The Sacred Heart High School girls’ soccer team’s record isn’t what the squad wanted it to be this year.
The Lions have struggled with youth and a lack of depth to a 2-13 mark, but a bright spot has been senior Amanda Buirch, who returned to the pitch after taking a year off.
“I decided to take soccer off and take a break and I thought I wasn’t going to miss it and then I started to miss it,” Buirch said.
Buirch, who is also a standout basketball player for Sacred Heart, scored the game-winner in the team’s win over Cape May Tech on Oct. 3.
“I’m happy, I missed it, I’m glad I came back for my senior year,” Buirch said.
Her athleticism lets coach Esa Staples put her all over the field, but coming back didn’t just happen naturally. Buirch said she had to put in extra time to regain her skills.
“Taking a year off, actually almost two, it kind of killed me,” Buirch said. “I had to start learning how to kick the ball farther and shoot the ball right and everything. It took me a while, but I did it just like basketball, I went out after practice, worked on my shot, dribbled through cones and all that stuff.”
Coming back and just being a body wasn’t an option for the competitive Buirch.
“I had to,” Buirch said about putting in the extra work. “I didn’t want to play like I’ve never played before. I knew I had to step up, so I decided I had to go work harder.”
Especially with a young team, Buirch’s presence has been valuable.
“I’m glad she’s back,” Staples said. “She helps us. She helps us with leadership, she helps us by example.”
Fellow senior Tyler Aulffo and Buirch stand out in Sacred Heart games. The two most experienced players, they never gave up on a game or the season, regardless of the team’s record.
“They go out there and play hard every game,” Staples said.
Staples said he’s been impressed with the resolve shown by the team.
“That’s going to help them later in life,” Staples said. “Yeah, I coach soccer, but it’s about life skills. What they’ve learned in this season (is) just how to persevere. You’re going to have down times and you can’t give up and that’s how they’ve been all year. All my seniors have been like that.”
Coming up big
Delsea has put teams on notice this season. The Crusaders have knocked off both Williamstown and Clearview this year. Both times, it was the second meeting between the two Tri-County Conference Royal Division foes. It’s been more than 10 years since the Crusaders beat the Pioneers, which they did on Tuesday night.
“I just think, with this team, when we’re playing our game, the sky is the limit,” Delsea coach Misty Russo said.
At 8-9-1 and a No. 8 seed in the Group III South playoffs, Delsea might not seem like a contender on paper, but the wins over quality opponents, mixed with solid postseason showings each of the last three years, has the Crusaders confident.
“I’ve gone into the playoffs hoping for the best, but knowing, realistically, we’re probably going to be outclassed,” Russo said. “But looking at this team, I don’t feel that.”
Last year, Delsea lost to eventual Group III state champion Moorestown just 1-0 in the first round. The year before, the Crusaders lost a one-goal game as a No. 11 seed and in 2009, they lost in double overtime against the No. 1 seed.
One-goal games have been a sort of tradition. Of Delsea’s nine losses this year, seven have been one-goal games.
Vineland’s biggest win of the year came from the head of an unlikely hero. Senior forward Wendy DeLouise hadn’t seen a minute of game time in high school before this season due to injuries. So when she scored both goals in the Fighting Clan’s 2-1 win over Our Lady of Mercy last week, it was a great comeback story.
DeLouise tore her anterior cruciate ligament twice, then suffered a concussion while recovering her freshman year and hadn’t been cleared until this season.
“Sitting out was horrible, it was painful,” DeLouise said. “But I kept working, building up my strength. I missed it, this is my home, this is me. A lot of people said I was never going to play again. But I worked so hard to get here, I’m so happy.”
DeLouise slowly worked herself up to playing more minutes. Because she hadn’t done anything athletic for so long, her stamina wasn’t where it needed to be to play even half of a game. Against OLMA, she was in for more than half of the 80-plus minutes though.
Unfortunately, DeLouise paid a price for the biggest game of her career. She was back on the sidelines for Wednesday’s game against Sacred Heart with a head injury. Coach Carol Belfi said she’s maintaining hope DeLouise can play in the team’s Group IV South playoff game against Lenape.
The Fighting Clan players participated in the “Marking Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk” in Ocean City on Sunday. Through sales of bracelets and other items, the team raised $500 to donate toward breast cancer research.
1. OLMA (16-1) — Villagers nabbed the top seed in Non-Public B South.
2. Millville (9-6-1) — Drew a familiar foe in Egg Harbor Township for the playoffs.
3. Vineland (9-6) — Only team to beat OLMA this year.
4. Delsea (8-9-1) — Crusaders beat Clearview for a huge confidence boost entering the playoffs.
5. Schalick (9-7) — Hosting a playoff game isn’t bad for a team assumed to be rebuilding.