty well with the team,” Miller said. “They were the missing piece to the puzzle to try and bring everything together.”
According to Miller, having a goalie who can lead and keep everyone focused was a great contribution to the team.
“Being a defender it’s nice having someone behind your back that you can trust,” Miller said. “It’s great to know Riley can get to that ball.”
Melendez says her favorite memory this season was beating James Madison University (JMU).
“That was a great one because we did it as a team,” Melendez said. “All the practices and effort we put in, the win made it worth it.”
Vettori said that the TU Women’s Soccer team is young. The team started seven freshmen this season and have no graduating seniors. According to Vettori, while the CAA is a strong conference for women’s soccer the team’s goal remains winning a conference title.
“We have a lot of work to do to get to what our goals are to win a CAA championship,” Vettori said. “We’re laying the foundation.”