Casimiro turns heads at UConn

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Former Woodland midfielder Alexa Casimiro, of Prospect, started 12 games and scored two goals as a freshman this season for UConn. -STEPHEN SLADE

The UConn women’s soccer team’s coaches knew what kind of player they were getting when they recruited former Woodland midfielder Alexa Casimiro. They just weren’t sure how she would respond at the Division I level.

It’s not like Casimiro hasn’t played under some bright lights before. She has taken the pitch for the Region I Olympic Development team in places like Germany, Italy, France and Costa Rica. However, playing for a nationally ranked team at the collegiate level, especially one like UConn with all its notoriety, can certainly make the lights a whole lot brighter for an incoming freshman.

“Alexa came in under the radar,” UConn associate coach Margaret Rodriguez said. “We knew she was a technical midfielder, but wasn’t sure how she would fit in athletically at this level her first few years.”

Casimiro wasted no time getting noticed and scored her first collegiate goal during a 4-1 win over Fordam in the tenth game of the season. The UConn offense this season was powered by seniors Stephanie Ribeiro (21 goals) and Rachel Hill (16 goals) — the pair combined for 37 of the Huskies’ 46 goals — but the freshman from Woodland quickly became a spark at midfield.

“She turned our heads early on,” Rodriguez said. “She came in fit and just worked hard every day to prove that she not only belonged at this level but belonged in our starting lineup.”

Casimiro was one of ten players that logged over 900 minutes for UConn this season. She played in 21 games with 12 starts and scored two goals for the Huskies, who finished the season 19-3-1 and ranked 18th.

“Playing for UConn at this level was a lot different than I expected,” Casimiro admitted. “I didn’t think I would get a lot of playing time but by the second half of the season I was starting.

“We had good team chemistry coming into the season, but wasn’t sure how that would translate out on the field. We had a very young team with only five seniors and 14 freshman coming in, but the seniors really welcomed us and made us feel like part of the team.”

Casimiro has a way of helping those around her play much better. The former All-State midfielder helped the Hawks to a 67-14-2 mark in her four years at Woodland, including a run to the Class M semifinals in her senior year.

“Alexa played internationally and brought that experience with her to practice which was invaluable,” Woodland head coach Cait Witham said. “She knew how to prepare for games and was a great leader for us. She taught her teammates what it meant to compete day in and day out. It’s no surprise that she did so well this year with UConn, and we couldn’t be prouder of her.”

Casimiro swiftly fit into her role with the Huskies.

“She was the spark we needed at midfield,” Rodriguez said. “She has a great personality and we couldn’t be more pleased with her. Her future here is extremely promising for us and we are excited to watch her mature and develop as a student-athlete these next few years.”

UConn won its second American Athletic Conference title in the last three years and its second consecutive regular season title this year before moving on to the NCAA tournament. Casimiro got the party started when she scored the first goal in a 4-2 opening round win over Albany in the NCAA tournament.

“We knew we had to come out really hard,” Casimiro said. “That first goal of the game really set the tone.”

“Playing internationally was nerve-racking to a point but I think I was more nervous coming into this year,” she added. “But I loved playing for (UConn head) coach Len (Tsantiris). He is a great coach and a real funny guy. He helped us to relax and have fun. He has a lot of experience and helped us to play to the best of our ability.”

UConn fell to Auburn in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 18 in Gainesville, Fla. The future looks bright for the Huskies, who will return a very seasoned sophomore class of 14 strong.

“This year was so much fun,” Casimiro said. “My family was at every home game and my mom even made the trip down to Florida. We gained a lot of experience this year and we are looking forward to going even further next year with an incoming class of nine more freshman.”