Everyone was giving 110 percent at practice, but since his adjustment from high school to college ball was challenging for him, former Comsewogue soccer standout James Thristino had to put in that much more effort.
The payoff proved to be worthwhile, as the Adelphi University freshman forward earned Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors as a result.
“I had to come in fit — keep working as hard as I can because I was just a freshman going into a team that’s very good,” Thristino said. ”And in the beginning, it started off a little slow for me.”
Matt Giaconelli, a sophomore midfielder for the Panthers, said he was excited to see what his new teammate, who was Long Island’s leading goal-scorer and point-scorer as a junior and senior, would bring to the team.
“I thought he was going to be a big help right from the start,” he said. “Any goal-scorer is going to be useful on any team.”
Giaconelli said the freshman forward was a little discouraged at first, because he needed to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game at the next level, but he adapted in his first season. As a result, Thristino’s efforts also earned him an ECAC Second Team placement.
“He scored plenty of goals and he helped us out a lot,” Giaconelli said. “He had a great season and he deserved it. He worked hard.”
Head coach Carlo Acquista also noticed his player’s dedication to the game.
“He showed his talent and ability and why we recruited him,” he said. “He came in and needed to adjust a little bit, but he did a good job. He was right on course to do what he was supposed to do and what we expected him to do.”
Thristino said he worked with the juniors and seniors on the team, especially captain, midfielder and forward Alejandro Penzini, one of his roommates, to work on adjusting his game, despite being intimidated by the upperclassmen from the start.
Acquista said he worked with the team’s assistant coaches as well.
“He did a little bit of extra individual work and he really absorbed all the information that I brought to the table,” he said. “I think he did a good job of picking up the learning curve very quickly.”
Rooming not only with the captain, Thristino bunked with junior midfielder Caelan Hueber, who scored the most goals on the team — with 11 on the season — and had five assists. Thristino said he didn’t think he’d scored as many as the eight goals and two assists he did, which was good for second-highest on the roster.
“The college game is faster, more physical, hard-working and demanding — everyone expects more because they’re great players from all around,” he said. “You need to improve.”
And with each game, he did. Thristino wasn’t a starter, but he found a way to make his presence known.
In the team’s Sept. 26 game against Vermont’s St. Michael’s College, Thristino was subbed into the game about 20 minutes in, and with his first touch on the ball, beat out a defender and scored to put the Panthers’ first point on the board. After the Knights scored the equalizer, the former Warriors star tapped in a rebound to score the game-winner.
“Scoring the second goal to put us ahead was a good feeling,” Thristino said. “After, my teammates grabbed me, hugged me in the corner. That made me think, ‘All right, I like this feeling. I need to keep it going.’”
And he did that, too.
He scored all three goals in a 3-0 win over Stonehill College in Massachusetts on Oct. 10.
“It was all hard work,” he said of the different ways he scored to help his team to another victory. “To be successful at college soccer, you need to be hard-working. You need to give 110 percent every time you step onto the field” because the competition is better than it is on the high school level. “You don’t get that many chances on the ball sometimes, so if you get one, you have to capitalize because you might not get many more.”
Following both games, the forward earned separate Northeast-10 Rookie of the Week honors.
Some of the freshman’s most memorable moments from the season include scoring his first playoff goal against Le Moyne College in the quarterfinals and celebrating in front of a large crowd. Another was when his team was tied 1-1 against Merrimack College and, with five minutes left in the game, he stole the ball away from the goalkeeper and knocked in a shot from 30 yards out that ended up being another game-winner.
“I ran into the corner and one of my best friends was on the sidelines and he tackled me to the floor as we celebrated,” he said. “That’s probably the most memorable one because that brought us to the championship for the first time in school history.”
His coach thanked him for being in the wrong position on that play.
“He made me look like a genius,” Acquista said. “I’m always excited for my guys to do well, and he took his role every game and he learned from it.”
As a result of his hard work and garnering his accolades this season, Thristino is looking forward to the next chapter of his college career.
“Getting that [Rookie of the Year] award boosted my confidence to the next level,” he said. “Knowing I could do even better next season, I’m going to keep raising my standards even higher, like I did in high school. It worked for me and I always want to do something better than what I previously did because I like to prove people wrong.”
The head coach said his athlete listened to what he needed him to do and did it, and it led to a successful season. He’s hoping for more from his forward in the future.
“For James to get Rookie of the Year is impressive because [in] the Northeast-10 Division II you get a lot of older international players as well,” he said. “So for a true rookie, 18 years old, to get Rookie of the Year in the conference is pretty unheard of … so that’s credit to him. … I just want James to keep growing and keep getting better.”