The Brien McMahon girls soccer program had not distinguished itself until two years ago, when opposing FCIAC coaches started trumpeting an incoming freshman before her first practice.
“I was aware of it but I didn’t think much of it,” recalled Peyton McNamara, the Senators’ multi-talked forward, of the hype. “I was scared going into my first couple games because I wasn’t scoring or producing that much. I let down the team. After I got into the flow of it and got all the nerves out I settled in.”
McNamara said that changed in her fourth game, at home against Westhill.
“I scored my first goal and I heard the crowd screaming and everyone was all excited,” McNamara said. That’s when I said, ‘OK, I can do this.’ ”
McNamara has been a dominant force ever since, helping to lead the Senators to new heights. They finished 7-8-1 two years ago and qualified for the state playoffs, winning a first-round game against Newtown. Last year McMahon qualified for the FCIAC Tournament for the first time with a mark of 10-4-2, which included wins over Staples, the regular season champion, Darien and a tie with Ridgefield, the eventual Class LL champion.
The Senators failed to win a postseason game but had moved the bar for the program going forward.
“It was a great experience,” McNamara said. “I wish we could have gone further but I think it was good for the school to realize we are capable of doing it.”
A lot has happened to McNamara since that final game. She has starred for the CFC club team and was recently one of 25 players named to the Elite Clubs National League All-American team. In March she was invited to train with the US National Team’s U/16 squad and is part of the player pool.
“When I first got there I was so nervous,” McNamara said. “Even the coach told me I looked like I was going to throw up. When I got there it was so intense and I wasn’t used to the speed of the play. It took me a couple of days to get used to it but once I did I was able to play with them and could see myself playing with them. I ended up scoring two goals in the two games we played, which was pretty cool. It built my confidence up.”
McMahon coach Angelo Tsingerliotis arrived at the school the same time as McNamara.
“I heard there was a good freshman coming in but I didn’t know what to expect,” Tsingerliotis said. “After I saw her play a couple times during tryouts I knew she was going to be special. I heard a lot of schools were looking at her. I didn’t put a lot of expectations on her. Some people handle it and they get stressed out or nervous but she has the type of attitude that if you put expectations on her, she will try to achieve them and go over that. She has that good of a work ethic.”
McNamara finished with 12 goals and six assists as a freshman, despite having plenty of company from opposing defenders.
“They man-marked me and it does get annoying, but it’s part of the game and you have to learn to play with it,” McNamara said. “I think I’ve handled it well over the past couple of years.”
McNamara ended up with 14 goals and seven assists last season. She was helped by a team that had a greater skill level and depth. Olivia Leone, who has graduated, led the defense, while Chloe Ortolano, who is back, took some of the burden off McNamara.
Tsingerliotis said McNamara’s versatility has earned her the respect of the other McMahon players, one reason she has been named a captain despite being a junior.
“She has the ability to change the game whenever she wants,” Tsingerliotis said. “Teams double team or triple team her. Just her footwork and speed to get away from them helps her. Also her leadership. She makes other players on the team better. Some girls when they have that much talent may be bad leaders or cocky but that’s definitely not her demeanor at all. She’s a great teammate, a great leader, a great team player.”
There is one area where McNamara is secure: she gave a verbal commitment to Ohio State after her freshman season, picking the school over Boston College.
“I was looking at schools and weighing my options because I was not sure what I wanted,” McNamara said. “Once I visited Ohio State I fell in love with it. The size, it was pretty, the coaches loved me and I loved them. Their personalities are so great. I imagined myself playing for them. They told me I would be playing for them and obviously I didn’t want to go to a place where I would be sitting.”
McNamara has taken no time off from her busy schedule. She said she plays soccer 12 months a year. When she is not on the field, McNamara is working with a personal trainer. She said she has no desire to take a break from the sport she decided to make her primary focus after giving up playing lacrosse when she arrived at McMahon.
“I don’t think I ever get tired of it,” McNamara said. “I may say I don’t want to go today but once I do and I’m done I say I’m so glad I did. I always have fun with it.”
The Senators have been doing informal training on their own four days a week. Rather than be content with their quick growth, the players want to build on what they have accomplished in just two years.
“People do have respect for us now,” McNamara said. “Once we keep building ourselves up and working toward a goal, and maybe getting further in the states and FCIACs, people will take us more seriously. This year it will be harder because they know what to expect and maybe have a strategy against us, but we will work to figure things out and it will bring us farther as a team.”