The Mattituck High School girls soccer team enters the season with some young ideas.
The Mattituck High School girls soccer team enters the season with some young ideas.
For five years — that’s right, five years — Nikki Zurawski has been a staple of the Mattituck High School girls soccer team. As an eighth-grader, Zurawski was brought onto a powerful Tuckers team. “I was a little munchkin on the team,” she recalled.
But she was a “munchkin” who could play. Zurawski not only played that season, but she started all but one game.
“We were very powerful, and Nikki came up as an eighth-grader and fit right into that team,” Mattituck’s athletic director, Gregg Wormuth, said. “So we knew at that there was something special, that she was going to be a special player for Mattituck.” (more…)
CLASS B SEMIFINALS | ROYALS 1, TUCKERS 0
Two days. Time was against the Mattituck girls soccer team to devise a plan to disrupt one of the most potent offenses in the county.
After Saturday’s overtime thriller against McGann-Mercy, the Tuckers returned to the practice field Monday with the realization that the top-seeded Port Jefferson Royals awaited Wednesday afternoon. (more…)
CLASS B PLAYOFFS | TUCKERS 3, MONARCHS 2
Mattituck coach Malynda Nichol presented freshman Jane DiGregorio two options early this season.
One would be to stay on the junior varsity, where as a quick, talented forward, she would undoubtedly score plenty of goals. The second option was to join the varsity, where her playing time would be limited, but she could experience the big club. (more…)
SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS B SEMIFINAL | RED DEVILS 2, TUCKERS 0
In what turned into her final high school soccer game, Mattituck senior goalkeeper Val Hommel made sure she saved her best for last. In fact, that was something that could be said about her teammates as well.
Hommel made a dozen saves to keep the Tuckers in the game. But as brilliantly as she played, Hommel proved to be mortal and could not stop everything that Center Moriches sent her way in the Suffolk County Class B semifinal match Tuesday night.
The Tuckers and Hommel held off the hosts until the final four minutes in what turned into a 2-0 season-ending loss.
The win boosted Center Moriches (11-5) into Friday night’s county final against Babylon at St. Joseph’s College. Mattituck (9-5-2) will have to wait until next year, while its seniors will look toward life beyond high school.
Hommel, who hopes to attend The Citadel next fall and become a Marine Corps officer, did just about everything in her power to extend the Tuckers’ season.
“We came into the game knowing that it definitely wasn’t going to be an easy one,” she said. “We played our hearts out and that’s what really matters.”
The Tuckers’ work ethic certainly did not escape Mattituck coach Malynda Nicol. When Hommel wasn’t making saves, her teammates were blocking countless shots in the penalty area, flicking the ball out of bounds or out of harm’s way to slow down the Red Devils.
“They’re a phenomenal team,” Nicol said of Center Moriches. “They have speed, every single position. They are skilled at every single position. My girls never gave up. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the win. But to hold them to 1-0, [until the final seconds], to show that for a team that was pretty superb.
“If you’ve got to lose, there’s not a better way to go out, saying that you left your hearts on the field and you played your butts off. You’re outmatched and you still never gave up and you had heart and passion and that’s something that’s hard to coach and it’s great to see they have that.
“I’m supremely proud of them. I wish we won, but I’m supremely proud of them.”
Hommel, who played part of the season with a broken finger and a shifted knee, kept the Tuckers within striking distance, especially with four high-level saves in the opening 13 minutes, on Pam Schenck, Casey Luongo, Catherine Nolan and Claire Brady.
“Val played a heck of a game, one of her best games all year and, unfortunately, one got by her,” Nicol said. ”Center Moriches has speed all over the field. If you get beat, it’s hard to chase to get back. There was a man who ended up being open and the goal went in.”
Nicol was talking about Brady, the senior midfielder who finally solved Hommel with 3:55 remaining in the match. Brady, who had given the Tuckers headaches all game by spearheading the attack and creating some close encounters in front of the net, put home a Schenck pass from point-blank range.
The Tuckers had an opportunity to equalize on a free kick by junior midfielder Nikki Zurawski, who has struck for some long-distance goals this season, but her attempt was blocked with 30 seconds remaining. Center Moriches then broke down the field quickly. Luongo rounded Hommel and tapped the ball into an empty net with 18 seconds left.
“I was coming out and the ball was outside the box and I couldn’t use my hand,” Hommel said. “I went to go kick it and she just dropped inside and scored.”
Regardless of the final goal, Nichol said she was very satisfied that the team made some great strides.
“I am proud of them coming together, for fighting adversity, for the injuries that we had, for so many of them not having a club team that they played together,” she said. “For some of them this was the first year they played together. What we did from the end of August until now makes me proud, makes me smile. It makes me happy that I’m their coach. And we’re looking forward to getting Center next year.”
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.”
Sometimes the wisdom of a decision isn’t fully appreciated until years after it is made.
No need to tell that to the Southold/Greenport girls soccer coach, Katy Smith. Smith recognized that bringing five freshmen onto her first varsity team three years ago would pay off in the long run. “I did something right in bringing those freshmen up,” she said.
That payoff could come this year for the Clippers (8-4-2 last season), who have missed reaching the playoffs by one game in each of the past two years. The team last made it to the playoffs in 2009.
“I think we’re finally ready to make it to playoffs,” winger Cindy Van Bourgondien proclaimed. “It’s been so long.”
And the Clippers are still a young group, with only three seniors: all-conference center midfielder Justina Babcock, winger Leah LaFreniere and Van Bourgondien. Babcock and Van Bourgondien are entering their fourth varsity season.
Isabella Simon, a junior sweeper, was an all-league pick last year. The defense, including stopper Rosemary Volinski and fullback Michaela Manno, will protect goalkeeper Masha Winkler, who was promoted to the varsity team last year as a freshman. “She definitely rose to the challenge,” said Smith.
Julie Van Gorden, a winger/striker, and Megan Van Bourgondien, a center midfielder who is Cindy’s cousin, were starters last season. The Clippers hope Laurel Sutton and Michelle Innamorato will add punch to the front line. Two players who sat out last season with injuries, winger Ajsia Martocchia and forward Jasmine Fell, are undoubtedly eager to play again.
“I think the chemistry is tremendously better,” Smith said. “They’re all pulling their own weight.”
“Their physical ability is there, and the skill,” she added. “I really look forward to seeing what these girls do.”
Malynda Nichol is no stranger to adversity, and that may be why she is the new Mattituck coach, taking over for Pete Hansen, who left the school after one year.
Adversity is part of the package. It’s something the Tuckers have to deal with nowadays.
The fact that the Tuckers graduated 12 players from last year’s team may be the least of their problems. Once a virtual soccer factory that received a steady supply of talented players through club soccer, that supply has dwindled dramatically for a variety of reasons. Last year Mattituck did not have enough players for a junior varsity team, so the school fielded only a varsity team. A considerable number of players saw little or no playing time for the senior-loaded team. Mattituck went 7-8, losing to Babylon in a Suffolk County Class B outbracket game.
While Mattituck has a junior varsity team, coached by Kim Gerstung, back this year, the varsity players bring a mixed bag of talent and experience. “We see some good things already,” Nichol said, “but we have a lot of different levels.”
Nichol played at a high level herself. She was a player in the Olympic Development Program, a forward for Penfield High School outside of Rochester and an outside midfielder for George Washington University. She also played semipro soccer for the Rochester Ravens, but her playing career was hampered by six knee operations.
Now, in her first high school varsity coaching job, she is facing a new challenge.
Mattituck is counting heavily on two juniors, sweeper Nicole Zurawski and forward Abby Graeb, for their abilities and experience. The rest of the players have seen little to no varsity action up to this point. Zurawski, who is already in her fourth varsity year, is regarded as an NCAA Division I-caliber player.
Catherine Hayes, a freshman midfielder, sat out last season with a concussion. Also seen as potential starters are stopper Kyle Freudenberg, defender Madison Kent, defender Sara Pfennig, midfielder/forward Patricia Brisotti, midfielder Sam Stapon, midfielder Kellie Stepnoski, goalkeeper Val Hommel, midfielder Amy Macaluso and forward/midfielder Rachel Winkler.
Nichol said she is unsure where Courtney Murphy, who is recovering from a hip flexor injury, will play. The team has other options in forward Isabel Torgrove, goalkeeper Emma Fasolino and stopper/midfielder Hannah Fitzgerald.
“It’s taking some time, but the girls are showing great promise,” Nichol said. “I see the passion is there, and I’m excited.”
She added: “They want to win and they want to learn. We want to bring the soccer program back up to where it was.”