Burrell girls soccer in top form heading into tough stretch of games

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | 8:29 PM

The Burrell girls soccer team suffered a 2-0 setback at Section 2-2A rival Knoch on Sept. 9.

The Bucs haven’t lost since.

They are 5-0-1 over their past six games. They have bolstered their playoff resume and also put themselves in strong standing for one of the section’s four automatic WPIAL berths.

A challenging three-game stretch starts Friday at Shady Side Academy and continues Monday at home against section leader Freeport and Wednesday at Deer Lakes.

“These next couple of games are definitely what we need right now as we look down the road and into the playoffs,” said sophomore midfielder Miley Kariotis, who leads the team with eight goals and is second to fellow sophomore midfielder Maggie Nesko with seven assists.

“We are so focused on our practices. We came out (Thursday) to practice with a lot of energy. We have high hopes for the next couple of weeks.”

Nesko owns a team-best eight helpers for the Bucs, who improved to 7-2-2 overall and 5-2-1 in section play with Wednesday’s 5-2 victory over Highlands. Nestled in the six-game unbeaten streak is a 1-0 nonsection win over a South Park team which is 9-3 overall and undefeated in Section 4-2A at 6-0.

Burrell hopes to turn around its fortunes against Shady Side Academy. In the past two years as section opponents, the Bucs went 0-3-1 against the Bulldogs.

“They are kind of the monkey on our backs,” Burrell coach Frank Nesko said. “We’ve never beaten them.”

The Bucs can clinch no worse than fourth place in the section and a spot in the WPIAL playoffs for the seventh year in a row with a win against Freeport (9-0, 6-0).

The Yellowjackets shut out Burrell, 2-0, when the teams met at Freeport on Sept. 7.

“I don’t think we have to change anything schematically from the first game,” coach Nesko said. “We just have to be ready to play.”

Kariotis scored Burrell’s only goal in a 1-0 win over Deer Lakes on Sept. 12, and she also tallied the game winner against South Park.

“Miley has really raised her game this season,” coach Nesko said. “We try to run a lot through her and have asked her to do a ton, and she’s held up so far.”

The Bucs, coach Nesko said, battled injury issues earlier in the season but have started to come around in that regard.

Right off the bat in the first preseason scrimmage, Burrell faced adversity as standout all-section junior forward Tessa Mathabel suffered an MCL injury. She had surgery and was lost for the season.

“She’s a firecracker out there and causes havoc,” coach Nesko said. “Losing her was a big blow to the team.”

At the Baldwin tournament, sophomore midfielder/forward Gianna Sever sustained a sprained ankle, and senior midfielder/defender Noel Bigenho went down with a concussion. Both have since returned to the lineup.

“The one thing we had to adjust to the first time we played Knoch and Freeport was not having the girls on the outside who could keep the ball and do something with it,” coach Nesko said. “We’ve gotten fortunate to get healthy again. We moved girls around and found right spots for people.”

Senior defender/midfielder Maggie Omencinski, coach Nesko said, has been in and out of the lineup dealing with a knee issue.

“We’re just trying to manage what she does so that she can be as available as possible,” he said.

Coach Nesko said senior Ali Hughes has played at a high level all season as she splits time between her duties in goal and in the midfield.

“Last year was a season where Ali was asked to do so much in goal just to keep us in games,” he said. “Going into this year, I was hoping that if we could be stout from forward to the back line and not give up so many quality chances to the other team, we were going to roll the dice with Ali in the field.

“And we’ve seen a lot of improvement from our backup goalie, (sophomore) Dana (Barczykowski). She’s young still, but I don’t think there is anyone who is Ali Hughes in goal.”

Coach Nesko pointed to a save made by Hughes in net against Knoch in Monday’s 0-0 tie that went a long way to helping Burrell earn a valuable point in the section standings.

“That save she made on a rocket shot from Macrina Robb she had no business making, but she made it,” coach Nesko said. “It was pure athleticism. She came out of nowhere, got a hand on it and punched it out. She is such an irreplaceable player. I keep telling her that I wish I had two of her.”

Hughes said that whether she’s tasked with keeping balls out of her net or helping set up a rush to score a goal, she just wants to help the team win. To that extent, she wants to make sure she’s there to help Barczykowski in her personal improvement.

“We’ve worked together in practices, and I will give her some advice and pointers in warm-ups before games she is starting,” Hughes said. “She has a lot of talent, and it’s nice to see her come along like she has.”

Coach Nesko said he was impressed by both the Bucs and Knights players in Monday’s 100-minute battle.

“It was a pretty even game,” he said. “Both teams could make a case that they should’ve won the game. We had a chance on the doorstep. All we had to do was tap it in. Our forward didn’t make a mistake. Their keeper just made a great save. It was just a really good game between two solid teams.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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