Published Jun 2, 2023
Written By:  Ryan Wood | WPSL Correspondent
Photo By: Denise Pais-Sotelo

The Metropolitan Conference is stacked once again this season with the likes of several New York-based clubs, but don’t tell that to New Jersey as a pair of Garden State squads – STA and NJ Wizards – will vie not only for Jersey bragging rights between the two, they’re out to prove to the rest of the conference that they both have what it takes to dethrone two-year reigning champs Downtown United Soccer Club.

STA is set to embark on its third WPSL campaign after the Madison, New Jersey-based side finished with a more than respectable 4-3-1 mark from a year ago. Given the depth of the Metropolitan Conference, that record saw STA in the bottom half of the table to end the summer in fifth place out of seven teams. STA finished level on points (13) with both SUSA FC and New York Athletic Club, both of which return to the conference in 2023.

The 2022 season started impressively for STA as the club went 4-1-1 to start the year before settling for a draw and two losses in its final three contests of the year.

Coaches Ylon Krauweel and Danielle D’Avanzo will lead STA once again this summer. The latter, an Ithaca College alum, will suit up for STA as a defender. The back line also features Caitlyn Leffler (University of South Carolina), Indiana University’s Natasha Kim, and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Jordan Pieklo, who will be tasked to make things easier for keepers Adelaide Paredes, who has seen time with Portugal’s Youth National Teams, and Ellie Sciancalepore, who capped her career at Rider University this past fall with a 107-save season that yielded six shutouts.

The midfield consists of Aoi Kataoka (George Washington), Emerson Elgin (University of North Carolina), Sofia Black (Indiana), Briana Esteves (Fairleigh Dickinson), Jadyn Liebman (Colby College), Sydney Masur (Indiana), Clare Mulvihill (Connecticut College), Kaya Schultz (Buffalo), Sophia Vieira (The College of New Jersey), and Cate Woolsey (Middlebury). The forwards this year will be led by Kelly Monaco ((UCONN), Maggie Speckhart (Hobart and William Smith College), Kelly Monaco (Indiana), and Lauren Belcuore (Villanova).

“We are very excited to provide many of our STA alumnae, as well as other great local talents, an environment where they can compete at a pre-professional level that is competitive and enjoyable,” D’Avanzo said. “Last year, the team connected well and were quick to adapt to our style of play, and this summer we are ready to continue building upon last year's success.”

STA, which calls Fairleigh Dickinson University its home once again, will open its 2023 WPSL slate on June 3 (7 p.m. ET) at FDU’s Florham Park Campus against New York Dutch Lions FC. The following day, STA returns to this field, this time visiting SUSA FC before returning home June 7 to take on Downtown United Soccer Club.

“It's fantastic to be able to compete against so many other local talented clubs in the Metropolitan Conference,” D’Avanzo said. “We need to make sure we are prepared to play our best in every game because each opponent we face will be challenging. Our players are working hard, and we can't wait to showcase our team and inspire the next generation of young soccer players.”

A 30-minute ride via the Garden State Parkway from FDU will land you in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, home of the Metropolitan Conference’s only other NJ team – NJ Wizards SC.

The Wizards, led by head coach Tommy Kovacs, are certainly no strangers to WPSL success, having won the conference title when they debuted in 2019. A 5-0-3 regular season pitted the Wizards against the Chicago Red Stars Reserves in the WPSL Regional Playoffs where they were blanked by their Windy City foes, 6-0.

A return trip to the Metropolitan Conference was in order in 2021 (the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and the Wizards were up against a stacked division. They went 2-4-2, suffering a pair of 3-0 defeats, including one in the playoffs, to their Jersey rivals STA.

Following a year away from the WPSL in 2022, the Wizards are set to work their magic this summer when they open the year on June 10 at home (Cedar Grove High School) at 4 p.m. ET against 2022 Metro runners-up Brooklyn City FC.

This summer’s NJ Wizards SC squad features goalkeepers Sachi Negri (Pitt-Johnstown), Kristen Spendal (SUNY Cortland), and Catalena Robson, a Nutley High School star who will ply her trade with St. Thomas Aquinas College in the fall.

Protecting their keepers this summer will be a slew of talented defenders including Olivia Murgo (Penn), Hannah Falcone (Paramus Catholic High School), Camila Martinez (Montclair State University), Megan Kirby (Sy. Cloud State), Carly Riembauer (Manhattan College), Thalia Santacruz (Drew University), and Jessica Yee (Hamilton College).

Patrolling the midfield will be Danielle Gantz, who has played overseas, Lexys Caputo (Caldwell University), Alexis Jassin (Ithaca College), Amy Maurer (Rutgers-Campden), Jinelle Negri (St. Thomas Aquinas College), Gabriella Ortizzo (West Essex High School), Nicole Ricci (Montclair State), and Natalie Rufino (Montclair State). Forwards on the roster include Emma Kirby, who came to New Jersey by way of Florida, Sadie Shapiro (one of the top prep forwards in the Class of 2026), Sophia Meller (Penn State Harrisburg), and Ava Whisten (Elizabethtown College).

Following their 2023 opener on June 10, NJ Wizards SC returns to the field the very next day, hosting New York Athletic Club at Cedar Grove High School (June 11, 5 p.m. ET) before embarking on a road trip over to FDU Florham Campus to take on New Jersey rivals STA.