Visitation soccer team hopes chemistry is a championship formula

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Visitation is optimistic about its chances for the ISL and DCSAA soccer crowns after a 2-0 win over Bishop O'Connell. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)
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A season ago, Visitation’s soccer team was in flux, with new players all over the lineup. The result was a talented team that didn’t quite gel in 2016, which led to a subpar record.

This year, the Cubs have blossomed with team chemistry while powering through a tough opening schedule, including a 2-0 win over Bishop O’Connell on Sept. 29.

“It’s the same quality of players … but we are playing better as a unit,” said Cubs coach Carey Burke. “This year we are connecting better and are more familiar with each other. We have improved with our focus on team ball. We are defending as a team and transitioning to attack as a team, and we are finishing really well.”

Megan Nayak, left, celebrates a goal with Camila Baioni at the Sept. 29 game. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)
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In the recent win against the Knights, both goals were assisted. In the first case, freshman Callie Reing dished the ball to senior captain Megan Nayak, who scored. Then, later in the game, Nayak did the helping with a pass to junior Camila Baioni for a rocket shot at the top of the box.

“It felt really good,” said senior captain Ellie Kieran. “We have had a couple of tough games that ended in losses or ties. This was a really good big win for us that boosted our confidence. We really connected well on the field.”

The win snapped a three-game losing streak. So far this season, the Cubs have posted a 3-4-2 record while taking on a tough nonleague schedule that included teams like Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powers St. John’s, Good Counsel and Bishop O’Connell. In addition to those strong WCAC schools, Visitation also battled National Cathedral — the defending Independent School League tournament champions. The Cubs have fared well in those matches and hope their tough slate has prepared them to make a run as the Independent School League begins the stretch run of the season before the playoffs.

“We are in the top division of the ISL, where all the teams are really tough, and there is a lot of parity there. Then we play almost every other WCAC school. There isn’t a team we play that isn’t a quality team,” Burke said.

In addition to challenging competition, the Cubs have faced a difficult stretch to open the season while playing eight games in 17 days to start the year.

Visitation soccer coach Carey Burke said the team’s chemistry has improved after a lackluster 2016 season. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

“We are on a tear — there has been very little time to adjust and refine because it’s so many games,” said Burke. “That’s really tough, and every time we come out we are ready for a physical and tough match.”

But the team has also seen positives in the grind.

“If it’s not going well, we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it,” the coach said. “It’s almost better to not have all of that time. We haven’t gotten all of the results we wanted, but we have been good.”

The team’s resurgence this season stems from the play of captains Nayak and Kiernan, who is going to play lacrosse for Georgetown next year.

“They are fabulous,” said Burke. “Both of these girls are seasoned when it comes to competitive sports. They are smart and have a good head on their shoulders. They set the example for everyone else. They are high-quality seniors and are both capable at playing at the next level.”

Junior Camila Baioni scored a goal in the Cubs’ 2-0 victory over Bishop O’Connell on Sept. 29. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2017)

On the defensive side, the Cubs have received a boost from freshman center back Hope Hillegass, who brings “confidence and awareness and organization in transition on the backline as a freshman,” Burke said.

“You usually don’t see it from a freshman,” said the coach. “We put her back there, and she has owned it. When a freshman does that, it’s really special.”

The defense is anchored by senior goalie Nina LaRow.

“Our keeper is the most fabulous part of our team,” Burke said. “She is a four-year varsity player — she has won games for us and kept us in games. We have had defensive plays where we have put her in crazy spots and she’s made big saves. She can be a college keeper.”

With talent across the field, the Cubs believe they can finish the season strong and capture the ISL and D.C. State Athletic Association crowns.

“We are going to win it all. We are getting better with time,” said Nayak.