Goalkeeper Melissa Dagenais was born to be the face of Miami soccer.
The Hurricanes have struggled in recent years, but Dagenais has given them a glimmer of hope this fall, opening the season with four consecutive shutouts to lead Miami to its best start since head coach Sarah Barnes took over in 2018.
“It gives the team confidence to be able to go out and play and compete,” Barnes said. “When a mistake is made or there’s an error, Mel is there to have their backs. We can be in any game with Mel.”
Dagenais expected to take a leap in ability this season, but even she was surprised by her stellar play.
“I did expect to start off the season well because that is what you hope for, but I didn’t expect to have four clean sheets in the beginning. That was definitely a nice reward for all the work I did last season,” Dagenais said.
No goalkeeper in program history has started the season with four straight shutouts, and with the help of Dagenais’ heroics, Miami soccer went 2-0-2 in that stretch.
While Dagenais has been a superstar in Coral Gables this fall, she hasn’t forgotten her roots. The Saint-Hubert, Quebec, Canada native looks to her parents as her source of inspiration and the reason she started playing soccer.
“My first love of soccer started when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Dagenais said. “I ended up telling my parents I wanted to play soccer so they put me in a rec league…They are the first people I call before I play my games. They are big role models for me.”
Initially, Dagenais was a defender but transitioned to goalkeeping. As her game developed over time, she began working towards Division I collegiate soccer and ended up in Miami.
“I did the showcase where college coaches come to see your game. But Miami actually wasn’t there. The organizer of the showcase knows me well, so he asked me to come up with some schools that interested me… Miami actually was No. 1 on my list. They answered me within a week, I started talking with them, came on the visit and just loved it,” Dagenais said.
Last season was a successful one for Dagenais. She started all 16 matches her junior year and placed second in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in saves and saves per game. Her 86 total saves last year were the seventh most in a single season in program history.
After such a stellar season, Dagenais’ offseason focus changed a little bit.
“It’s hard to go into the offseason after having a good year,” Dagenais said. “The expectation is high so just trying to maintain that, but I feel like I have surpassed it.”
Dagenais set the tone for the year with 11 saves in the opener against Mississippi State, a season-high. She currently boasts an .820 save percentage, the best mark of her collegiate career, through 10 games.
“I mean I can just keep growing from here, there is always room for improvement. I proved to myself I can get better,” Dagenais said.
Now, with her game coming into full form, it is time for the rest of the team to follow in her footsteps. After scoring only six goals in the first nine games, the offense isn’t where it needs to be. If Miami wants to compete in the high-scoring ACC, the offense must take a big leap the rest of the season. Dagenais certainly believes in them.
“I feel pretty good about where we are at. There are little details we have to fix in order to win… A big thing for us is we have to set the tone early in the game and not wait till something happens, like we get scored on, in order to pump up the intensity… We all see a lot of improvement from last year,” Dagenais said.
Although this season started off great, Hurricanes soccer has struggled in recent history, with a one-win season in 2020 being the low pont. Dagenais is trying to change that narrative.
“I would say there is definitely so much potential for our team to be good. We are seeing it this year, it is just about keeping it going because I feel like our coaches have been working so hard to make us great,” Dagenais said. “They have been here for 4-5 years, so their work is now starting to show with the girls they are bringing in, so they are definitely there to make us better in all that they do.”
With Miami in the thick of its ACC schedule, the rest of the season won’t be easy. However, the ‘Canes can take solace in one thing – that they have Dagenais in goal and the other team doesn’t.