All-Delco Girls Soccer: Switch to goalie proved fruitful for Maya Naimoli, Episcopal Academy

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Maya Naimoli entered her junior season of high school soccer at Episcopal Academy with aspirations of playing goalkeeper in college … and a grand total of one high school game between the posts.

She wasn’t behind the 8-ball exactly, with a stellar reputation on the club scene, as part of Philadelphia SC’s Coppa Swarm 2004 team and ODP regional teams and national camps. But the high school realm remained as yet unrequited, thanks to EA’s need to deploy Naimoli at forward as a freshman – she scored 12 goals – and injury, illness and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting her sophomore campaign.

So for all the recruiting interest she generated and all the work behind the scenes, there was still a little apprehension in the late summer of 2021 when EA’s No. 1 goalkeeping gloves became hers.

“I was a little nervous because it would be day-after-day practice and games and I didn’t know how my body would keep up,” Naimoli said. “But being in the field kept my fitness level where it should be, and training one-on-one helped keep my technical aspects.”

Episcopal Academy goalie Maya Naimoli makes a save on a shot by Springside Chestnut Hill’s Abby Kenkelen in the second half of the PAISAA final Wednesday afternoon. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Two seasons later, the results are plain to see. She won 31 games over the last two seasons with 18 clean sheets and a trip to the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association final. Twice, Naimoli has been an All-Delco and an All-Inter-Ac pick. That recruiting interest ended in a national letter of intent to Ohio State.

All in all, it’s worked out pretty well for Naimoli, who adds another accolade to her lengthy resume: The 2022 Daily Times Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

Joining Naimoli on the All-Delco team are EA teammates Natalie Magnotta and Maya Bright, Ridley star forward Adria Kitzinger, Notre Dame defender Audrey Cain, Haverford center back Mollie Carpenter, Garnet Valley midfielder Mia Zebley, Radnor midfielder Selah Koleth, Springfield midfielder Coryn Silberstein, Ella Wright of Archbishop Carroll, Strath Haven’s Annie Dignazio and Agnes Irwin’s Lily Fusco.

The presence of 10 different schools on the All-Delco team reflects a rare profusion of talent around the county, with a slew of players bound to play soccer in college, include three in the Big Ten. Seven All-Delcos are seniors, with three juniors (Magnotta, Koleth, Fusco) and a pair of sophomores in Dignazio and Bright. Naimoli, Cain, Zebley, Silberstein and Kitzinger are repeat selections.

The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.

You get the impression that Naimoli could spend hours discussing the minutiae of goalkeeping – footwork, fitness, vagaries of positioning, how her 5-7 stature lends itself to a different style than rangier keepers. But that devotion to her craft hasn’t come with overspecializing. Hence Naimoli contributing on varsity as a freshman, and her versatility meant she could play the field as club coaches rotated goalies. Beyond the obvious technical skills – being able to pass as a goalie is no longer an optional skill – it has helped her fitness and her mindset.

Naimoli is the first goalie to be named Girls Soccer Player of the Year since 2009 (Haverford’s Leah Cesanek). While several keepers have earned the boys’ honor since then, it’s rarer for a goalie to impact the girls game as consistently and comprehensively as Naimoli. Much of that is her mentality: Diligence in her skills training and connection to the goalkeeping cabal is important, but she adds a certain fearlessness, in part from having been a striker and knowing the position’s fallibility.

“I think it helped playing in the field because I know how it is for field players,” she said. “If I have a moment where I think there’s no way I’m recovering from this and getting to the ball, I also have played on the opposite end of that and been like, ‘there’s no way I’m going to finish this.’ … For me, even if I know I can’t save the ball, doing something all out rather than not doing anything at all is a more respectable way for me to be scored on.”

Naimoli started playing goal at the Under-9 level on a coach’s whim. She brought a certain zest, if limited knowhow, which led to the gentle suggestion that maybe it was something she could build on.

“I was never afraid to hit the ground, and I had no training at that point,” she said. “I just was always going towards the ball. And he was like, ‘maybe you should get a goalkeeping coach and try this.’”

In time, that led her to The Keeper Institute in South Jersey, run by former pro Jill Loyden and with a roster of pros working and training. Naimoli clicks with that group, stoking her intensity and focus. Goalkeeping is a lonely endeavor, even more so in soccer, where a performance can be decided in a split-second of hesitation or brilliance. Being with people who understand and embrace that challenge is valuable.

“I think of course the shot-stopping aspect of it, but I think in the back of every goalkeeper’s mind is that we’re a close-knit community because it’s so crazy,” she said. “And knowing that I think not everyone can do it and I have a special talent that I can train, work hard enough to keep up with it, really gets me going with it. I think the community around it makes me love it even more.”

From the challenging first half of her career, Naimoli has racked up many accomplishments at EA. The Churchwomen didn’t hang a banner this season, finishing second in the Inter-Ac and PAISAA to the juggernaut of Springside Chestnut Hill, which lost only three games in the last four years. Yet EA was still clearly the best team in Delaware County, winning 18 games and allowing just 12 goals in 21 outings. Naimoli and Magnotta, a Penn State signee, are both bound for the Big Ten, with a handful of other college players in the younger classes to augment the usual bumper crop of D1 lacrosse stars typical of Episcopal.

Despite the loss to end the season, Naimoli leaves a program that she sees as in better shape than she found it. With so many contributing underclassmen and a mentality that accepts only greatness, she’s confident in her legacy.

“I think it’s hard to go out on a loss in the (PAISAA) championship, but in reality, we really dominated this season, including SCHA,” she said. “We didn’t make it easy on anybody. And especially coming from freshman year up, I’ve seen the team and program progress from that, which I’m glad it didn’t stay the same. We were doing fine, and now we’re one of the top teams. So just seeing that progression throughout the season and the positivity from the school around the team is something great to look back on.”

Leave a Reply