The three-time defending Ivy League champion Brown women’s soccer team is officially back in action. And that means All-American forward Brittany Raphino ’23.5 is back to scoring goals.
Raphino, who is taking advantage of the fifth year of eligibility she was granted by the Ivy League due to the pandemic, scored a late leveler Wednesday to help the Bears (3-1-1) earn a 1-1 draw against the Saint Louis University Billikens (4-2-1) at Stevenson-Pincince Field.
Bruno is ranked 23rd overall by Top Drawer Soccer, while Saint Louis is ranked 21st.
Raphino has picked up right where she left off in 2022 when she was named Ivy League offensive player of the year for the second straight season. Tallying three goals and three assists already in the young season, Raphino now has 48 goal contributions in her Brown career.
“I want to put everything I can into this team,” Raphino said. “I love this program and that’s why I came back. I definitely feel my age for sure, but that’s given me a lot of confidence and allowed me to play my top game.”
With Raphino back alongside other key seniors, including her long-time attacking partner Ava Seelenfreund ’23.5, midfielders Sheyenne Allen ’23.5 and Evelyn Calhoon ’24, defender Jessica Hinton ’24 and goalkeeper Clare Gagne ’24, expectations for the Bears are high to begin the season.
Brown jumped out of the gates in August with a 6-0 win against SUNY Albany followed by a 4-3 comeback win against Central Connecticut State University, in which the Bears scored three unanswered goals in the match’s final 15 minutes.
A 1-0 loss to a red-hot Providence College, who have climbed up to No. 22 in the Top Drawer Soccer rankings, gave the Bears their first defeat, but a comfortable 2-0 victory over UC San Diego got them back on track heading into their matchup against Saint Louis.
In the match against the Billikens, the Bears fell behind quickly thanks to a goal from Saint Louis’s Julia Simon just 90 seconds into the game. Billikens midfielder Jess Preusser received a throw-in in the penalty box and backed down Hinton before sending a looped cross near the penalty spot. A failed clearance from Calhoon landed at the foot of Simon, who fired a left-footed volley past Gagne.
The rest of the half was a stalemate with Brown attackers struggling to find space behind the Saint Louis defense. The Bears’ best chance came in the 30th minute when Raphino received the ball in the attacking area and turned her defender, setting up a two-on-one with Seelenfreund arriving on the right wing. Instead of passing, Raphino took a shot herself, which flew wide.
At the beginning of the second half, the Brown attack began to show the firepower fans have come to expect over recent seasons. Less than thirty seconds in, Seelenfreund played a through ball behind the Saint Louis defense for Raphino, who carried it into the right side of the penalty box and fired a low shot just barely saved by the foot of the Saint Louis keeper. Seelenfreund then got on the end of the ensuing throw-in, volleying it just wide.
Brown controlled play until Raphino finally got the Bears on the board with a breakaway goal that she has made her trademark throughout her career. Charging onto a ball sent over the top of the defense by midfielder Gianna De Priest ’25, Raphino shrugged off her defender, took a deft touch around the onrushing Saint Louis goalie and calmly slotted the ball into the open-net.
“I knew (De Priest) was going to pop it over the top, so I just knew it was a footrace and that I needed to beat the defender to the ball,” Raphino said. “When I was one-on-one with the goalie, it was just (about) taking a breath and taking my shot.”
Although in previous seasons Brown has featured a Raphino-Seelenfreund partnership in attack, the Bears used three forwards in the Saint Louis game, a change that saw Raphino leading the line alone and Seelenfreund moved to the right wing opposite of forward Kira Maguire ’24.
“Having three (attackers) when there are four defenders, like you saw, they can’t handle it,” Raphino said. “So that’s why I was left alone up top — because they had two (defenders) dealing with (Seelenfreund) and (Maguire) out wide. It doesn’t really change what we do, it just gives us more options.”
“Our forwards are a big strength of our team so the more we can get them on the field, the more looks around goal, the more successful we’re going to be,” said Head Coach Kia McNeill.
After the equalizer, the Bears maintained the pressure, and in the 72nd minute, Raphino nearly gave Brown the lead. Picking up the ball in the midfield, Raphino paused before dribbling by her defender and unleashing a wicked shot from outside the box that the Saint Louis goalie tipped onto the crossbar.
But with the game still tied, Saint Louis began to counterpunch and for the final fifteen minutes appeared likelier to find the game-winner. In the 77th minute, Billikens forward Emily Gaebe, beginning with the ball far outside the penalty area, coasted through the Brown defense and found herself one-on-one with Gagne, who sprang off her line and stretched her left foot out to send Gaebe’s shot out for a throw-in.
“I don’t think there are thoughts in moments like that. It’s very much instinct. It’s very much trust in your training,” Gagne said. “I think that’s something I’ve been working on since day one, so it’s really exciting to make a save like that.”
Gagne’s save preserved the draw for the Bears, who will on Sunday host undefeated Wake Forest (5-0-1) in another difficult non-conference game.
“These games are super important for making the NCAA tournament,” Gagne said. “These games give us an opportunity to prove that we can play with the top 25 in the country. We came out here today playing to get into (the) postseason.”
For McNeill, the Saint Louis game marked a continuation of a productive early stage of the season. “I’m happy where we are at,” she said. “I think we still have another level and we have to get that out of ourselves in the next couple of weeks, but I’m happy with the progress.”