STORRS — At halftime of UConn's 4-1 win over Colgate Friday night, not much was different about the Huskies from the last two seasons. UConn was overpowering a decent opponent at home, and, as usual, all eyes were rightfully on junior forward Rachel Hill.
Hill's 30th career goal gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead at the break, and she bagged her 10th career game-winning goal seven minutes after halftime.
But with 28 minutes to play, junior midfielder Maddie Damm stepped on the field for her UConn debut. Within minutes, she had the attention of the 744 fans at Morrone Stadium.
Damm, a transfer from Syracuse, showed no fear in her first game with the Huskies. Every time the ball came to her feet, she looked to make a play – an emphatic play, more often than not.
Each of her first three shots—all from outside the box—looked destined for the net. One hit the crossbar and the other two were barely stopped by Colgate goalkeeper Erin Cummings.
The fourth shot deflected off a defender, and even that one came close to curling into the upper 90.
Damm had no intention of straying from her game.
"'Just rip it.' That's my motto," she said. "It works sometimes. Sometimes, it doesn't, but I like to shoot."
The fifth shot she ripped finally found the net. Hill laid the ball off to Damm, who she saw streaking toward the top of the box. With a powerful shot from range, Damm found the back of the net, extending the Huskies' lead to 3-1.
"I didn't expect that to happen," Damm said. "But I got lucky. I had to finish one of them, right?"
Damm's impact was immediate and important. Shortly after Hill's second goal, Colgate got one back, and the Huskies looked at risk of letting the lead slip away, an issue in seasons past. Damm came in and dictated the play in the midfield, creating havoc as the Huskies approached the attacking third.
She gave UConn another weapon. The Huskies had already been giving Colgate nightmares in the attack, with left midfielder Andrea Plucenik, right midfielder Liana Hinds and right back Megan Hunsberger whipping balls into the box for Hill. Damm came in and displayed her playmaking flair, appearing to fill the gap left by the graduation of Riley Houle.
"She's been killing it at practice," Hill said, "so I was waiting for a nice goal from her."
Damm, a native of North Kingston, Rhode Island, said she has not had a lot of trouble transitioning to UConn. She came to UConn to see if she could get better, and the coaching staff—lead by legendary coach Len Tsantiris—drew her in. Fitting in with a new team has been easy, she said, because she and her teammates are so similar on and off the field.
It has also helped that Hunsberger, one of the Huskies' captains, was still at Syracuse when Damm arrived as a freshman, and the two have a great relationship. Having a friend who went through the Syracuse-to-UConn transition before her has helped Damm fit in at UConn.
"She's been awesome," Damm said. "We're really close friends, and she's been really helpful through the whole transition."
The Huskies' mentality suits her perfectly. After a conference championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, UConn is focused on going even farther this year, re-establishing itself as one of the perennial competitors in women's soccer.
"This team can definitely compete with any conference in the country, I think," Damm said.