Unbeaten Burrell ready for obstacles in WPIAL Class AA girls soccer playoffs

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Sunday, October 20, 2019 | 5:52 PM


Burrell capped its regular season last Tuesday with a 5-1 victory over playoff-bound Highlands.

Then the Bucs, who were 16-0 after defeating the Rams and won the program’s first section championship since 2005, settled in to find out where they would be seeded in the WPIAL Class AA girls soccer playoffs.

With an undefeated record, many of the players were surprised to receive a No. 4 seed.

But after taking a step back to look at the big picture, senior Allie Vescio said the Bucs are excited to be in position to make a title run and ready to open the playoffs Monday at 6 p.m. against No. 13 Mt. Pleasant on the turf at Kiski Area.

“Honestly, we’re OK with it,” Vescio said. “We want to show we’re ready for this opportunity and are going to play hard. We just want to play the way we always play and, hopefully, get a win and move on.”

Burrell finished the regular season as one of only two unbeaten and untied WPIAL girls teams. Freedom (18-0), the No. 1 seed in Class A, also accomplished the feat.

“We have to refocus and look at the playoffs as a new season,” junior Jordyn Kowalkowski said. “Every team is given a chance to do big things.”

The Bucs hope to make a deeper run this year after bowing out in the quarterfinals the past two seasons.

“We are ready to play any team at any point along the way,” said senior goalkeeper Delaney O’Brien, who, along with a stingy defensive corps, held opponents to seven goals through 16 games.

“We are playing really well right now, and we trust each other to get the job done.”

The mission is heightened for the team’s nine seniors, who have helped Burrell qualify for the playoffs all four years.

“We’ve done so much as a team already this season and won the section for the first time in a while,” senior Megan Malits said. “We’re ready to go further than any other Burrell team has gone. But we understand we can’t take anything for granted, and we know that to get to our goal of a WPIAL title, we have to face a lot of great competition.”

Mt. Pleasant (10-6) finished tied with Brownsville for fourth place in Section 3. The Vikings lost to Brownsville in their section finale last Tuesday to create the tie and add an additional team to the playoff field.

That reduced the number of first-round byes from four to three, and Burrell was slotted to play in the first round.

“Mt. Pleasant played in a lot of close and competitive games, so we know they will be ready to go Monday,” Burrell coach Frank Nesko said. “We’re going to have to bring our offensive game and be prepared for a battle.”

The Bucs rented Kiski Area’s field for practice the past several days to get into top form with the speed and spin of the ball on a field-turf surface. Burrell played its home games on the bumpy natural-grass field at Buccaneers Stadium.

“We were happy when we found out we were going to play there,” Vescio said. “It’s close to home, and a lot of us have played there before. We hope to have a big crowd.”

In addition to limiting opponents’ scoring, the Bucs offense was lethal in the regular season, tallying 5.6 goals a game.

Vescio led the way with 27. Kowalkowski delivered 17, and Malits and senior forward Danica Johnson scored 13 apiece.

Burrell scored seven times in a late-season victory over section rival Freeport and had five goals in an early-September triumph over Deer Lakes. The Yellowjackets and Lancers finished tied for second in Section 2 with 9-3 records.

“There are heightened expectations for the team now that the playoffs have arrived,” Nesko said. “But the bottom line is that it’s time to just go play soccer and play well like they have all season. They’ve been focused in their preparation. Now, it’s time to see what they can do.”

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

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