Bronx Science had just opened its season in splendid fashion, scorching Clinton by a 7-0 count. But does that mean head coach Annie Eckstein’s soccer team just passed a major test?
“Ah, no,” she said politely. “I think the challenge that we face in our division is that there is a lot of disparity between the teams. So we have to find ways to grow, even when we’re not challenged as we’d like to be on the field.”
Just wait a couple of days, Eckstein said, when her Wolverines take on Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. That would be a stiffer test and a greater indicator of what she had this season.
So when Science came away with a 3-0 victory over the Lady Tigers last Saturday, the question was posed once again. This time Eckstein was a little more enthused — but only a little.
“It was a very solid performance for us,” said Eckstein, now in her eighth season as the Wolverines’ head coach. “We’re still not where we want to be, but it was a much tighter game against a much better team than we faced in that first game.”
Just for the record that’s two games, two wins, 10 goals scored and no goals allowed for the Wolverines. So what do the Wolverines actually need to improve on?
“I don’t want to sound disappointed in any way, but I think our biggest challenge is finding competition within our division and finding ways to challenge ourselves,” said Eckstein, whose team entered the season with a 21-0-1 record in regular-season games the past two years. “But I think improving our speed of play and our team defense, and getting players into the game who have not seen much time, that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m going to need to be putting in a lot of subs if we’re going to go the distance.”
Going the distance is something the Wolverines are used to doing. They have captured the Bronx A-1 Division title the past two seasons, reached the Public School Athletic League quarterfinals last season and the semifinals the season prior. So how does Eckstein keep churning out winners year in and year out?
“I think I get lucky in a lot of ways,” Eckstein said. “I think girls who are in seventh and eighth grade and who play a higher level of soccer and who can get into Bronx Science, because of our history, they look to come to Bronx Science because they can get the education and the soccer.”
Eckstein had some concerns coming into the season after she lost Meleni Rahaman, Melina Asteriadis and Zoe Lainis to graduation. But she thinks the junior trio of Sofia Mahairas, Ruby Hogue and Elena Morgan are her new core of leaders who can keep the Wolverines ranked among the best in the city.
“They are going to be our glue this year,” Eckstein said, “and we’re going to have to build off of them.”
The way Mahairas sees it, there’s no reason Bronx Science can’t make a run at the PSAL championship game this season.
“We have a very new team this year, but I think altogether we have enough quality to make it to the playoffs,” said Mahairas, who netted two goals in the win over Clinton. “If we work together at practice and on the field, and work as a team, we’re definitely capable of winning the championship game.”
Outside of RKA, there may not be a team in the division that can stack up against the Wolverines. So Mahairas thinks the division title is Science’s for the taking again.
“I think we definitely can do it,” Mahairas said. “We need to get together and get the work in as a team. It can’t be individual work, it has to be together moving forward. This is my third year on the team now and I feel a sense of duty. I want to help this team get to the finals this year. Our long-term goal is the championship.”
Now if only Mahairas could convince Eckstein the Wolverines may be on the verge of another incredible season. But not quite yet.
“We still have a lot of growing to do,” Eckstein said.