Mindset critical for surging Burrell girls soccer team
For a team with designs on winning a WPIAL girls soccer championship, the importance of one regular-season game doesn’t rise above another.
That’s why, with maybe the biggest Section 2-AA game of the season coming Wednesday against Deer Lakes, Burrell kept its focus squarely on a nonsection game against Greensburg Central Catholic.
The mindset paid off for Burrell in that game, a 3-2 statement win over the top-ranked team in Class A, just as it has all season for the Bucs, who come into Wednesday’s crucial contest against Deer Lakes with a seven-game winning streak and a chance to win their first section title since 2005.
“The road has been laid for a few years now, so we’re just trying to capitalize on it now,” Burrell coach Gregg Dale said.
Burrell (9-1-1, 6-1) began an upward trajectory two seasons ago, when the Bucs snapped an eight-year playoff drought, and continued it last season with another postseason berth and an appearance in the Class AA quarterfinals, where they dropped a close game to Yough.
The success has continued even through three coaches -- Crystal Kosecki led the 2016 team, Shelby Noll coached last season and Dale moved from assistant to coach after Noll resigned early this season -- and even with the graduation of several key starters from the back-to-back playoff teams.
“Coming off a tough playoff loss last year, we hope to make it farther in the playoffs this year,” senior defender Kaylee Pagane said. “Especially after losing a lot of seniors last year, we knew we all had to pick it up this year if we wanted to go further in the playoffs.”
That began in the offseason, as the Bucs’ most experienced players emphasized the importance of conditioning before mandatory camp began in August.
“We just had to tell everybody to put an extra effort in because a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, summer practices don’t really matter,’ ” senior midfielder Skylar Dale said. “But when you get to mandatory, you (realize), ‘Oh, I should have went.’ (We were) just telling everyone to put extra effort in during practice, getting them there and trying really hard to make a big difference.
“During mandatory, we do a lot of running, a crazy amount, and if you don’t come to summer practices -- a few girls didn’t come, and it was not a good morning for them.”
Not only does Burrell believe it has the conditioning necessary to contend, the Bucs also appear to have the players. During their current winning streak, they’ve outscored their opponents, 43-6, including back-to-back victories of 11-0 over Valley and 13-0 win over East Allegheny last week.
The scoring is coming from all over: from senior Cara Fiore on the front line, and from midfielders such as Dale, junior Maia Ferra and sophomores Jordyn Kowalkowski and Annie Weimer.
Dale exceeded 10 goals already, and Ferra and Fiore are approaching that mark. Kowalkowski scored four goals against Valley and then tallied the tying and winning goals in the second half against Greensburg Central Catholic to help Burrell rally from a 2-0 deficit. Weimer also found the back of the net.
“In order to go deep in any playoffs, you have to have a good bench, due to injuries, due to the conditions (with) somebody getting tired or getting sore,” Gregg Dale said. “You need that deep bench to progress into the playoffs, and I think our young ladies have stepped up. A lot of those goals that were scored, they weren’t all varsity players. I believe that this is the future of the Lady Bucs. We try to get them in any chance we get, and I think they’re doing a great job.”
Pagane moved from fullback to center back to anchor Burrell’s defense, and junior Allison Vescio also is stepping up there. Junior Delaney O’Brien is more than capably filling the vacancy in goal left behind by Ally Klems’ graduation. Pagane also mentioned the team’s lone two freshmen -- Mackenzie Lippert and Kaitlyn Postupack -- as solid contributors to the team’s success.
While Burrell wasn’t looking past Greensburg Central Catholic to Deer Lakes, the matchup with the No. 3 Lancers (11-1, 8-0) gives the Bucs a chance to avenge their only loss and force a virtual tie atop the section.
“We’ll take it day by day, I guess,” Pagane said. “That’s all you can do.”