MacLean to play D1 soccer at Niagara
Maia MacLean finally had something to smile about Thursday after what has been an incredibly trying 2020.
The Grade 12 student at Saint Paul celebrated signing her commitment letter to play NCAA Division 1 soccer at Niagara University with a hug from her parents, Dina and Dave MacLean, and a kiss on the cheek from her nonna, Mary DiCarlo.
In addition to dealing with all the concerns and upheaval related to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the 17-year-old Niagara Falls native lost her beloved nonno, Sam DiCarlo, in March and then was diagnosed with and had surgery to remove a non-malignant tumour in her stomach in July.
“This decision was pretty easy but there has been a lot of things going on in my life,” the 5-foot-3 midfielder said. “It’s a big boost to my confidence and I am so excited.”
The signing has helped her forget the health issues she faced in the summer.
“It was a very scary time but it’s all good now. I am back to normal, I am healthy and I can’t wait to go play.”
She agrees it wasn’t easy to deal with all the curves thrown her way in 2020 but she managed to persevere.
“It was knowing that my family and my friends were at my side and that my nonno is up in heaven looking down on me and watching over me.”
The Western New York Flash player chose Niagara over offers from the University of South Alabama, University of South Florida, Canisius, University of Rhode Island, Dayton and Campbell.
“It’s a beautiful campus, it has great academics and I am excited to meet the team and the coaches. I can’t wait to have my family and friends come and watch me play.”
The deciding factor for her was the leadership at Niagara.
“The coaches were very convincing,” she said. “They are awesome people and they have been there for me all the time helping me out, I am very appreciative.”
MacLean realized she had a chance to play NCAA Division 1 soccer when she first joined the Flash seven years ago.
“They told me that it would come one day and my teammates started committing last year,” she said. “I knew my time would come and my coaches and teammates helped me through everything. It was awesome.”
She is not taking anything for granted even though she is signed, sealed and delivered to Niagara.
“I have to keep working hard, keep my fitness level up, keep my academics up and stay strong and confident.”
Her main goal is to just make the team.
“I can’t wait to keep playing soccer. I like meeting new girls, meeting new coaches, getting the chance to play at the D1 level and competing against different teams across the country.”
She will be staying in residence at Niagara in Lewiston, N.Y., for her first two years, for sure, and probably all four years. Having her family so close is a godsend.
“They are not even 20 minutes away so that’s awesome. That’s a huge thing because my family and I have been close forever.”
She plans to study education with hopes of becoming a French, math or science teacher. Her mother teaches at Saint Paul.
MacLean started playing soccer when she was five. She has suited up with Niagara United, the Niagara Regional team and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Rangers before joining the Western New York Flash.
“The Flash has got me this far,” she said.
The Flash has advanced to the national championships the past three seasons. In 2016, MacLean helped her Niagara-on-the-Lake team win an Ontario Cup. She assisted on the first goal and scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory.
Saint Paul coach Steve Abbruscato has loved having MacLean on his team.
“She is a great leader for our team and she is an excellent player,” he said. “It’s her passion for the sport, her dedication to becoming better, she’s fit, she plays at a very high level and she is the engine of our team.”
Abbruscato has seen steady improvement in MacLean, whom he describes as Saint Paul’s best player.
“She has always been a highly technical player and where she has improved the most is her leadership,” he said. “As she has gotten older, she has been able to lead by example on the field and she is very well-liked too.
“She has that respect and is very coachable. She is an all-around great athlete and a great person as well.”
Abbruscato is certain MacLean will be successful at the NCAA Division 1 level.
“I have been around the game long enough to know what it takes and she possesses all the qualities required.”
Like every high school player moving to the university level in any sport, MacLean’s biggest adjustment will come with dealing with the physicality of older players. Abbruscato isn’t worried.
“The thing with Maia is that she is a tough player and she’s doesn’t give up easily. She’s determined and physically she is very fit and strong. There’s no doubt in my mind that she will be able to keep up with the pace and physicality.”
MacLean comes from a gene pool swimming with high-level athletic talent. Her aunt, Amanda DiCarlo, played scholarship soccer at the University of Maryland Baltimore. Among her first cousins are: Nicholas MacLean, on a golf scholarship at Adelphi University; and, Eric MacLean, a scholarship golfer at Niagara University. Some of her more illustrious second cousins include: Frank Pietrangelo, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins; Gina Pietrangelo, who had a dual scholarship at Princeton University for soccer and hockey; and, Louise Pietrangelo, a scholarship hockey player at Dartmouth.