The Baldwin girls’ soccer team’s first foray in Nassau County’s top conference was a huge success despite last Sunday’s heartbreaking playoff loss and that high level of play could continue with many of its impact players returning next season.
The Lady Bruins’ Cinderella season ended with a 2-1 loss to East Meadow in the Class AA semifinals at Cold Spring Harbor, but an 8-5-2 record and a playoff victory already under their belts has given the coaches and players confidence that they can compete with the upper-echelon teams in the county.
“I think we turned a lot of heads,” coach Darius Burton said. “We ended up finishing third in the conference [and] I think we had some great victories.”
A 3-1 victory over Syosset on Oct. 18 earned Baldwin the No. 3 seed in the Nassau AA tourney and the girls went on to defeat sixth-seeded Port Washington 1-0 six days later on a goal by Brianna Lopez with 7:55 left in the game. Defenseman Nicolette Manzella skied a free kick from midfield and Lopez headed the descending ball into the net seconds before the Lady Vikings’ goalkeeper reached her.
East Meadow scored first when a corner kick traveled across the goalmouth and headed in by Kayla Leary with 25 minutes left in the first half. Emma Terio gave the Lady Jets a 2-0 lead in the second half before Baldwin’s Janelle Harty tallied her first goal of the season with four minutes left to cap the scoring.
“We had to play our A-plus game today to beat East Meadow and unfortunately we didn’t,” Burton said after the game. “They basically possessed the ball the majority of the game. They controlled the tempo of the game.”
The outcome was especially disappointing for the Lady Bruins because they handed East Meadow one of its two losses, 2-0, on Sept. 21 and also battled the Lady Jets to a scoreless tie on Oct. 10. The first matchup made Burton realize that his team could be competitive against the top competition upon their move to Conference AA1.
“The teams we were playing are soccer schools [with] girls that play soccer all year round,” he said. “We knew it was going to be an uphill battle and the girls really fought hard and played hard for 80 minutes. I was proud of them.”
Many of the players were rewarded for their efforts with postseason awards. Kaia Harrison and Manzella earned All-County honors, Alyssa Hillian, Megan Doyle and Elena Randolph were All-Classification, A’mya Joseph and Brianna Lopez were among the All-Conference players and Natalie Membreno was named a scholar athlete.
The team will lose six seniors, including four starters, to graduation next year. The defense will especially be hit hard with the losses of Manzella, Joseph, and Harrison, but the dependable Randolph will anchor next year’s corps.
Also returning is Hillian, a sophomore who led the team with 11 goals and 13 points and Doyle, who was among the Nassau County goalkeeping leaders with 117 saves while posting seven shutouts.