As a civil engineering student, Daniella Cipriano spends her days mastering the study of design, construction, and maintenance of structures and infrastructure. Outside of the classroom, Cipriano also works hard as a marauding Varsity Blues starting right back, designing chances for her teammates, constructing assists, and maintaining a solid backline.

Cipriano enjoys the defensive and attacking duality her position brings. “I love defending, I love sticking tackles, and then I also love getting forward… Full back was just the perfect position because it combines both.”

The third-year student, who played 15 regular season games in her first year and all 16 in her second, takes to the field donning the number seven on her jersey. She positions herself less like her favourite player, Real Madrid right back Dani Carvajal, and more like his attacking teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, her numeric counterpart in Zinedine Zidane’s squad. Speaking to the benefits of her attacking nature, Cipriano highlights opposing teams’ difficulties defending against wing backs like herself.

“They don’t know if their full back should step or if their winger should come back, so it just confuses the other team as well. Which is kind of nice because you have free range because no one’s coming at you,” she explains. Cipriano can find this free range so far up the flank that it’s sometimes easy to forget she’s a defender. It’s why her relationship with fifth-year right midfielder Alyssa Golin is so valuable.

“[Golin] played as a full back in her first two years I believe, so she knows what it’s like to have to cover and come back and help out… Having someone who knows your position playing alongside you really helps out in the fact that… someone has your back.” Cipriano also has praise for first-year right back Mikayla Ford, saying, “She’ll definitely be able to fill my shoes at least!”

In between praise for her teammates, Cipriano describes being temporarily deployed as a right winger as “fun,” which gives her “a little bit of freedom to not [have to] run back every two seconds.” With her trajectory, she could soon emulate Real Madrid star Gareth Bale’s transformation from a full back into a star attacking winger.

Running up and down the flank for 90 minutes every game is a gruelling task for anyone, but Cipriano laughs when recounting her experience. “When you’re working hard for it and then you get that cross and then they score off your cross, it’s just really rewarding. So you just keep wanting to do it over, and over, and over again no matter how tired you are.” It’s this excellent mentality that has seen Cipriano register two assists in six regular season games, double what she managed last season.

She attributes this more to the team dynamic improving than her individual development. “The core group of us have been playing together for at least three years now… Being able to have that strong core allows me to get forward as a full back, [which] allows you to assist those kinds of goals.”

Despite it being the afternoon of her first day of classes, Cipriano’s enthusiastic character never relents as she speaks. When asked about how she balances her roles as a civil engineering student and a star on the Varsity Blues, the five-foot-four defender laughs.

“That’s a good question — I don’t really know myself! But somehow you just figure it out, you have your schedule.” She further cites the positive work ethic of her fellow Blues, noting that “they push me to do homework as well… Being with those type of people really help me figure out what I needed to do.”

Beyond this, with some of her school days running from 9 am to 9 pm, Cipriano has learned the importance of time management. “[You] utilize the time you have in between classes — when you have that hour when you can finish an assignment and not have to worry about it on the weekend.”

It’s the same pragmatism that’s necessary for soccer players — in the moments throughout the game where opportunities present themselves, Cipriano needs to take her chances to produce good balls for her teammates.

She did exactly that in the regular season home opener against the Nipissing Lakers. Awarded a free kick 40 yards from goal on her right side of the pitch in the 56th minute, Cipriano launched an inch-perfect ball onto the glancing head of striker Chelsea Cheung for the game’s second goal.

The day after, against the Laurentian Voyageurs, Cipriano advanced down the right-hand side and released another perfect delivery, this time for centre back Christine Mulligan to nod in on the far side of the post.

As Cipriano becomes more attuned to her role and her surroundings, she’s hoping to further improve the attacking dimension of her game. “I definitely want to at least get a goal this season — I haven’t scored at all! Hit the crossbar a couple times but definitely a goal this season would be a good goal to reach,” she adds. “Getting more assists and helping the team out in that kind of sense would help me gain confidence, as well as the team. I feel like in the air we could definitely punish teams with our aerial balls.”

Cipriano and Golin are both on the right flank. “Working in that kind of position, we definitely work on [crosses] every practice,” Cipriano says. “If you keep getting the reps and keep working on it, it’s just eventually gonna get better and better, and then it’ll get more and more precise, and then hopefully one person will get on the end of it.”

Last season’s top goal scorer, Natasha Klasios, who missed the first four games of the season due to involvement with Canada at the 2017 FISU Summer Universiade, returned to action against Trent and UOIT over the weekend.

Klasios’ return is a boost both to the team and to Cipriano, who sees her right back role as “a bigger part to our U of T team, especially… with Natasha coming back because we’ll have that confidence going forward.”

Still, Cipriano knows it’s ultimately a team game and that her individual talents need to supplement her teammates’ own. She references a quote the team says before every match: “22 as one.”

“I feel like that really brings us together as a team. Because if you can’t play with 22, you’re not a team… You’re out there not just to play for yourself but to play for everyone else around you, which is amazing, which is really nice. I like that too.”