Hartford — Rachel Marchini deals with pressure in a calm and composed manner while anchoring the back line for the UConn women’s soccer team.
There’s not an ounce of panic in her.
Coach Margaret Rodriguez considers Marchini, a rhirt sophomore defender, one of the team’s most consistent and composed players.
“She’s able to defend for us when we need her to,” said Rodriguez after UConn’s 3-1 loss to Harvard at Dillon Stadium on Sunday. “She’s been our most composed back out there for us.”
It wasn’t always that way for the former soccer standout at Montville High School.
Marchini has endured her share of struggles, on and off the field, since arriving at UConn. At one point, she lost some of her love for the game.
She was searching for answers.
“I just had to find myself,” Marchini said.
A two-time all-state selection at Montville, Marchini started out at UConn as just another freshman trying to adjust to the demands of Division I soccer.
As planned, she sat out as a rhirt her first season and then appeared in only seven games last season, starting one.
Marchini knew all along that it would take time to earn a regular role.
But a lack of confidence and proper fitness held her back.
Plus, Marchini was dealing with some personal turmoil that comes with being a teenager transitioning to college life.
“You come into college at 17 years old and you have to learn a lot,” Marchini said. “You’re just a kid. … The whole time I thought I had to have it together. I always put a lot of pressure on myself.”
Academic pressure weighed on her. She changed majors three times, settling on chemical engineering.
It was a difficult time.
“I went through a lot emotionally my last two years of college and life in general,” Marchini said. “Freshman year was a mess. Breakdowns just like in my own head. I’m a very emotional person and it just got to me a lot.
“I was very stressed. For my first year, soccer wasn’t the outlet that it used to be that for stress. I had to take a step back and ground myself.”
So Marchini focused on working on herself.
She made an effort to start talking to her teammates more and chatting with her coaches. Once a week, she drops back Rodriguez‘s office to chat.
“To get her to understand me as a person,” Marchini said. “Then we built a relationship and that helped me play like me on the field.”
Marchini also rediscovered her love for the game by playing pick-up coed soccer with her friends from high school.
“It helped me get back to where I was,” she said.
Over the summer, she attacked her conditioning, working three times a week with Montville cross country coach Steve LaBranche.
Marchini returned to school both physically and mentally ready to challenge for a starting job.
“I got fit and I got my confidence and I showed up to play,” Marchini said.
The Huskies have relied heavily on Marchini, who’s played all but eight minutes this season while starting all seven games. She stayed on the field for all 90 minutes on Sunday on a warm afternoon.
Marchini helped fend off pressure, but a few team defensive breakdowns led to giving up three goals.
As a center back, Marchini felt the need to take more than her share of responsibility for the mistakes. She’s serious about her leadership role.
“I feel like I’m growing into a leader for this team, especially on the back line…,” Marchini said. “I’ve matured. I just turned 20. I feel like we have a young team and I have to step up.”
Rodriguez knows she can count on Marchini.
“Rachel is a dream to coach,” Rodriguez said. “She’s willing to run through a brick wall for you. I have trust in her and have confidence in her and she’ll do what I ask her.”
One of the highlights this season for Marchini came on Sept. 1 against Cornell. Marchini, who moves into the attack for corner kicks, headed home her first career goal.
Two weeks later, Marchini is still excited about her game-winner.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” Marchini said. “It was crazy. It was my first career goal. I was super excited, especially being a center back. As a defender, you stop goals. I’m pretty good in the air. Coach wants me to go in there and wreak havoc and do my best. It was a great service.”
Marchini is now in a happy place in her life.
She’s learned to deal with stressful situations, on the field and in the classroom, and grown from facing adversity.
“I enjoy soccer now,” Marchini said. “Just the life lessons that I’ve learned that I can take with me. It’s just stuff that I had to fight through it. It just took pure grit and fight to get people to believe in me to see what I could do.
“That’s something I can take with me.”