Defense is often considered boring and secondary in importance.
But Madison Pesce flips the narrative.
The Salem State defender shut down the opposition all season long and made a name for herself when she was named the MASCAC Conference Rookie of the Year.
The award was given despite her not recording a point all year, proving how noticeable her lock-down play is.
She guided the Vikings defense to a 1.73 Goals Against Average, which stood for second in the conference, and a top of the conference 0.96 shooting percentage. She and the defense also forced a conference-high seven shutouts.
“The spotlight always seems to be on the goal scorer and game-winning plays. However, many game-winning plays can come from the defense as well. Defense is vital, and we don’t get enough credit,” Pesce said. “This award isn’t just for me, it’s for my entire defense. I am beyond honored to have received this award and represent all my defenders that don’t receive enough recognition.”
Pesce stepped onto Salem’s Alumni Field and started for the Vikings from day one. But she first kicked a soccer ball at four years old.
Her parents signed her up for soccer because her mom grew up playing it.
“Ever since I started, I couldn’t stop,” Pesce said. “I just fell in love with the sport.”
Like any sport, when you are young, you play all sorts of different positions. It wasn’t until Pesce got older that she realized she was meant to play defense.
“I was never the fastest and I never had the best skills,” Pesce said. “But I was strong, and I was able to read the game very well.”
Eventually, Pesce went on and played defense for the Danvers High Falcons.
She made the Varsity squad her freshman year, and during her four seasons in blue and white, she became an NEC all-star, Eastern Mass all-star and a Salem News all-star.
But the highlight of her time with Danvers came in 2017 when she and the Falcons claimed a State Championship.
They were the only soccer team – men’s and women’s included – in Danvers High School history to win a State Championship.
“Playing soccer at Danvers High was more than I could have imagined. It was the best four years of my life,” Pesce said. “The amazing thing about growing up in Danvers is that I played soccer with the same group of girls for almost 15 years. We started playing together when we were four, won a state championship, and played our final game as high school seniors together. All in all, I couldn’t have imagined growing up in any other town.”
During her junior year, Pesce began looking at colleges, and specifically ones that were relatively close to home.
She emailed a handful of schools including Salem, saying that she was interested in playing soccer and going to school for nursing. After getting in contact with Salem State women’s soccer coach Nicolle Wood, they talked about how Salem could be a good fit for her.
“The Salem State nursing program has always been an extremely important part of our recruiting success, as it is one of the best in New England,” Wood said. “I believe it was the combination of both that academic pursuit and our relationships in the soccer community that helped bring her to SSU.”
Pesce continued to look at other schools but ended up coming back to Salem every time.
“Coach Wood kept reinforcing that I would be a perfect fit, not just on the team, but at the school as well,” Pesce said. “She was right.”
Wood and her staff knew of Pesce from her success locally, both at Danvers High School and with her club, NEFC. Also because of their connection with both of the team’s coaches.
“She was our top recruit in the class of 2019. Last fall we graduated two of our four starting defensive players, and finding someone who could make an impact right away on our back line was a top priority,” Wood said. “We have always strived to find find first-year players who do not play like rookies. Madison is a great example of that.”
After committing, Pesce traded in her Falcons jersey for a Vikings one.
Before her first season began, Pesce was diagnosed with mono and was unable to start preseason.
“Because of this, I was nervous coming into the start of the season,” Pesce said.
But. she was able to play in the second half and got a hang of how Wood coaches and how her team plays together.
But again, complications arose later in the year and prevented Pesce from playing.
About halfway through the season she tweaked her knee and muscles in her leg, which then resulted in a bad back injury right before playoffs. The injuries kept her out of about two or three games during the season.
At one point right before playoffs, she could barely walk, let alone run. Both Wood and Pesce realized that since playoffs were quickly approaching, it was best for her to rest and miss a game or two in order to heal.
“I was in the athletic training room almost every day and made an effort to see a doctor and a chiropractor to be ready for the playoffs,” Pesce said.
She once again overcame and found herself back on the field before the postseason began.
“I was able to play during the playoffs, however I had to play in pain,” Pesce said. “I got through every game knowing that it may be my last, so I might as well give it my all. And I did that until the last minute of the semi-final game.”
Pesce and the Vikings fell to Worcester State in overtime, just one game short of the MASCAC Championship game.
Afterwards, Pesce was named Rookie of the Year.
It was the first time since the MASCAC added the award that a member of the Salem State team won it.
“Given how she battled against a nagging injury all season and still showed up ready to give whatever she could every day, it was really a great recognition for her efforts and success,” Wood said. “We have always taken a great amount of pride in our defense, and I believe her selection for this award is also a tribute of the upperclassmen around her who gave her the confidence and example to step into her role as a starter.”
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. Especially my co-center defender Mikayla Porcaro. She was there for me every step of the way both on and off the field, and she is the reason our defense was so strong this year,” Pesce said. “I could not have asked for a better freshman year.”