To call the Plainfield High School girls soccer team’s 4-3 start a dramatic turnaround would actually be an understatement.
The Cardinals had won a grand total of 14 games since the program was resurrected seven years ago and had won just twice since 2008. Considering Plainfield was not only winless in 2010 but didn’t score a single goal, what the Cardinals are doing this year is downright amazing.
Coach Carol Lynn Taffaro credits a new way of thinking for the sudden success. Gone are the days of running a JV program when the athletic population can barely support one team. Gone are the days of players showing up when school starts and joining the team. And gone are the days of being so tired two minutes into games that the final score looks more like a football result.
“We took the summer and we had seven coaches and parents from club teams that dedicated their time working with these girls on ball touches and conditioning,” Plainfield coach Carol Lynn Taffaro said. “If you couldn’t do a mile-and-half run, you weren’t making the team. The players that came up and the players that came out are more of a dedicated group of soccer player. It’s not just about girls just wanting to play ball.”
With only three returning starters in senior midfielders Charisse Roberts and Aslin Cabrera – who are two of only three seniors on the squad – and junior midfielder Ailin Linares, the new mindset has, clearly, gone a long way.
After scoring only eight goals all of last season and finishing 1-13, Plainfield was averaging 2.5 goals per contest through the first six games, having scored seven in one match. The Cardinals were shut out 6-0 by Edison on Tuesday.
The offense is led by Linares, who has scored four goals, freshman striker Keyanna Bagley and sophomore Wendy Reyes, who had tallied a team-high six goals entering Tuesday’s contest.
Iasha Burroughs, a junior stopper, has been key to a defense that has allowed just 1.4 goals per game against county competition after allowing 5.1 per contest last season. Speedy freshmen Melonie Davis and Natalie Munoz have also contributed from the outside.
While Taffaro admits the move down to the Valley Division has helped, the Cardinals are still beating teams that blew them out in recent seasons. With that, the goal is no longer winning “a few games.”
“The focus and the dedication, it’s right on point where we want to be,” Taffaro said. “So am I looking for a .500 season? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, and we hope for better.”
While Plainfield builds its new identity, another program that has struggled in recent seasons could be on the uptick, as well.
North Plainfield, which won six games last season, marking its highest victory total in nearly two decades, is off to a 3-0-1 start, including a draw with Skyland Conference Valley Division contender Gill St. Bernard’s.
And while the Canucks have yet to reach the teeth of their schedule, first-year coach Charlie Rowan has clearly been able to build on the work former coach Kathy Dailey put in during the previous three seasons that saw North Plainfield improve each year.
With plenty of winnable games remaining on the Canucks schedule, the six-win mark should easily be eclipsed.
The season’s first major championship tournament kicks off this weekend as the Somerset County Tournament gets underway with four first-round games.
The Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex and Union County tournaments will be seeded early next week. The HWST gets started with preliminary games next Thursday, while the UCT begins with play-in games on Saturday, Oct. 6.
The Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament isn’t scheduled until mid-October.
Walk this way
South Plainfield will be participating in the annual Brain Aneurysm Awareness Walk on Saturday in Long Island, NY to support Tigers coach Danielle Chiera, herself a survivor of an aneurysm.
Game of the week
Pingry at Montgomery, 6 p.m. Tuesday: The first meeting of the year between these powers features a rematch of last year’s SCT final.