WOMENS COLLEGE SOCCER: WAVERLY'S PICCO COMMITS TO PLAY AT DIVISION I LaSALLE (2020-12-06)
By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — Gabby Picco knew where she wanted to play her college soccer the first time she stepped on campus. The Waverly senior made it a reality recently by verbally committing to Division I LaSalle.
“When I went to visit in February, I fell in love,” said Picco. “I just had a feeling as soon as I stepped on campus. Once I met with the coaches, it felt like a good fit for me.”
Picco’s recruitment was a bit different than most years past, thanks to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.
“LaSalle’s assistant coach (Courtney Niemic) saw me play in North Carolina last November — it was one of the only tournaments we played in all year,” she said. “After the tournament, they invited me to a camp in February.
“After the camp, the coaches were taking other recruits on a tour around campus, and asked me to join them,” noted Picco. “I met a couple of the players, and talked with the head coach (Paul Royal).
“They told me they were interested, but they really wanted to see me play once more,” she continued.
“We kept in touch over quarantine, but because of the dead period in recruiting they couldn’t see me play again.
“Two weeks ago, they asked to schedule a Zoom meeting … I figured it was to offer me a scholarship,” added Picco “I didn’t need much time to think about it. I was in my Dad’s office for the call, and he said, ‘you might as well do it, you know it’s what you want.’ He was right, I told them, ‘I’d love to come to LaSalle.’”
Picco, who also received an offer from Division I Wagner, said her experience on the travel soccer circuit paved her way to Division I.
“I don’t think I would be playing Division I if it weren’t for the travel ball,” she said. “I don’t think high school soccer would have done it for me.
“I owe a lot to Rich Pitts and the Vestal (Youth Soccer) Association because that’s where I started,” noted Picco. “I moved to BC United because I wanted even more competition to really challenge myself. I really think that’s what helped me get to where I am.
“I knew in the back of my head that I was good enough to do whatever I wanted to with soccer, but I needed to challenge myself even more, so the clubs definitely helped me in that aspect.
“I owe my parents a great deal for taking time out of their busy schedules to take me to places like Florida, North Carolina, and Texas to play in tournaments,” Picco added.
Picco’s senior season has yet to be played (it may be played this spring), but she already has four varsity seasons under her belt, as well as 50-plus career goals.
Picco has played nearly every position on the field for the Lady Wolverines, and said that experience has been beneficial.
“I’m not going to lie, when I was in 8th-grade and I was told I was going to be a defender, I got on the bus and I started bawling my eyes out,” she said. “I got home and I told my Dad, ‘I’m playing right-back. I can’t play right-back, I’m the smallest girl on the field.’
“I was coming up with every excuse, and he said, ‘Gabby, don’t make excuses. It’s a learning opportunity. This will only help you see the game even better.’
“Thank God, I stuck with high school soccer because playing defense for the first two or three years of my career has helped me in ways I didn’t think it would,” noted Picco. “I’ve become a much more aggressive player, and I see the field so much better now.
“I know when to cover because I’ve been in the defensive positions, and I know what defenders are thinking because I’ve been there,” Picco added. “It’s definitely helped me so much.”
Picco played four years of high school soccer with Melina Ortiz, who is a freshman at Division I Siena College this fall, and played against Division I players Chloe Tracy (Binghamton), Rachel Hutchison (St. Bonaventure), and Emma Roe (Wagner) in the Valley.
“I grew up playing with Chloe Tracy, Emily Lunger (Division I track & field at St. Francis), Melina (Ortiz), and Wendi Hammond (Division I softball at Albany) on the State Line teams … we practiced in the Chemung gym,” said Picco.
“We all started playing games in the Dome on Saturdays. At that point, it was just fun,” noted Picco.“It’s kind of crazy if you think about it.”
Athens coach Rich Pitts, who coached Picco for many years of travel ball, believes she has what it takes to be successful at the next level.
“Gabby has been working for this since she was 8,” he said. “She has played up in age a lot of her years of playing and just put in whatever she needed to do to perfect her craft.
“She is one in a long line of great players from the Valley, and I think that drove her to put her name next to those.
“Gabby is ultra-skilled with the ball at her feet, and then pairs that with her vision of the game,” noted Pitts. “That allows her to deliver some fantastic balls to her teammates, which are such high level it's amazing to watch.
“Her physicality for her size has been great to watch as she is very soccer strong on the ball and in defense,” he added. “All of these traits will help her at the DI level to compete as a freshman.”
Picco admits she has work to do to play at the next level, but looks forward to the challenge.
“The amount of work I need to put in is crazy, but I’m ready for it,” she said. “I want to get stronger, so I’ve been lifting a lot. I also need to get faster because the people in college are going to be faster.
“And, I need to know the game even more than I already do,” added Picco. “The girls I play with now know the game, but when you get to college every single girl knows the game as well as you do, or better than you do.”
Pitts believes the biggest adjustment Picco will face relates to the mental aspect of the game.
“The one thing I think all college-level players, going in as freshmen, struggle with is time management and the mental part of the game.
“Gabby has a great support system from her father, who I think is one of the best coaches and human beings around, to her mother and sisters, who are so supportive of each other,” said Pitts. “I think her knowing all this and jumping in head-first, knowing if she needs support she has it, that part will be minimal.
“I have been excited to see her play at this level since she was 10, and realized what a special talent she is,” noted Pitts. “I will be excited to watch her splash onto the scene at a really good school and program near a very diverse city, which I think suits her personality perfectly.”
At 5-4 and slight of frame, Picco will be one of the smaller players on the field at the Division I pitch. Is she concerned?
“It pushes me to work harder,” said Picco. “I’ll always be the underdog because of my size … people assume I won’t be capable of doing something, but I prove to them I am capable.”
Picco will major in Business with an eye on becoming a financial advisor.
IN PHOTO: Waverly senior Gabby Picco.