Fundamental, well-balanced play across the soccer field has been key to Mepham’s resounding success this season, but it’s the team’s ability to consistently find the back of the net that has taken it to the next level.
After dropping their season opener on Sept. 5, a nonconference game across crosstown rival Calhoun, 2-1, the Lady Pirates have ripped off a remarkable 12 straight wins to run away with first place in Conference AB-3 (10-0, 12-1 overall) with two games left in the regular season schedule this week.
In their 13 overall games, the team has outscored its opponents a lopsided 52-8. "They’re playing well together,” coach Janine Bizelia said. “And that sets a tone. Everybody moving the ball offensively up the field together gets us going, and we put balls in.”
The offensive attack often begins in the middle of the field, in the heart of the team’s 4-5-1 formation, with senior Annmarie Hagarty, junior Maddie Pascarella and freshman Briana Sayoc working together to transition the ball upfield.
More often than not, the ball finds its way to senior forward Sarah Bayer, who has exploded for 18 goals and 11 assists on the season. “We look to get her the ball,” Bizelia said. “With her speed, her nose for the goal, there’s a reason she has so many goals.”
An assortment of offensive weapons has helped Mepham light up the scoreboard. Sayoc, who earlier this year participated in the U.S. Under-15-Girls’ National Team camp in California, has collected seven goals and six assists. Another eight goals have come off the foot of junior Devon Schroeder. "She’s a threat because she can score from 40 yards out,” Bizelia said of Schroeder. “She has a tremendous shot."
The team has also received significant contributions from an unlikely source – Luciana Setteducate, an eighth-grader at Grand Avenue Middle School, who celebrated her 13th birthday last week. On the year, Setteducate has tallied eight goals and five assists. "She’s young but she plays so much older,” Bizelia said. “She has this vision for the game and is just so talented."
On the defensive end, Bizelia said the back line has been fortified by strong play from junior Lindsey Repper, and reliable goaltending by senior Victoria Castela has played a big part of the team’s six shutout victories.
Although the girls will face tougher competition in the postseason against teams from conferences AB-1 and AB-2, expectations remain high, said Bizelia. In their lone match against a conference AB-1 team last month, the girls handily defeated Wantagh, 3-0. “Our goal is to win the counties,” said Bizelia. "We're cautiously positive and confident. The playoffs will be a different level, but we have the talent to do well and I believe we can do well.”
With a core of mostly younger players, some of whom will remain with the team for three to four more years, Bizelia said the team is built for the long haul, with a run at a state title possibly within their reach. "Everybody is on the same page with a similar goal,” she said. “We just have to produce and make it happen."