The truth be told, the career of the finest girls’ goalkeeper in Lyndhurst High School history began innocently – as she believes – as a demotion for being a poor soccer player.
“When I was little, they always put the worst player in goal,” said Lyndhurst senior Isabella Castagnetti. “I was put all over the field, but I couldn’t run. I couldn’t do anything. So they put me in goal. I didn’t know that I was the worst one. I just said, ‘Whatever you need, Coach.’ I was willing to do it.”
Castagnetti said that she tried her hands in a lot of sports growing up.
“When I was little, I tried a lot of things,” Castagnetti said. “I played basketball and T-ball. I played soccer and fell in love with the sport. It became my passion. I just love the aspect of team sports, playing on a team and being with a team. But I knew soccer was my passion.”
Now, almost 10 years later, Castagnetti is as good as it gets in net. The Golden Bear senior has no peers in northern New Jersey.
“I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t in goal,” Castagnetti said. “When I first started out, I didn’t like it too much, because all the action was all the way on the other side of the field and I was just standing there. Once I started playing, I started liking it. I understood the selflessness of being a goalie and the team value in it. I then had the commitment to get better and dedicated my time to get better. It then became a lot of fun.”
Castagnetti has enjoyed a ton of fun this season for the Golden Bears.
She compiled an incredible streak where she collected 10 consecutive shutouts. She has allowed just two goals all season in 15 games, with the Golden Bears’ record standing at 13-2.
For her efforts, Castagnetti has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Castagnetti has come a long way in her four years as the starting net minder for the Golden Bears.
“When I started as a freshman, I really struggled with the communication aspect of goaltending,” Castagnetti said. “I was shy and quiet. I had to learn how to assume the leadership that comes with being a goalie. I had to tell the other defenders where to go. It was definitely a struggle for me.”
Castagnetti then started to take the sport in a different light when she joined the Princeton Soccer Academy club team.
“Once I started playing club, I became more serious about soccer,” Castagnetti said. “I really worked hard at getting good at it. I definitely got better with experience.”
It also helped having a coach in the family.
Although her father, Joe, never coached soccer, the former Lyndhurst head football coach and current football assistant played a major part in his daughter’s development.
“My dad used to tell me to anticipate the play,” Castagnetti said. “I think having a good instinct played a part as well. My dad helped me there as well. It was a big part of my development. When I was really young, I didn’t appreciate him being there. I used to say, ‘Dad, you’re a football coach. What do you know?’ But as I grew older, I appreciate his advice. He definitely had an impact on me as an athlete and as a person.”
Castagnetti’s development as a goalie certainly helped the Golden Bears.
“I’ve definitely been spoiled,” said Lyndhurst head girls’ soccer coach Kim Hykey. “I honestly never have to worry about her in goal. I just know she’s going to do her job. The last four years have been a coaching dream. She’s absolutely what any coach wishes for. She’s super smart and she’s such a student of the game. With her instincts in goal, it’s been like a perfect storm. She can do it all.”
Hykey is impressed with Castagnetti’s ability to use her feet.
“She has great feet,” Hykey said. “I’m at ease when we play the ball back to her at any point. She’s like a sweeper back there. She’s so technical with the ball. I know what she’s going to do. She’s just a pleasure to coach and watch.”
Castagnetti is not just a student of soccer. She’s also a great student in the classroom as well. She’s currently on pace to become the Lyndhurst Class of 2019 valedictorian with an astounding 4.37 grade point average.
“I’ve put a lot of hard work in my school work,” said Castagnetti, who has already declared her intentions to play soccer at The College of the Holy Cross next fall. “I have to keep up my school work and I want to keep it up.”
Castagnetti decided upon Holy Cross when she was just a sophomore.
“I knew I wanted to go either Ivy League or Patriot League (where Holy Cross resides),” Castagnetti said. “When I went on my unofficial visit there, I told my dad that I could see myself playing there one day. It’s a good athletic school and a good academic school. It was definitely a sigh of relief to make the decision. Even though I was committed, I had to keep on top of my studies. I still had to train hard.”
Castagnetti is unsure, but she believes that she will major in biochemistry in college with medical school a strong possibility.
“I think my degree will give me options,” she said.
Castagnetti said that the shutout streak was nice as it was happening, but the pressure to keep it going began to mount.
“I wanted to keep it going,” Castagnetti said. “When you have a streak like that, people tend to look at the goalie first. I really didn’t take notice of it until it was like five or six straight. Then it became a thing with the defense. I kept saying, ‘We can do this.’ It was broken after 10 straight. As we kept getting shutouts, the defense really came together. We’re always on the same page and we push to work harder.”
The Golden Bears’ defensive corps includes center backs Maggie Fadera and Gia Estrella, along with defenders Rachel Bocage, Alex Tortorella and Julia McCann. Bocage has been a teammate of Castagnetti since they were eight years old.
“I attribute the success of that streak to the defense,” Castagnetti said. “It’s not just me.”
Hykey knows that Castagnetti is leaving an immense legacy at the school.
“She’s a rare specimen,” Hykey said. “She’s been like a coach back there. She says the right things and does things the right way. She takes pride in our defense. She wants a shutout every game. It’s what we strive for. We’re all on the same page. It’s been pretty cool to watch. There’s no one that’s going to be like this kid. We’re going to talk about her for a very long time. She’s just a special kid. She’s definitely come into her own and it’s been wild watching her grow and mature.”
The Golden Bears have yet another Castagnetti on the roster – freshman midfielder Francesca, Isabella’s younger sister.
“It’s been really awesome having Francesca with us this year,” Castagnetti said. “I never had the opportunity to play with her before. Seeing her every day has been tremendous. We have that chemistry together. I’m glad she came out for the team. I’m excited for her, especially since she’s my little sister. I want her to have fun. We used to have little fights growing up, but now since we’re on the same team, we’ve become really close and having her on the team has made us even closer.”
There’s one thing that’s left for Castagnetti to conquer.
“Rachel (Bocage) and I talked just recently and we knew that this is our last year to win a state tournament,” Castagnetti said. “If we ever had a chance, this is the team to do it. It’s our end goal. It’s bound to happen.”
Needless to say, this season has been a blast for the kid who was once stuck in goal because she thought she wasn’t good enough. Well, she’s more than good enough now.
“It has been so much fun,” Castagnetti said. “The team chemistry has been tremendous this year. I really want to go out with a bang. I’m also excited for the next step of my life. I’m going to continue to work hard every single day.”
That’s the true legacy of Isabella Castagnetti.
Lyndhurst senior goalkeeper Isabella Castagnetti. Photo courtesy of Joe Castagnetti