When Stefan Copetti stepped onto campus at the start of last season, he was surrounded by leaders on the Maryland men’s soccer team. Seniors Malcolm Johnston, Nick Richardson and Chris Rindov helped to ease his transition from playing at Marist to Maryland.
The Terps’ roster welcomed 10 freshmen and a transfer to the team. Roster turnover of this size made it crucial for someone to step into a vacant leadership role, which was present after Johnston, Richardson and Rindov left the program.
Copetti, who is only in his second season with Maryland men’s soccer, is taking on that role.
It was a big adjustment for Copetti to transfer from a much smaller school into the Big Ten, he said. But veteran leadership helped prepare him to take on a bigger role for the Terps.
“This first year was definitely a big learning experience, just soaking it all in and learning from the guys that have been here,” Copetti said.
Maryland has a history of developing players into influential captains. Brett St. Martin and Alex Crognale are recent examples from a long list of players who’ve directed the Terps to success.
Coach Sasho Cirovski credits the culture that has grown during his time at Maryland to players stepping up and guiding their team.
“I think we do a good job of helping develop leaders, allowing them to emerge, giving them the ownership and the ability to lead and the skill set to lead,” Cirovski said.
Cirovski sees those same qualities in Copetti, calling the forward a “good leader” and adding the senior understands what it takes to lead the Terps.
Copetti’s first opportunity as Maryland’s new leader came during the spring season. The Terps embarked on a 10-day trip to Portugal without many of their key players from last season and a pair of freshmen who enrolled early. They played in three exhibition games against youth teams from Portuguese clubs Vitória, Braga and Benfica.
The Terps won once and lost twice during their European tour, with the victory coming against Vitória’s U-23 side. Copetti and Max Riley scored one goal each in the 3-2 win.
Cirovski’s biggest takeaways from the visit to Portugal weren’t the results on the pitch.
“You can see by the end of the trip, some of the young players, you can see their wings sprout, and open up into them starting to fly,” Cirovski said. “They just felt so comfortable and better and more confident.”
Copetti sees the growth too.
When not playing in exhibitions, the team embarked on sightseeing tours through Porto, Lisbon and Braga and attended Portuguese club matches.
Copetti bonded the most with his team in those moments, he said. Having downtime with his teammates helped him build relationships without the burden of busy semester schedules.
“Especially our freshmen, I got extremely close with them and we’ve had some good times and good moments together,” Copetti said. “I think it was just an awesome experience as a whole.”
As the Terps start their season, Copetti — the senior relishing his opportunity to lead the program he transferred into — will lead them.
“I’m still learning, so I’m not perfect,” Copetti said. “But I think I’ve taken a big step in that leadership role from last year to this year.”