TUCKERS 3, BEARS 1
As a sweeper, Nicole Zurawski’s main responsibility is to clean up messes in the back.
This year, the talented junior has taken on an added responsibility by becoming part of the Mattituck High School girls soccer team’s attack. She has caused a mess or two for the opposition’s defense and goalkeepers to clean up on their side of the field.
Take, for example, what transpired in the visiting Tuckers’ 3-1 victory over The Stony Brook School on Wednesday.
With the Suffolk County League VII encounter knotted up at 1-1 midway through the opening half, Zurawski powered in a brilliant 20-yard shot to give the Tuckers (2-0-1, 2-0) a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish. Zurawski’s goal was sandwiched around scores by teammates Trish Brisotti and Isabel Torgove. Morgan Pius tallied the Bears’ lone goal.
Zurawski has scored 3 goals from outside the penalty area this young season, giving Mattituck a unique weapon that not many teams — high school, college, amateur or pro — possess, a central defender who can score from distance.
“Her goal for herself was to get five goals,” Mattituck coach Malynda Nichol said. “I think that she’s well beyond that. We’re getting her to take more shots, try to spring her forward a little bit more.”
Nichol liked what she saw from the rest of her team.
“The girls worked hard, they battled,” she said. “We’ve been working a lot on stretching the field and possessing the ball and I think they made some good decisions in the second half.”
The game was played on The Stony Brook School football field, narrower than most soccer fields and definitely not as wide as the Tuckers’ home pitch.
“It was a little difficult playing on a field this narrow because we do like to play the ball out wide,” Brisotti said. “You really don’t have that much room to make a mistake because the field’s so narrow your defender is right on you.”
It probably wouldn’t matter how wide or narrow the field was trying to defend one of Zurawski’s long-distance shots. She already had one in the season-opening 2-2 tie with Central Islip on Sept. 13 and another in a 3-0 win over Smithtown Christian on Sept. 16.
“I just picked my head up and looked where the keeper was,” Zurawski said. “Just shot far post high because it’s usually a lot harder to stop when I shoot high. There’s everyone in the way. I picked my head up and found the space in the goal and shot it, smacked it.”
Smacked through several bodies, over the head of a defender standing near the right post and over goalkeeper Fiona Farrell.
“She has great placement for the shot,” Nichol said. “She’s an outstanding player.”
Right after Zurawski scored, one of the Stony Brook coaches said, “That’s a sweet spot.”
Indeed it was.
Zurawski has forged her reputation as a calm and cool central defender, someone who is supposed to make sure those type of goals aren’t scored on the Tuckers.
“There are a lot of characteristics that make her a good player,” Nichol said. “One is her work ethic, the fact that she never gives up. She is smart in the back. She communicates with her outside backs and leads them. And she’s also tenacious. So she’s good in the air and she has a nose for the ball.”
Zurawski was paired with senior stopper Kellie Stepnoski, who replaced the injured Kyle Freudenberg (knee). Stepnoski made her presence felt by keeping the ball away from Zurawski and goalkeeper Val Hommel as much as she could by winning 50-50 balls.
“She stepped up big time,” Zurawski said. “She’s like an animal out there. She wins literally every 50-50 ball. She’s awesome.”
But as well as those two central defenders played, the Tuckers could not stop the Bears from scoring.
Only two minutes into the match, Brisotti struck from eight yards out to give Mattituck a 1-0 advantage.
Stony Brook (0-2, 0-2), however, began to dominate and equalized on Pius’ high shot over Hommel with 29:04 remaining in the half as the Tuckers failed to clear the ball from the penalty area.
“We came out flat in the first half.” Nichol said.
Slowly, but surely, the Tuckers got their act together, pressing for an insurance tally. With 3:21 remaining in the match, they got it. Defender Motunrayo Tejuoso lost the ball in the Bears’ defensive third. Abby Graeb passed the ball to an open Torgove on the right side and the senior forward rolled the ball into an open right corner.
“I put it in as lightly as I could,” Torgove said. “It was more placement over power.”
And some relief for the Tuckers.
Said Torgrove, “There were only a few minutes left on the clock and without it there was always a chance that they would get another one and tie it.”