District girls soccer: Benjamin continues to prove it's among Florida's best
PALM BEACH GARDENS – Benjamin girls soccer proved why they are one of – if not “the” – team to beat in the state of Florida on Friday night, crushing Lincoln Park Academy by a 6-0 score-line.
It was all hands on deck, and frankly, all ball in net for the Buccaneers squad (11-0-1), whose offense was crisp and precise, and whose defense left Friday’s game without breaking too much of a sweat.
The Bucs got a brace from freshman Sofia Balistreri, while Vanessa Zito and Kenna Kujawa linked up for a score early in the match.
Sam Woods scored on a header from Lily White, who tallied another assist plus a goal of her own. The Buccaneers bonanza was capped off by a goal from Cameryn Grissman, her first goal of the season – and it just so happened to come on her birthday.
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Here are three takeaways from Benjamin’s dominant district semifinals victory.
1. Lily White continues dominant season with three-point performance
If the Buccaneers go as far as Lily White takes them, they’ve still got a ways to go.
White, of course, is far from the only reason for Benjamin’s success – Friday’s total team effort proved evidence of that – but the star junior has been a catalyst for the Bucs for three years, and she’s only getting better.
She added a goal and two assists to her season tallies on Friday, including a beauty of a corner kick to set up Sam Woods’ header.
That makes it 11 goals, sharing a team lead with freshman Sofia Balistreri, to pair with a team-high nine assists.
Out of all the work she put in during Friday’s match, it was Grissmasn’s goal that she said was her favorite.
“It was my corner in the second half and it’s her birthday today, White said. “It’s her first goal this season and she’s a senior, so the atmosphere was great and we were all really happy for her.”
It’s the humility and camaraderie – unbridled support of each others’ accomplishments – displayed by White and others on Benjamin that becomes infectious, proving above all that the squad values team goals above individual accomplishments.
2. Defense unworked, but a quiet strength for Bucs
With the Buccaneers offense grabbing the headlines on Friday, it took all the pressure off the defense. Benjamin was able to fluidly rotate midfielders upfield and keep their defensive lines high.
Center-back Madelyn Popilek saw Friday’s easier win as a chance to hone in on some skill-play and focus on their precision without the stress of a super tight contest.
“I think it was a good opportunity for us to work on making plays and passing,” Popilek said. “Overall, I think the team worked really well together, and it was just a good way to step into the postseason and go off on a really big win.”
While offenses routinely get more attention, the Bucs defense has only allowed a total of two goals across the year, both coming in a 2-2 tie against American Heritage-Plantation.
“Our defense has been amazing all season and really the heartbeat of our team,” Carney said. “They keep us in it. When there are breakdowns, they’re the ones that have to do the dirty work.”
For the defense to work so well as a unit, part of that, at least, comes from the team’s chemistry, something that has evolved into a strong bond.
“We’ve always been a really tight team, and this year, we’re just as close,” Popilek said. “We have a lot of fun playing together. We spend as much time as we can together and it allows us to work really well together.”
3. District championship looms with target on Benjamin’s back
Benjamin will welcome Cardinal Newman to town next Tuesday, and with it, their playoff run will continue as teams try to give the top-seeded Bucs everything they’ve got.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Carney said of Friday’s semifinal. “We know the target is on our back. Everyone has been talking about it – we don’t like to talk about the undefeated season.
But though they may not speak about the elephant in the room, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And with every squad gunning for them, the Bucs know that expectations are high for each performance.
“We performed really well last year, so people are going to expect us to do the same, if not better,” White said. “But I feel like we’re up for it. We know our ability. We’re a strong team and I feel very confident that this team can go far this year.”
For Popilek, leader of the defense, the belief in the Bucs’ ability is strong – and the prospect of playoffs after the districts certainly don’t seem too lofty for a team of this caliber.
“There is a lot of pressure on us since we went to state finals last year, but I think we have a really good opportunity to go as far as we did last year, just based on the teams we could possibly play and how our team is looking this year,” Popilek said.
That journey begins next week.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Benjamin girls soccer continues to prove it's among Florida's best