EL girls soccer sets sights on title run

Sarah Woltzak beats the defense on her way to her first-half goal during East Longmeadow’s Sept. 27 game against Agawam.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — The East Longmeadow girls soccer team has made a very clear statement: They won’t settle for anything less than a sectional title.

According to senior Alyssa Balboni, setting that goal has gone a long way in a very successful early stretch for the Spartans.

“We finally realized what our goal for the season was and that’s what we’re focused on right now. That goal is winning Western Mass.,” she said.

Head Coach Jenny Maurer, in her first season at the helm, said that while setting the goal is fine, putting the work in to make it happen is the most important thing and that is where her team is excelling at this point.

“They want it so bad and nothing is going to get in their way,” she said. “On the field, whether it’s a practice or a game, they are leaving it all out there.”

The learning experiences from last season in which the Spartans went 9-6-3 and were bounced by Pittsfield in the first round of the playoffs have led to better play in 2011, which is only building the team’s confidence.

“We took everything that we learned last year and we’ve been finding ways to apply it this year,” senior Sarah Waltsak said. “We’ve been working very hard at making sure we learn from every game.”

One of the biggest lessons learned thus far has been patience.

“We have been very good at being patient, not rushing things and waiting for the shot,” Waltsak said.

East Longmeadow’s early-season schedule was anything but easy with opponents including Ludlow, Longmeadow and Minnechaug. However, despite the challenges, the Spartans stayed unbeaten throughout the stretch.

The Spartans got a big shot in the arm on Sept. 27 when they took on a once-beaten Agawam High School team that has its own postseason aspirations, but Balboni was quick to put it in perspective.

“Every game is our biggest test and we just need to take them one at a time,” Balboni said. “Agawam is a very good team and we knew they would fight to the end. For us, being 5-0 is better than being 4-1.”

East Longmeadow took an early lead on Waltsak’s first-half goal when she beat her defender and sent a shot low to the corner.

Agawam bounced back with a tying goal just more than five minutes into the second half, but Ashley Horrington scored on a feed from Alyssa Hyland with 26:53 remaining to re-take the lead and Jessica Kazyaka scored an insurance goal with 17:50 left in the game.

With a strong defensive effort that kept the ball on Agawam’s side of the field for the majority of the game, aggressive midfielders who won every 50-50 ball and forwards who were not afraid to stretch the defense to set up shots, the Spartans dictated the game for long periods of time. That kind of effort is evidence of the team’s development, Maurer said.

“I think they are playing very well right now,” she said. “The growth from last season to this year has just been tremendous.”

Maurer also lauded her team’s ability to communicate and work through adversity; something she said is a credit to their personalities.

“The chemistry on this team is just fantastic,” she said. “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, these girls look out for each other.”

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