Freshman year in college is a time for students to become acclimated to their surroundings and take their next steps in life. Some have to take bigger steps than others, but how they handle that pressure can often measure how one stands up to the challenge and performs at the highest level.

Gonzaga men’s soccer left back Cole Rovegno has done exactly that, as the freshman from Folsom, California, has taken major steps on the team. 

Rovegno has impressed so far, playing 720 out of the 740 minutes possible while netting a goal and an assist in the first eight games of his collegiate soccer career. That goal came against his hometown school, Sacramento State — a team featuring players he once competed against.

Rovegno said that he was expecting the transition to be a lot harder than it has been, but he attributes the ease to the upperclassmen on the team.

“The seniors that I stayed with in preseason and at captain’s practice were super welcoming,” Rovegno said. “They welcomed me with open arms. I literally got off the plane and 10 minutes later we were scrimmaging. I felt like I was at home.”

During Rovegno’s recruitment process, the first time he talked to a team was when he spoke with GU head coach Paul Meehan his sophomore year of high school He started to talk to other schools his junior year, such as San Francisco and UC Irvine, but after he visited GU, he knew it was the right choice for him.

“I chose here purely because of the team environment that I felt here and the way everybody always had each other’s backs,” he said. “People were just so great here. There’s definitely something special about Gonzaga that no other school has.”

Rovegno did not like soccer growing up, but his dad’s love for the game eventually rubbed off on him. Although his dad never pushed him to play, it took Rovegno until the eighth grade to find his love for playing soccer. He said his dad is the reason why he plays soccer today.

“[My father] wanted to play at the college level, but he blew out his knee, and he couldn’t,” Rovegno said. “So part of my reason for playing is to play for him so that he can also experience the moments he wasn’t able to because he physically couldn’t, and I think he’s definitely a big part of why I play.”

The 18-year-old tries to model his game to professional soccer player Gareth Bale. Rovegno said he was taken by the Welshman’s blazing speed and athleticism, and noted that he and the Real Madrid star are both left-footed. 

When Rovegno was playing for Sacramento Republic — a youth soccer academy — he started out as a center defender for the team, and at times even played a bit of left wing. But he said he loves playing left back because of his ability in the position to go forward while also having to track back.

Sophomore Frankie Ljucovic had high praise for his teammate’s motor and the hustle that he has on and off the field. He also commended Rovegno’s composure as a freshman starter.

“It’s definitely difficult to come in at this level too, from a physical and playing aspect,” Ljucovic said. “He likes the pressure, and he’s showing up.”

Meehan said he and his coaching staff had no hesitation starting Rovegno. 

“He doesn’t play like a freshman, if a freshman plays in a particular way,” Meehan said. “He’s made the transition seamlessly.”

Rovegno believes that the Bulldogs’ last two results, a 1-0 win against California Baptist and a 2-2 tie against UC Irvine, will give them momentum going into the Oct. 12 clash against Loyola Marymount, GU’s first conference matchup of the season. 

“I’m so excited,” Rovegno said. “The environment is going to be crazy, and LMU is going to be a pretty good team this year. I’m excited to take it to them.”

Despite the team’s 1-6-1 start, Rovegno foresees a turnaround in the works, both for this season and for the future of the program.

“Wait for conference,” Rovegno said. “Just wait for conference.”

Vinny Saglimbeni is a staff writer.

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