GRAND ISLAND — There's no more waiting. It's finally game day.
After an extended hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Island girls soccer team is back and will open up the season at home today when CSAT comes to town. The Lady Vikings will be on a quest to defend their Section VI Class A-2 title, having finished 2019 with a 17-3-1 record.
Head coach Dave Bowman sees his team progressing well after starting up preseason practices on Sept. 21. Although he anticipated a high level of excitement with so much time away, it still has been something he's noticed as the team integrates some new members.
After fielding a '19 roster with five players in the junior class or lower earning All-Niagara Frontier League selections, Bowman has already seen growth in the group that could lead to even more success.
"We had a young roster last year and they've got another year under their belt, which most of those players have a lot of experience with the sport and at different levels with their premier clubs and all that," Bowman said. "So it's not a whole lot that's new to them, but it's nice having them another year within our program.
"And seeing them out there, I've definitely noticed ... they've grown up size-wise physically, and you can tell their skills have even progressed, whether it be with their team training or what likely would've been a lot of individual training over the last few months. But definitely a little bit of size and a little bit more sharper touches and strength, so I'm looking for that to turn into something too."
As hamstrung as he felt not working with the squad throughout the spring and summer, Bowman is confident in the girls because of how much work they put in on their own. Whether it was working on the finer points like ball control or leg strength, Bowman just hopes to fine tune this skilled group and guide it from there.
"I didn't have a whole lot of worries because I know a lot of 'em are elite-level players and everything, and they're working over the summer," Bowman said. " ... There was a lot of down time but these girls, quite a few of them continued on with what they needed to do and I am seeing the improvements even now."
Team co-captain Camille Burruano called it a "surreal experience" being able to be out on the field again while fall sports like football, volleyball and cheerleading have to wait until the spring. The senior center back said her team is just grateful to be out here competing once again.
Fellow co-captain Avery Mondoux shared the same sentiment and she's glad that her senior teammates will be able to play one more season in blue and white. The returning second team All-NFL pick believes GI has a "very elite group of girls," so after a strong 2019, she expects more of the same.
Sophomore midfielder Ella Rudney was in lockstep with Mondoux, as the third team all-state selection just wants to see her seniors get the opportunity that the 2019-20 senior spring athletes had taken away. Rudney will be a key name to watch this year, after being a first team All-Western New York and All-NFL selection as a freshman.
Burruano, also a returning second team All-NFL pick, knows the talent on this roster is capable of competing for another sectional title.
"It's a really cool experience being able to just know that we're out here competing for that," Burruano said. "A lot of schools, they get down on themselves early, but we're really pushing ourselves to get there again and repeat our section title and hopefully win back the NFL this year after the disappointing loss last year."
That disappointing loss Burruano is referring to is the 2-1 defeat the Lady Vikings suffered at the hands of North Tonawanda in the league title game. GI will have a chance at earning some revenge Monday night when they travel over to NT for the Lady Jacks' season opener.
Being one of the team's three seniors, and having seen strong leadership from players like Brooke Amato and Lydia Sweeney during her three varsity seasons, Burruano just wants to lead by example this season, bring a positive influence to the team and help everyone improve their skills.
"It's not always what you say, it's how you perform and the work you put in," Burruano said.
Rudney described the players as being a family with how much they've bonded. Mondoux hopes this carries over to the field, as she discussed how imperative it will be to stay on the same page this season.
"It's the chemistry between the girls. Most of us have played with each other in the past either with club or premier," Mondoux said. "And so just having that connection and bond really helps us out."
The Lady Vikings host CSAT at 10 a.m. today at Grand Island High School.
Follow sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, be sure to listen to the GNN Sports Podcast, on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts and more.