Baldwin rolls in top conference

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Baldwin girls’ soccer coach Darius Burton is looking for a big offseason to lead to a successful fall, although it faces an extremely challenging schedule featuring the top contenders in Nassau Class AA.

“We had a great summer,” said Burton, noting the Lady Bruins won the 16-team league. “It gives the girls confidence going into the top conference. I’m never one to shy away from the best competition. It’ll be a tough road, but we’ll compete.”

A year ago, Baldwin finished with 10 wins, Conference AA-2 runner-up, and split a pair of playoffs games defeating Plainview in the opening round while falling to Calhoun in the quarterfinals. With the departure of Calhoun, a perennial county contender, and a few others to Class A due to enrollment, the number of Class AA programs remaining — 14 — led Section VIII Athletics to create two 7-team conferences.

Baldwin was placed in AA-1 along with defending champion Massapequa, East Meadow, Hicksville, Port Washington, Syosset and Farmingdale. All has an automatic playoff berth, while only the winner of AA-2, which consists of Long Beach, Plainview, Oceanside, Freeport, Uniondale, Westbury and Hempstead, will advance to the playoffs.

“Defense and goaltending will be our strength and we also have our leading scorer back,” Burton said.

In the back, junior goalie Megan Doyle comes off an outstanding 2017 campaign. The Lady Bruins allowed the fewest goals of any team in the conference as Doyle earned Goalkeeper of the Year honors. “She’s a great athlete and did a great job,” Burton said of the newly appointed captain. “Her instincts are strong and she’s good with the ball in the air.”

The defense in front of Doyle features a few familiar faces — senior sweeper Nicolette Manzella spent some time in the zone last year and junior Elena Randolph returns at stopper. “Nicolette has a high soccer IQ and anticipates well,” Burton said. “Elena is very aggressive and strong on the ball. She wasn’t a starter at the beginning of last season but worked her way into a big role. She’s the perfect example of how hard work pays off.”

Baldwin has two new starting fullbacks, but they bring experience. Senior Kaia Harrison, a standout on the basketball court who’s headed to play hoops at Wake Forest, returns to the soccer pitch after skipping last season. She was part of the program in 2015 and ’16 and will get the toughest marking assignment, Burton said. “Nobody out works or out-hustles Kaia,” he said. Opposite Harrison is senior Amya Joseph, a transfer from Uniondale with a nice skill set.

Offensively, speedy forward Alyssa Hillian gave opponents headaches as a freshman last season, scoring 12 goals, and earned All-Class honors. She could see time in the midfield, where Burton is counting on juniors Diane Guinocha and Brianna Lopez, a converted defender, to work the outside. Junior Victoria Gauthier is an attacking center-middie who could see minutes at forward along with freshman Stephanie Hernandez, one of the offensive stars in summer league.