Adam Schwartz: “At first it was a monumental challenge, coming on as the as the new coach and trying to gather players and, and then getting the word out about the Rochester Lady Lancers returning this year.” (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rochester Lady Lancers head coach Adam Schwartz put his team’s 2022 United Women’s Soccer season into perspective.

“I think we put the Rochester Lady Lancers back on the map,” he said.

Indeed, they did. And then some.

After finishing the 2021 campaign winless in 10 games, the Lady Lancers missed out on reaching the playoffs this season by one goal but wound up as co-champions of the Penn-NY Division with FC Buffalo 7-1-2 records and 23 points apiece. That set team standards for wins and points in a season.

Now, that was quite a turnaround.

“At first it was a monumental challenge, coming on as the as the new coach and trying to gather players and, and then getting the word out about the Rochester Lady Lancers returning this year,” Schwartz said. “I just feel so blessed that we were able to secure players from a variety of venues, from different places with different personalities, different playing styles. The positive momentum just gained speed after our first match.”

That was a 4-0 defeat at FC Buffalo on May 28, but Rochester finished the season on a team-record nine-game unbeaten streak.

“What stood out as a monumental challenge, as you start working your way through the season, you start to see the barriers, but you realize the barriers can be overcome,” continued. “It’s remarkable to look back and go, ‘Wow! We accomplished an awful lot.’ To be fair, I think maybe people had in the league low expectations for us. I think we put the Rochester Lady Lancers back on the map, which makes me so proud for our players for our coaching staff, but most importantly for Sam and Kayla.”

Kayla is Kayla Kent-Moreira, the Lancers president, CEO and COO, and Sam is SoccerSam Fantauzzo, the patriarch of the Lancers’ organization.

It didn’t take Schwartz long to figure out that this could be a special season. Only a week suffering that Buffalo loss, the Lady Lancers avenged that with a solid 2-0 win in their home opener over the same team at Aquinas Institute on June 5.

“It’s interesting. After the first game, I to be honest with you, I laughed. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I got myself into?” he said with a chuckle.

The team did not have its full squad for the season opener.

“We were missing some important pieces of the puzzle,” Schwartz said. “It wasn’t until the second match where our coaching staff saw all of our players and that’s where we said that having a convincing 2-0 win against Buffalo straight away you knew that if we can keep this group together, we can compete in any match. Buffalo, I give them a lot of credit. They were they were the division champs last year. So, to be able to beat them early in the season, I think gave us a lot of confidence.”

Rochester won all four of its home games with as many clean sheets, outscoring its opposition, 13-0.

Schwartz felt a major key to the season’s success was building a proper team culture. That isn’t easy in any sport these days.

This year’s squad meshed Rochester-based players with those from Syracuse quite seamlessly.

“You could have the 18 best players but if you cannot create a culture, a belief system, where they come together and work together …,” Schwartz said as his voice tailed off. “I’ve seen teams that have quality players across the pitch but never develop the proper culture and they’re never successful.”

“The one thing we tried to focus on this year and it’s something that we would expand on in the future, initially I talked for our coaching staff about trying to create a positive culture. Any positive culture has to have healthy relationships. Any team has a variety of personalities, and each individual has different needs and strengths. You try to meet them where they’re at. Is it perfect? Never. Is everyone going to be happy? Probably not. But we did work diligently at least trying to create that culture of competition and a culture of relationship building so we can move forward in the future.”

An early western swing certainly didn’t hurt establishing bonds between players and ingraining a team culture. Instead of driving to games in Buffalo, the team bused to matches in Erie, Pa. and Pittsburgh on June 12 and 18, respectively.

“We were able to spend a lot of time together and you get to know players and they get to know their coaches better,” Schwartz said. “They realize their coaches are human beings, too, and have challenges in life. It was a great bonding experience. When we traveled together to Pittsburgh and to Erie, I think really helped build those relationships.”

While most of the team was made up of college- and high school-age players, several veteran players such as goalkeeper Katie Cappelletti, defenders Caroline Kopp and Jenna Tivnan and midfielder Brooke Barbuto, the 2018 UWS MVP, among others, made a major impact on and off the field.

“There were [several] players that just are such fierce competitors and have such fierce determination. That caught my attention,” Schwartz said. “It goes without saying Caroline takes the game so very seriously in a healthy way. Brooke as well and then Katie and Jenna. They were just a real, real talented group of players that showed some other players that this is what the next level looks like. It’s just the determination and the fierce spirit of competition that stood out to me.

“I’m so impressed with women athletes. They’re such competitors and they probably don’t get as much credit as they deserve.”

No one has to remind Schwartz that coaching is far from a one-person show. He praised assistant coaches Michelle and Tad Valentino and John Berardicurti for their contributions.

“What’s beautiful about our coaching staff is because as with the players, we’re all a little bit different in our personality,” he said. “We’re all a little bit different in our approach, though we are very knowledgeable about the game. Different coaches developed bonds with different players. You felt like there were enough personalities in our coaching staff to be able to make those connections with the ladies.”

Only days after the regular season ended, Schwartz indicated that he would like to return for in 2023.

He realized that there still was some unfinished business.

“The thing about our coaching staff is we were all players and we all played at a high level. You never lose that fierce competitive spirit,” Schwartz said. “So, you’ll walk away a day or two later and you say we accomplished a lot. The competitive part and you were you say I want to do A, B, C, and D differently next year to get to the next level. So that burning desire to excel is there the very next day.

“I haven’t really talked to Sam or Kayla about next year. We’ll have those discussions, but I just think about the potential of players in this area. Hopefully, we will attract other players because of the year we had. It’s something positive to grow from. I’ll speak for myself that you know you feel like you did well but there’s more to be gained.”

Schwartz is all business as a coach, but he certainly had “fun” coaching the Lady Lancers.

“The coaching staff was excellent. The players were excellent,” he said. “There was such an eclectic mix of players where you could really empower some of the veterans to take roles on and to and let them take some of the pressure off that head coach. So, like Brooke and Caroline, they both coach at the collegiate level together. I would be a fool to not ask for their insight or their input.

“So, that was really enjoyable for me to be able to, for me to grow in my knowledge of the game by being around such quality players. So yes, it was fun. Winning never got old. It’s just such a powerful, intrinsic motivator to continue to get better. So, it was very, very enjoyable. Just a beautiful experience for sure.”