Boston Breakers draft Husky Bianca Calderone

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By Matthew MacCormack, news staff

The accolades for the Northeastern women’s soccer program keep piling up.

In a remarkable 2014 season, the Lady Huskies won the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA), made a run to the second round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament and broke program records for wins (15) and shutouts (17). This offseason, two NU freshman, forward Kayla Cappuzzo and midfielder Hannah Lopiccolo, were named to the United States’ U-20 National Team roster.

On Jan. 16,  senior captain Bianca Calderone added to the celebration, becoming the first NU player drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Calderone was selected in the fourth and final round, 33rd overall, by the hometown Boston Breakers.

“It was a really great surprise; I wasn’t expecting it,” Calderone said. “It’s really an honor.”

Calderone finished her final season of college eligibility last fall as NU’s starting center back. In addition, Calderone was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, leading a stingy Husky defense that finished third in the nation in Goals Against Average.

Head Coach Tracey Leone directed the Huskies through their 15-5-3 campaign. She has also gotten to know Calderone well over the past four seasons.

“I’m just so proud of her and so happy to see something good happen to such a good person,” Leone, reigning CAA Coach of the Year, said.

Calderone’s NU career has been speckled with individual and team accolades. However, she wasn’t always locked to be a professional draft pick.

“If you would’ve told me freshman year that this was going to happen, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Calderone said.

Calderone suffered a torn ACL in her left knee midway through her freshman season at NU, losing the starting spot she had fought to earn. Even worse, Calderone was never fully healthy in her sophomore year; she was moved to a role on the bench and appeared in just 12 games.

Nonetheless, Calderone persevered.

In her junior and senior seasons, Calderone started at center back in a total of 44 games. In 2013, NU reached the first round of the NCAA tournament, thanks to the team’s central defender, who was named to the All-CAA second team.

This season, Calderone elevated her game, raking in conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Calderone became a lethal component of the Husky offense this year, tallying four assists and three goals, including two game-winners.

“In a weird way, sometimes that injury… almost makes a player better later because they have to work so hard to get back,” Leone said. “It’s challenging:  lots of ups and downs, [and] lots of hard work you’ve got to put in on a day-to-day basis.”

Hard work is certainly something Calderone will need if she hopes to make it with the Breakers.

“For any rookie in the professional league, it’s a challenge,” Leone said. “It will be competitive, but I think it’s going to be an exciting challenge for her.”

Calderone said she’s happy to face the task ahead. The center back hails from Wellesley, a town just 10 miles west of Boston.

“I’ve grown up watching [the Breakers and] gone to games as a kid,” Calderone said. “It’s awesome. There’s not a team I’d rather play for.”

Calderone was also a member and captain of the Breakers’ College Academy, which competes in the second tier of women’s professional soccer. The team annually features a handful of NU players. Paige Burnett, the senior goalkeeper who led the defense alongside Calderone, is also on the team. For players like Burnett and Calderone, the Academy offered a chance to hone their skills in the offseason.

“It was great,” Calderone said. “Just getting ready for the season and playing with some of the top players from around Boston during the summer.”

Playing with the Breakers’ Academy also gave Calderone a chance to show her skills to professional scouts. Lee Billiard, the Breakers’ general manager, was one of the coaches who watched Calderone play.

“Bianca is a player I am very familiar with,” Billiard said in an interview with the Breakers’ official website. “After a great career at Northeastern, she has continued to get better and, knowing her ability and character, she will push people for a place come preseason.”

One thing that will work in Calderone’s favor is that she’s left-footed. In the quest for a roster spot with the Breakers, any extra skills will help.

“Having that unique quality of being left-footed is always a plus, because left-footed players that are as skillful and as smart as Bianca don’t grow on trees,” Leone said.

Calderone says the coaching staff, which is littered with former professional players, helped her prepare for a professional future. Assistant coaches Ashley Phillips and Kia McNeil both played professionally; Phillips played for four different teams in the United States, while McNeil had tours in Sweden, Russia and the US.

While Calderone is certainly prepared, she will have to wait until April before the NWSL season kicks off. Until then, she will focus on her academics. Calderone is in her fourth year of NU’s six-year physical therapy program. She admits it will be tough to balance her studies with the Breakers, but is ready for the juggling act.

“I’m just going to try to figure it out each semester,” Calderone said. “And if necessary, I can always take some time off [from school].”

In the meantime, Calderone will try to follow the Northeastern team as much as possible.

“I definitely hope to stay in contact,” she said. “I’m definitely going to come to games and keep my eye out for everything they do.”

Leone hopes that she can give Calderone plenty to see in the 2015 season. The head coach says that Calderone making the jump to the pros has injected life into the program. Now that NU is churning out top-level talent, recruiting is much easier.

“To have all these opportunities after the college game is huge in recruiting,” Leone said. “It makes us a program, in [recruiters’] eyes, that can help them get to that next level.”

Calderone agrees that the future will be filled with success.

“The Huskies have a bright future,” she said. “I’m glad to be from Northeastern.”

While the current NU team should be dangerous next year, they will miss their staunch captain and center back.

For Bianca Calderone, it’s on to the next challenge. In just a few months, she’ll trade in the black and red for a shiny new Boston Breakers jersey. The team she grew up rooting for will now be the team she represents on the pitch.

“It’s just a great organization,” Calderone said. “I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics