by Andrew Stark
The Butler girls soccer team entered the 2012 season having lost six starters and three of its four all-region performers from last year. Even second-year coach Junior Nyemb was unsure of what to expect, but the Bulldogs have been more than just a pleasant surprise so far.
“Coming in, I honestly didn’t have high expectations,” Nyemb said. “I knew I had a good core but was realistic and knew we needed a bench. I wasn’t sure I was going to have one but have been really surprised at who has stepped up and how we have played.”
Despite losing two consecutive games, the Bulldogs have been better than anticipated with a 10-7-1 record, including a 6-6 mark in the Southwestern 4A conference. They are led by senior captain and Marshall University commit Kelly Culicerto.
Culicerto, who has played on the varsity team since her freshman season, was one player Nyemb was counting on, and she has not disappointed, leading the Bulldogs’ scoring attack with 11 goals and seven assists.
She has received help from sophomore Katelyn Lliso, who has tallied six goals; Bailey Grassel, who has five goals and four assists; and Victoria Sneyd, who has racked up four goals.
On defense, goalkeeper Jessica Bunce has recorded three shutouts but has been aided by Sneyd and senior Liz Bloom. Nyemb said Sneyd, a Wingate commit, is adept at assessing the situations as they arise, and Bloom is more physical. But both players have provided good leadership in the backfield, which is one of the Bulldogs’ unexpected strengths.
“We have had a lot of younger players step up so far,” Culicerto said. “And, it is great having Junior back. Each of my other three years we have had a new coach, so he has provided us stability.”
Culicerto said starting the season with so many new players was tough at times, but as the year has worn on, it has become rewarding and helped make her a better player. As the lone all-region selection to return, she has been man-marked more often and has adjusted her game to fit the increased pressure, making her a better player and leader.
“That used to be one of my downfalls, and I was not used to getting all of the attention from defenses,” Culicerto said. “But I think it has helped me as a player and made me adjust.”
Culicerto additionally pointed out that seniors Logan Garman, Bailey Grassel, Ramani Hamilton and Miranda Lowman have made large contributions, but Nyemb would love to see more team consistency from game to game.
Nyemb said the Bulldogs tend to overlook some teams, and others they give too much respect and come out timid.
“As a team, I would like to see more consistency,” Nyemb said. “We have lots of potential, but we are a bit up and down. We have to play the same way day in and day out, and it is hard to get that consistency. But we are trying to keep things going and fix what needs to be fixed.”
The Bulldogs’ next game is senior night on Friday, April 27 against South Mecklenburg.