Girls Soccer: A former Tucker gets to coach her ex-teammates

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck’s Lauren Guja, left, and Abby Graeb pressuring Westhampton Beach goalkeeper Lucy DiBenedetto.

It has been nearly two years since Morgan Zuhoski, a center midfielder for the SUNY/Old Westbury women’s soccer team, last wore a Mattituck uniform. But in the world of high school soccer, a lot changes in two years.

By Zuhoski’s count, there are only six Tuckers on Mattituck’s summer team that were her teammates her senior year: Maryanne Fitzgerald, Amanda Gatz, Anna Goerler, Lauren Guja, Nicole Murphy and Nicole Zurawski.

Except for a few Mattituck games Zuhoski saw last year, she had not seen her former teammates play since the fall of 2010. That was until Tuesday when, filling in as the summer team’s acting coach, she had to like what she saw.

What she saw was Mattituck play without any substitutes against Westhampton Beach, which had the luxury of shuffling fresh legs onto the field in Medford. Mattituck won the Town of Brookhaven Summer League game, 2-1, when Guja scored her second goal of the game and fourth of the summer three and a half minutes into sudden-victory overtime.

“For 11 girls and no subs in this heat, they played very well,” Zuhoski said. “I never have doubts with them. They did good.”

It certainly was a battle for Mattituck (4-0-1), made all the more interesting by its lack of substitutes. As it was, the Tuckers were perhaps fortunate to have 11 players on the field. Three of the Tuckers — Fitzgerald, Jessica Kwasnik and Melissa Siegfried — were riding in the same car that got a flat tire on the way to the field. “They got here in the nick of time,” said Zuhoski.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Maryanne Fitzgerald of Mattituck making a pass against Westhampton Beach.

Guja, the former stopper turned forward, continues to be a handful for opposing defenses. She was a factor again, getting 44 touches on the ball and connecting on 20 of 25 passes. But Guja is also not afraid to let loose with a long-range shot, something she did time and again against Westhampton Beach (1-4).

Ironically, it was Guja’s shortest shot of the game that won it in overtime. Fitzgerald, charging toward the goal from the right wing, released a shot that struck the inside of the left goalpost. The alert Guja beat everyone to the rebound.

It was Guja’s game-high 10th shot of the contest. Two of the three shots that she put on goal went in.

The first one was a penalty kick in the 11th minute. After a hand-ball call, Guja slammed her attempt in off the underside of the crossbar.

That lead lasted for only two minutes before Westhampton Beach drew even from a dead-ball situation. Brooke Alpert lofted a free kick from nearly 40 yards away over the head of the goalkeeper, Siegfried.

Guja came close to adding a second-half goal. She was sent in on a one-on-one, but goalie Lucy DiBenedetto was up to the challenge and stopped her.

As far as goalkeeping goes, the Tuckers liked what they saw from Siegfried, Mattituck’s No. 2 goalie behind Stephanie Reisenberg. Like the defense in front of her, Siegfried hung tough and made seven saves. The best of them was a nifty one-handed swap away of an attempt by Julianna Robbini in the second half.

All in all, it was an impressive effort by the Tuckers, who have outscored their summer league opponents by 20-4.

“We all have heart,” Zurawski said. “I feel like that’s the best thing to start with. We can work on the skills and whatnot, but we have the drive. We pulled it out.”

It might have seemed like a step back in time for Zuhoski, who was a senior when Zurawski joined the varsity team as an eighth-grader.

“We were all kind of: ‘Who’s this girl? She’s so young.’ But she’s impressed me from day one,” Zuhoski said. “We took her under our wing and we had a good time and she grew a lot. She was one of the strongest players we had that year. She really helped us out a lot.”

Zurawski played as a striker the past two years, but has been playing sweeper this summer. She has the speed for sweeper, which she also plays for her club team.

“I’ve gotten stronger physically and mentally because the older you get, the more losses you have, so you learn to get over it and move on to the next game,” she said. “The more losses you have, the more you grow.”

Goerler, the team’s senior captain, has come a long way since the Zuhoski era. She was described as a shy sort when she — somewhat reluctantly — joined the varsity team as a freshman. According to Goerler, Mattituck’s former coach, Ed Barbante, told her she was on the varsity team even though she was hesitant about the move. Now she said she realizes it was for her own good. “I definitely feel like I have gotten more tougher,” she said. “It’s just a physical game at the varsity level.”

Although she played in center midfield on Tuesday because the team was shorthanded, Goerler wants to take over the stopper position vacated by Guja’s move to the front line. “I want to fill that spot because I feel I can,” she said.

Kellie Stepnoski played stopper on Tuesday, with Kyle Freudenberg and Jessica Kwasnik the outside backs.

“Our defense is like a wall,” Goerler said. “Nothing gets past them. They were good today.”

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