By Dave Dyer
---- — “Beyond expectations” doesn’t begin to describe the magical season enjoyed by the Austin Prep girls soccer team, which will face Sutton Saturday in the Division 4 state finals in Worcester.
Coming off a 3-9-4 season, the goals of the team were modest, to say the least.
“We just wanted to win as many games as possible,” said North Reading’s Olivia Zizza, one of four captains and the team’s starting goalie. “If we made the tournament, that’d be great, but we just wanted to win as many games as we could.”
Well, the Cougars not only made the tournament but they’ve compiled an 18-1-3 record and have breezed through the tournament, only giving up one goal and defeating Ursuline 2-0 Tuesday in the EMass. championship game. Prior to this year, Austin had never won more than one tournament game.
How does one explain the turnaround?
“I don’t think our record last year showed what kind of team we were,” said Zizza, who missed much of last year with a concussion. “And last year, we were more of a defensive team. This year we have more offense.”
And, says third-year coach Jessica Chiachio: “We’re more of a close team, with good communication. Everyone seems to get along.”
Zizza, who is in her third year as the starting goalie, is among those with improved communication skills.
“I think my skills have improved, but the communication with the defense is a lot better,” she said.
Zizza actually missed a month of the season with mononucleosis, but she’s been stellar when available. She had seven of the team’s 11 shutouts and has given up only one goal in the playoffs.
Among others who have contributed to the turnaround are juniors Stephanie McQuaid, a defender from Windham, and Alexa Mikula, a forward from North Reading and one of the team’s top scorers.
Also on the squad are freshmen Caroline Benson of Andover and North Reading’s Abigail Lidoski and Elizabeth LoCoco.
But the heart of the team are 10 seniors, all of whom would like to end their career on the highest note possible.
With a nursing career in her future, Zizza figures that Saturday will be her last game on the soccer field and she wants to make the most of it and come away with a title.
If the Cougars keep doing what they have been, that very well may happen.
“I don’t know much about Sutton and I don’t think I want to,” said Chiachio. “I think it’s better to just keep playing your game and not worry about the other team. We’re really clicking now and playing as a team.”