Capuano is a captain for the women's soccer team - as a sophomore
You don't need a player bio, a media guide or an interview with Coach Darren Ambrose to see that Natalie Capuano is a standout. You simply need to head over to Rhodes Field and watch a game.
It is obvious, even to those completely unfamiliar with the Penn women's soccer squad. Just minutes into the season opener against Rice, a first-time fan sitting next to me commented, "You can tell that No. 2 is really good from the way she runs out there."
This visceral reaction, albeit accurate, is quite an understatement.
Natalie Capuano is not just a star midfielder for the undefeated Quakers - she is one of the top young soccer players in the United States. She is not just a goal-scorer - she is clutch, putting in three eventual game-winners last season for Penn. She is not just a team leader - she is a captain.
Who would know she is only a sophomore?
After a breakout season last fall, Capuano's talent was recognized beyond Penn's fan base. Identified through a scouting network for the USA women's national team, the Penn freshman was invited to the under-20 national training camp this past spring.
"It was an awesome experience," Capuano said. "It really improved my game a lot. When I was out there I got to play against the players … that I watched growing up. The whole experience was very rewarding."
After making it past the first round of cuts, the midfielder missed the final 20-woman roster that recently traveled to Russia for the Under-20 World Cup - just barely. Capuano was named an alternate to the nationals squad; if she produces big again this fall, she may very well be considered for the Under-21 team.
Not so long ago, however, Capuano was a three-sport athlete at Sun Valley High School in nearby Aston, Pa. Also excelling in basketball and softball, she was part of championship teams in all three sports.
"Growing up in the beginning of high school, I really liked basketball a lot, but soccer was always my focus," Capuano said.
Meanwhile, she had already grabbed the attention of Penn coach Ambrose.
"She was our No. 1 recruit," Ambrose said. "We knew that we needed [her] competitiveness in our program. We knew she was good in the air and a good defender."
Says Capuano of her ultimate decision to join the Quakers, "I really loved the school, and the city, and the team - all the girls had really good chemistry on and off the field. It was close to home and it fit really, really well."
The Quakers felt freshman Capuano's impact almost immediately. In the second game of the Fall 2005 season, she scored her first collegiate goal off the bench against Loyola-Marymount at the Princeton Invitational. Capuano started the remaining fifteen games, scored four more goals and tacked on three assists to accumulate 15 points on the season - the third-most on the team.
"She brings a very calming presence to the team - very composed on the field," Ambrose said. "Nothing rattles her; she's very consistent with how she plays. She's one of the most competitive kids I've ever worked with. … You can't be on the field with her and be lazy. Not a minute goes by where she's not trying to influence the game."
Yet, while Capuano dazzles fans and opponents with her head- and footwork, Ambrose cites her maturity as the reason the sophomore earned captain honors from her teammates.
"Natalie commands a lot of respect because she gives every ounce that she has to the team. The kids respected that immediately and she became a very natural leader. She leads by example and demands performance from the players around her."
Despite already being one of the premiere defensive players in the country - let alone the Ivy League - Capuano recognizes there is always room to better herself, and strives to do just that.
"She's maturing, that's what is great about her," says Ambrose. "She's not happy yet; she wants to win more and more. She realizes there are areas of her game that have got to get better, and she's not afraid of that. She's not intimidated by failing or trying."