With less than nine minutes remaining in her first career game as an Owl and her team trailing by a goal to University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Nicole Barretta cradled the ball in her stick pocket to the left of the UMBC net.
The freshman attacker took her first step and bodied up a defender. Three swift paces later, she had a clear shot and whipped her stick through the air from five yards out, launching the ball into the top-right corner of the net for her second goal of the game. Less than two minutes afterward, she did it again, this time using the turf to bounce it through UMBC sophomore goalkeeper Kelly Gielner’s legs for the go-ahead tally.
Barretta’s crunch-time heroics in Temple’s season-opening 10-9 overtime defeat of UMBC last Wednesday led to the Owls’ initial push into the extra period. Her three goals, one draw control, one caused turnover and an injury scare midway through the game made for a memorable afternoon, especially considering it was her first as an NCAA Division I athlete. With another tally against St. Joseph’s on Saturday, Barretta has four goals in her first two games.
“It’s amazing,” coach Bonnie Rosen said of Barretta’s performance Wednesday in a postgame interview. “We had a lot of freshmen that got a chance to play [Wednesday], and Nicole Barretta being in our first game, stepping up and putting some big goals in for us really helped with the momentum. She had a little bit of an injury mid-game, came back and toughed it out. I was really happy with how she did.”
In high school, Barretta had no intentions of coming to Temple. A native of Exton, which sits roughly 45 minutes west of the university, Barretta didn’t want to attend a school so close to home, at first. Rosen, though, helped change her perspective.
Late in Barretta’s high school career, her dad met Rosen at a lacrosse recruiting seminar, and immediately wanted to introduce Temple’s ninth-year women’s lacrosse coach to his daughter.
“I came here for the coaching staff,” Barretta said. “The first time I met Bonnie, I loved her right away.”
A four-year varsity letter winner and two-time captain of the Downingtown East High School girls’ lacrosse team, Barretta was named to the All-Ches-Mont League first team twice, as well as the all-phillylacrosse.com first team as a senior. She scored 93 goals and added 44 assists as a senior, and also holds Downingtown East’s record for goals with more than 300.
Barretta’s team finished as a state finalist in her freshman year, ending with a record of 25-2, and qualified for the state playoffs again as a senior in 2014.
She attributed the main difference between high school and collegiate play to the pace and quickness of the game.
“[It’s] the speed and just the overall skill of the other girls,” Barretta said. “I mean every day at practice, I’m just amazed by some of the plays people make and it’s just crazy how fast girls are. I used to play midfield in high school and I was faster, and now I’m in the back.”
Barretta’s teammates have noticed her offensive skills. Junior midfielder Nicole Tiernan described Barretta’s shot as “the sickest she has ever seen,” while junior attacker Rachel Schwaab called her impact player.
“[I want] to play a lot, and not even just play, but make an impact, whether that’s scoring or feeding and giving assists,” Barretta said. “A team goal would be to win the Big East [Conference]. That would be fun.”
If her first two games were any indication, Rosen said Barretta’s early-season performance will be crucial in dictating her minutes for 2015.
“Offensively right now, we’re looking to play a lot of players, so, [early on], it’s going to be about Nicole maximizing her time,” Rosen said. “I’ve been really impressed with the maturity that she has had as a player, as a freshman wanting the pressure situations. I think what we learned about her from the fall is that when we need a goal, she wants the ball in her stick. You can’t ask for more than that from an attacker.”
Matt Cockayne can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org