Moving to a higher conference can be humbling – a rude reality check that can put a team in its place.
The Baldwin girls’ soccer team will hear nothing of it.
Bumped up this year into the county’s highest conference – Nassau AA-1 – the Lady Bruins have nudged right in with the frontrunners, and two weeks into the season stand a half-game out of first place at 4-2 in AA-1, 5-2 overall.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done thus far,” said coach Darius Burton, whose team was runner-up last year in AA-2 at 6-4, and was a county quarterfinalist. “To be honest, I thought this year would be very tough, with all the strong teams we play. They’re all probably more skilled than us. Our heart and determination have carried us through.”
Along with heart and determination, other factors might go to explain Baldwin’s early success – namely having the conference’s top goalkeeper, as well as its leading goal-scorer. Junior goalie Megan Doyle – named Goalkeeper of the Year last season – is tops in AA-1 with 67 saves, against only four goals allowed, and has posted three shutouts, while sophomore forward Alyssa Hillian has picked up where she left off as an All-Class freshman and leads AA-1 with six goals.
“Megan’s off to an incredible start, again,” Burton said. “Alyssa’s speed and ability to get to the goal are uncanny. She’s dangerous one-on-one.”
Hillian’s Sept. 17 hat trick against visiting Great Neck South netted Baldwin a 3-0 non-conference win, offsetting a 3-0 loss to defending conference champ Massapequa two days beforehand. The victory also seemed to reset the Lady Bruins’ mojo, as three straight conference wins would ensue, including Baldwin’s 1-0 defeat of host Farmingdale last Friday, wherein Hillian assisted on midfielder Briana Lopez’s second half tally.
“We’ve won some close games because of defense,” Burton said. “It’s not just Megan Doyle out there. All our defenders have been great.”
Team co-captains alongside Doyle, seniors Nicolette Manzella, Elena Randolph, and Kaia Harrison — a Wake Forest basketball commit who didn’t play soccer last season – head the conference’s second-stingiest defense.
“Nicolette is running the show,” Burton said. “Elena’s been tremendous against a high level of talent. Kaia’s been a great help and a tremendous surprise, to be doing so well so early, in her second sport.”
Holding it down at both ends of the pitch, Baldwin has had to scramble somewhat to keep the middle together. “We’ve been doing the center midfield by committee,” Burton said, noting that Hillian has put in time away from forward at outside middie. “We’re still looking for our best midfield. But moving Hillian there is mainly so to get her more involved, more touches every game.”
Baldwin’s 2-1 road loss to Syosset last Saturday snapped its win streak at four. The Lady Bruins had led 1-0 at the half.
“I’m happy with our start,” Burton reiterated. “But things could easily change. This is the strongest conference and you can’t let up, can’t take anyone for granted.”