Bulldogs eye state title

MANCHESTER - Last year, the Burr and Burton Academy girls soccer team's season ended with a loss to U-32 in the quarterfinals. Coming into this season, team captains Maggie Oliver, Hayley Sabol and Daisy Sullivan said the team has one goal in mind.

"[A] State championship. We want to win a state championship," said Sullivan. "We at least want to get past the second round because we've only made it up to the second round until now so hopefully we'll get a little further than that."

Sabol shared similar thoughts.

"I think everyone feels the same amount of desire to win a state championship. We're really hungry for that," she said. "The northern teams I think are going to be a big challenge. The northern teams play each other all year round and their level of competition is a little greater than ours. So when it comes to postseason and playoffs that will be a really big challenge for us to adapt to that."

One of the more noticeable changes for the Bulldogs - who finished with an 11-5 record last year - has taken place on the sidelines where Suzanne Mears has taken over for long time coach Dan DeForest who retired last year after 27 years as coach of the varsity girls team.

The Bulldogs are returning the core of last year's team after losing Katie Bourque, Kate Cottrell, Emma Hallet, Katy Jones, Lauren Keyes, Maggie Penkoff, and Devon Thiele. What's more, Mears said there was a wealth of talent this year.

"Selecting my team was difficult because we have that much talent and I can say that with confidence," said Mears. "There's a great JV program going on right now and this incoming class was a big class and [there are] some talented girls."

Along with Oliver, Sabol and Sullivan, Sarah Alpert, Aggie Bisselle, Lucy Bisselle, Stephanie Boucher, Megan Grabher, Jordan Harmon, Caitlin Merrill, Tess Pollard and Deidre Walsh are returning as well as Joanna Jorgensen and Samantha Sullivan who return at the keeper position.

There are also several new faces on this year's squad with the additions of Arianna Blanchard, Bella Dworkin, Una Langran, Alison Leiter, Kate Lochner, Sara Lochner, Georgia Lord, Sophie Miles, and Hannah Pinkus.

This year's team not only has a great deal of depth coming off the bench, Mears said, but just two weeks into preseason, she said the team seems as though they have been playing together for a while.

So far this season, Mears said that while leadership has already been demonstrated by the upperclassmen, several of the younger members of the team have also stepped up.

"The incoming class and my juniors, freshmen, they're stepping up as well and they're being leaders on the field too," said Mears. "They're doing that with communication and moving off the ball. So, I would say leadership is coming from all over and I think that's what you want to see in a team."

Another significant change the captains noted this year was the greater emphasis that has been placed on conditioning - something Sullivan said has already seemed to make a difference in the scrimmages the team has played so far in preseason.

"In these past scrimmages we've just been running around our opponents and just tiring them out completely because we've been able to sustain ourselves, but midway through the second half they're beat," she said.

Given the nature of the sport, Mears indicated that conditioning could play a vital role in the team's success.

"I've said to them we can control how fit we are and I believe that," said Mears. "We may not be the most skilled on the field, but we can absolutely control how fit we are and I'm a huge proponent of conditioning and being fit because this is a long lasting, high endurance game I think that that can only be a positive and be in our favor, whoever we're matched up against."

Oliver also indicated that the increased focus on conditioning is expected to continue.

"It's not like after preseason conditioning is over. I mean preseason is pretty much over and today we did 12 minutes of running, you know of nonstop running," said Oliver after practice on Tuesday. "We're going to keep conditioning all through the season and through playoffs."

With the season set to open against Hartford on Friday at BBA, Mears said she feels fortunate to take over a program with this much talent.

"It excites me. Honestly I looked forward to the start of preseason for months, really since the day I accepted the position," said Mears. "The fact that I got to walk into this situation, A. I'm honored and B. I'm just so thrilled and excited because we have such potential. They're a great group, they work really hard and they're improving everyday."

Friday's game against Hartford begins at 4:30 p.m.

Follow on Twitter @BrandonCanevari


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