09/13/11 2:19pm
09/13/2011 2:19 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Liz Lasota has been asked to take on a more offensive role for Mattituck.

The Mattituck High School girls soccer team is hardly in a comfort zone right now.

Not only did the Tuckers lose 13 players to graduation, but they lost players who have been mainstays in the program for years. They also lost a lot of offense, and will field a largely changed lineup in 2011.

How are things going so far?

“We’ve have some good moments and some poor moments,” said Ed Barbante, who has a 58-20-6 (.690) record in his six years as the team’s coach. “It’s growing pains right now.”

The Tuckers (9-5-3) saw their 2010 season end with a 1-0 loss to the League VII champion Center Moriches Red Devils on a controversial goal by defender Alexis Parlato in the Suffolk County Class B final. It was the third time Center Moriches defeated the Tuckers last year, outscoring them by a 5-0 count.

The Tuckers reached county finals in three of the last five years, winning one of them.

Mattituck’s road this year will not be an easy one. As a Class B team, it will play home-and-away games in League VII against Class A teams like the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats, the Mount Sinai Mustangs and the Bayport-Blue Point Phantoms. Barbante said, “That’s six games right there that are very tough.”

And that’s not counting Center Moriches and the Babylon Panthers, who are not exactly slouches.

“There’s not going to be an easy game on the schedule, and we’ve got to bring it every single day,” said Barbante.

Liz Lasota, a senior forward/center midfielder who was an all-county pick last year, has been asked to assume a more offensive role.

“I told her flat out, ‘You need to put the ball in the back of the net,’ ” Barbante said. “She’s a player that can score with both feet. She’s got good one-on-one moves.”

Three other returning starters — junior right back Anna Goeller, junior stopper Lauren Guja and freshman forward Nikki Zurawski — bring much-needed experience.

Midfielders Maryanne Fitzgerald, Tracy Grim, Amanda Gatz and Nicole Murphy as well as forwards Alex Berkoski and Kaitlyn Doorhy could see enhanced roles. They were all reserve players last year.

A big change will be in goal. Courtney Birkmeier had been the team’s starting goalkeeper for four years, but has moved on, as has her backup, Jessica McDonald. A No. 1 goalkeeper has yet to emerge. A freshman, Abby Graeb, and two juniors, Stephanie Reisenberg and Melissa Siegfried, are vying for the starting position.

“That’s going to be the issue,” Barbante said. “We need a lot better production out of that spot than we’re getting right now.”

The other new additions are: outside marking back Natalie Troisi, outside marking back Shannon Gatz, outside marking back Kyle Freudenberg, stopper Jen Silleck, sweeper Lizzie Taylor, midfielder/forward Jessica Kwasnik, midfielder Sydney Sanders and midfielder Courtney Murphy.

“There might be some growing pains early on in the season,” Barbante said. “Hopefully we can correct them right away.”

BOB LIEPA FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, a junior midfielder, is one of Southold/Greenport's returning players.

Katy Smith had made her mark as a four-year varsity player for the Southold/Greenport Clippers. She played striker and center midfielder before her graduation from Southold High School in 2003. Now, she is back with the Clippers — as their coach.

“It’s a good feeling to be back on the soccer field,” said Smith, who takes the team over from Kevin McGoey, who went 15-14 in two years as coach.

The Clippers went 2-10 last year and did not have a junior varsity team.

Among the returning players are senior midfielder Kelly Bosco, senior defender Jessica Carlson, sophomore striker Justina Babcock and freshman striker Julie Van Gordon, who Smith said will make an impact. Also back are: senior striker Megan Melley, senior defender Meagan Glenn, junior midfielder Nicole Busso, junior midfielder Jessica Carr, freshman midfielder/defender Megan Van Bourgondien, freshman defender Isabelle Simon, junior defender/goalkeeper Shaniece Strickland, sophomore defender Britteny Bellomo, freshman midfielder Jasmine Fell, sophomore winger Cindy Van Bourgondien and freshman defender Ajsia Martocchia. Glenn, who had a knee injury, is waiting for medical clearance to practice.

The Clippers have a junior varsity team this year, and Smith indicated that the roster situation is fluid.

“I have told all the girls that anyone can be brought up at any time during the season,” she said. “I told them to keep working hard. Anyone can be brought up at any point.”

“It’s rebuilding,” she said. “I don’t have any worries or concerns about failure. I’m excited to be out there, and I want to rebuild the program.”

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07/26/11 11:55pm
07/26/2011 11:55 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Mattituck's Lauren Guja had both feet off the ground after launching one of her five shots against Rocky Point on Tuesday evening at Diamond in the Pines.

The Mattituck High School varsity girls soccer team has known Liz Lasota primarily as a defensive player, but it wasn’t always that way for Lasota. Before playing at this level, Lasota routinely played as a forward or central midfielder. Now, as the four-year varsity player prepares for her upcoming senior season, she is getting reacquainted with the other end of the field, and she likes it.

Lasota, who split her junior season at sweeper and central midfield, has been getting a look at forward with the Tuckers’ summer league team.

“To be honest,” she said, “I was put on defense for so long that I just want to go up and score goals.”

Because of work commitments, Lasota hasn’t played much with the Tuckers this summer, but she did make an impression Tuesday in her third appearance with the team. She scored twice — her only two goals of the summer — as the Tuckers closed out their Town of Brookhaven Summer League regular season with a 3-0 shutout of the Rocky Point Eagles at Diamond in the Pines in Coram. It was a must-win game for the Tuckers (3-5-2), who need help in order to reach the playoffs. They left the field Tuesday night not knowing whether they would have a playoff game on Thursday or not.

Lasota took five shots, tying her for the game-high with teammate Lauren Guja, and scored a goal on either side of halftime in the 60-minute contest.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Liz Lasota has acquired a taste for goal scoring. The Mattituck senior netted two goals against Rocky Point.

It’s still uncertain what position Lasota will play this fall.

“Liz is like the major utility player,” Mattituck Coach Ed Barbante said. “She started off in the back as a sweeper. Then she moved to center mid. So, she might be a forward. I don’t know. Nothing’s etched in stone yet.”

With her speed (Barbante said Lasota is one of the fastest players on the team along with Nicole Zurawski) and the ability to shoot with either foot, Lasota has shown she can play up top and give opposing defenders trouble. If Lasota is asked to be more of a scorer this year, well, that’s just fine with her.

“I love it,” she said. “I just love like being able to try and score because I feel I have more of a rage to want to go and score.”

Lasota opened the scoring in the 21st minute, putting away a ball from Alex Berkoski, the first of Berkoski’s two assists. Goalkeeper Cheyenna Hoffman got a hand on the ball, but was unable to prevent the hard shot from flying into the net.

The second Lasota goal made it 3-0 with 1 minute 51 seconds left in the match. Lasota latched onto a through ball from Guja and showed composure in finishing.

“It’s a good feeling,” Lasota said afterward. “It’s a really good feeling.”

It was the first time that Barbante, who missed five games this summer while away on a honeymoon, had seen Lasota play this summer. He liked what he saw. “She looked very good today,” he said.

Sandwiched in between the Lasota goals was a nice strike by Shelby Britt in the 44th minute. Berkoski laid off a ball for the junior, who found the right corner of the goal with her left foot.

“You can’t draw a more picture-perfect goal than that,” said Barbante.

The Tuckers looked good. Goalkeepers Abigail Graeb and Stephanie Reisenberg were so well-protected by their defense that neither needed to make a save. Mattituck outshot Rocky Point by a 12-1 count, and the Eagles (3-7) didn’t get their only shot until Whitney Owensby hooked a free kick wide to the right of Mattituck’s goal in the 51st minute.

The Tuckers are considerably changed. They lost 13 seniors, including some eight starters, from the team that walked off the field for the last time following a 1-0 loss to the Center Moriches Red Devils in last year’s Suffolk Class B final at Diamond in the Pines. That means more than a few positions are up for grabs. “A lot of positions are available,” said Barbante.

One of them could very well be won by Berkoski, a junior forward who underwent back surgery at the end of last season.

“She’s very smooth on the ball,” Barbante said. “She’s very confident with the way that she plays the game. She doesn’t overdo things. She simplifies the game.”

And then there is Lasota, an all-county player who would undoubtedly be an asset at just about any position.

Lasota plays on the front line for her club team, Sound Beach Barnsley, and has worked on things that a forward needs to, such as making different runs and creating space for herself.

You know, just in case.

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07/20/11 11:24am
07/20/2011 11:24 AM

GEORGE FAELLA PHOTO | Nikki Zurawski may be a freshman, but she has an extensive soccer background.

She may be listed as a freshman on the Mattituck High School girls soccer roster, but Nikki Zurawski plays beyond her years.

She is no nervous debutante or first-year player trying to impress her coach. She did that last year in the Town of Brookhaven Summer Soccer League.

This year, the 14-year-old Zurawski is one of the girls.

Well, she has had some help. Mattituck Coach Ed Barbante promoted Zurawski to the varsity as an eighth grader. And it certainly did not hurt that she played with a boys team, which helped make her a much more physical player. Add Zurawski’s natural ability and speed and you’ve got a promising soccer player.

“She’s a dynamite player,” Barbante said.

A nice compliment for a freshman.

“She was just way better than the other junior high kids,” he said. “She was dominant in junior high. She is very fast, as you could tell. One of our needs was we needed speed up top. She was able to fulfill that need with speed.”

Zurawski impressed Barbante when she performed for the Mattituck junior varsity team in last year’s summer league. “She was just motoring past people on the JVs last year,” he said.

Barbante brought her to the Tuckers’ preseason training camp. “She was one of the better players out there,” he said. “For me, it was a no-brainer to have her on the varsity last year. She stepped in and did a tremendous job.”

Zurawski received a great education as a player last year, learning the finer points of the game from upperclassmen.

“There were so many role models on the team last year — 13 seniors,” she said. “It was like every single person taught me something new. I learned new skills. My foot skills improved so much last year because everybody gave me different tips. So every time I got a tip I would just take it and I would practice it. It made me such a better player.”

So, there were no beginner’s jitters for Zurawski?

“Not really,” she said. “Everybody was letting me know that I’m supposed to be here, that I’m here for a reason. I started last year as a forward. It was nervous going into county finals because it was my first experience. But afterward, I grew as a player. I am not nervous anymore.”

GEORGE FAELLA PHOTO | Maryanne Fitzgerald of Mattituck shielded the ball from a Sachem East player on Tuesday.

She started playing soccer at the age of 6, learning the game from her older brother, Travis, three years her senior. She also practiced with his team.

“I got touches when I could,” she said.

When she isn’t performing for Mattituck, Zurawski plays with Brentwood United, a Long Island Junior Soccer League team that performs in the Northeast Region I League in the Girls Under-14 Division that played against teams from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York. Brentwood also has won a State Cup in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association competition.

Zurawski gained her physical toughness when she played with the Mattituck Fire when she was 9 and 10 years old. The team has since split into two, but the lessons Zurawski learned lived on.

“It made me a physical player,” she said. “When I got up to the girls league, they were really scared to tackle hard. Since I was so used to it with the boys, it definitely made me a physical player.”

And a versatile one as well. During Mattituck’s 1-0 loss to Sachem East in the Brookhaven Summer League at Diamond in the Pines in Coram on Tuesday night, Zurawski played in central midfield. She is a natural central defender, where she played against Centre Moriches in the Suffolk County Class B final last year.

“She did one heck of a job,” Barbante said. “She shut down a very powerful Center Moriches team. She’s very good at playing that position.”

Playing in the summer league has been vital for the Tuckers, who lost 13 players to graduation.

“It’s hard to come together as a team because it’s all new players,” Zurawski said while holding her 19-month-old brother, Sean. “Over this summer we have bonded. I learned how quickly you can bond if you get along. If you get down on each other, you do bond. You become a family. You do fight, but you get over it, you make up.”

Tuesday night’s game must have been a huge bonding experience because the Tuckers had only nine players show up. They played about half the game with eight players because Melissa Siegfried suffered an ankle injury.

“You definitely get frustrated,” Zurawski said. “A lot of times my frustration makes me play harder. You need to work harder, But it makes me better being frustrated. You get mad. You run after the ball faster, tackle harder, be more aggressive. You step up to the plate when you need to.”

Barbante understood the feelings.

“It’s frustrating for them, especially on a hot day like this,” he said. “It’s hard to beat a team 8 v 11 on a normal cool day. Throw in the heat now, 90 degrees. You’ve got those adverse conditions against you. … I don’t blame them because it’s tough. What I hope for is that I get out of the game with no injuries.”

After the game Barbante reminded his players that this was the summer league, not the regular school season.

“I told them: ‘This is not the season. You’re here to try to learn, learn each other’s styles,’ ” he said. “After graduating 13 seniors, we have a lot of new faces on the team that we have to get to know and play, learn the style and get some consistency. As a coach, I would like to see everybody here, all 20 players. In reality, it’s not going to happen. It’s been like this the five years I’ve been doing it.”

There are summer camps, vacations and job and other personal commitments.

“They’ve got things going on,” Barbante said. “Mattituck being such a small district, you’re pulling from the same kids who are playing basketball, softball, other things going on. They’ve got jobs. It’s not easy. … I’m hoping for a good showing on Thursday and try to steal a win there.”

Barbante was referring to Mattituck’s vital game against first-place Sayville (7-1-1, 15 points) at the Patchogue-Medford Youth Soccer Field in Medford. The loss left Mattituck (2-4-2, six points) in seventh place, with two games remaining until the playoffs. The top eight teams qualify. Teams are awarded two points, not three, for a win, and one for a tie.

“We have to get at least two or three points to get into the playoffs,” Barbante said. “I’m hoping to get a win and a tie, a tie against Sayville. Sayville is the No. 1 team. They’re just mowing through people like crazy.”