Peering outside the window, one can tell that the weather has gone from those high 80 degree temps to the more fall like temps of the 50’s. That could only mean that the playoffs are coming around the corner.
The old saying goes that defense wins championships. With the weather changing, defense is going to be more important that ever in the game of soccer. The cold weather plays havoc on the attackers and midfielders - especially in Western New York.
The keepers will be expected to make the key saves to keep their team in the game. They will be expected to steal a game or two to help their team get the championship game.
For Nichols School, the girls soccer team is happy they have a pretty good keeper in Isabella Simoncelli. The Western New York Flash keeper is one of the best keepers in WNY, and the best keeper in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association.
Her play is one of the reasons why the Vikings are fighting a powerful St. Mary’s High School team for the top spot in the MMAA.
“I learned from Nichols that being close with your teammates will better our performance on the field. The chemistry off the field can translate to better chemistry on the field,” stated Simoncelli. “Our togetherness and willingness to fight for each other and push each other can be more powerful than a team with great skills, but don’t get along.”
Simoncelli’s story is like a lot of young girls from WNY these days. She is a talented soccer player who has taken her talents to one of the best club teams in the area in the WNY Flash. The Flash have a tremendous track record of getting their players to the next level.
The academy plays some of the best competition in the country - and this year was no different. Simoncelli was part of a team that represented WNY in Seattle over the summer. There Simoncelli was able to test her skills against some of the best players in the country.
It gave her a chance to see how she stacked up against players with maybe a little more skill than those that play in the WNY area.
“The competition was intense. It’s a whole other level of soccer that excited me, and humbled me. It showed me how far I have come as a player, but also showed me I still have lots of work ahead of me. Specifically, I need to rely more on my instincts. At that level, the game speed doesn’t allow hesitation. One hesitation could be the difference between winning and losing a game, especially as a goalkeeper. Driving to our first game, I was shaking of nerves, getting into my own head, imaging how the game could go, and the pressure seemed to be square on my shoulders because I’m the last person back,” explained Simoncelli. “But as we warmed up and I looked around me, I became more confident. I had my team around me who supports me and will work their hardest towards our goals, I knew I had to focus and do my part for this team, and do it well. As I crossed the line onto the pitch, everything else vanished. I blocked all else out. I thought of all the hours of training and hard work that led up to this moment and I played my game that I’ve been playing all my life. I’m so grateful to have a team that leaves everything they have on the field. With my amazing team and coaches Aaran Lines and Rob Ferguson there to guide us, I felt confident that we belonged there, that we earned our spot there.”
After a summer where she was part of a team that finished in the top eight in the country, it would have been easy for Simoncelli to just rest on the fact that she was an elite keeper. But that isn’t exactly how she is programmed.
Instead of sitting home and soaking up the sun the rest of the summer, Simoncelli sat and reevaluated what she needed to work on to become even better. She knows to become one of the best keeper she can be that she needed to sit back and see what she needed to work on.
“I think that being an athlete means you are never done. My strengths can always get better, and my weaknesses can be turned into my strengths. Right now, if I had to scout myself, one of my strengths would be my fearlessness. I’m not afraid of contact or doing what is necessary to get to the ball. Another one of my strengths is my distribution,” explained Simoncelli. “When I first came to The Flash, it was one of my weaknesses. But through hard work, experience in games, and help from Coach Lines, my distribution is a big part of my game. I’ve become comfortable coming out of my box and being a support option for my defenders. I average more passes than saves in games. I need to quicken my decision making and to communicate those decisions to my teammates. As a goalkeeper, I need to be a leader in the back line. Where I get caught the most is the through balls placed between my defenders and me. I need to be quicker to make the decision to come off my line or to stay back and communicate that decision faster so our defending can be smoother and organized with no hesitation.”
While she does admit there are still things to work on, there is one thing that you cannot fault Simoncelli of not having - and that’s a soccer IQ. She is a student of the game - that’s what makes her so good.
She understand what it takes to become a great player at this level - and what it will take to become an even better player at the next level. There are players who understand the game - and players that just use their physical abilities to make the plays.
For Simoncelli she uses both. She has the ability to make plays in goal, and on the field like she did against Mt. Mercy Academy, and she understands the game. Understanding the game maybe the most important part of her maturation into one of the best keepers in the area.
Being able to understand the plays before they happen allows her to be one step ahead of the opposition.
“Having a good soccer IQ means you know where to be and when, what ball to play and with what pace, where the other players are on the field at all times,” stated Simoncelli. “It’s the mechanical parts of soccer that become muscle memory or an instinct implanted in your brain. It’s using what you know and acting upon it. Having soccer IQ and knowing it can always improve are key elements in a good player.”
Simoncelli will also sit and watch other players and try and take things front their game and incorporate it into her own. While most players will look at the United States National team will inspiration, it’s a Canadian National team member that Simoncelli looks up to.
Former WNY Flash keeper Sabrina D’Angelo has the type of game that Simoncelli likes. She plays the game fearless - something that Simoncelli does as well.
“Sabrina D’Angelo who plays for North Carolina Courage and a member of the Canadian National Team. She stays connected and involved with her defenders, being an option with her feet and distribution is an important part of her game also part of mine,” stated Simoncelli. “She also played on the WNY Flash, its cool to think we came from the same place with all she has accomplished.”
What’s cool is what Simoncelli is accomplishing for a Nichols team that has a soccer pedigree. The Viking has always been the class of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association - and this year is no different.
In an earlier contest, it was St. Mary’s, who are made up of a lot of Flash players, who took the win over the Vikings. Simoncelli played great in that contest and she knows they will meet up again.
She knows a lot of the girls from St. Mary’s from her time on the Flash. She also knows playing for the Flash in big games has prepared her for a playoff run that her and the Vikings hope to make - with a championship in their sights.
“Playing for the Flash has shaped my game immensely. Before the Flash I had the basics of punting form and how to land when I dive, etc. but I was ready to take my skill to the next level. Playing for Flash has helped me improve since day one. Coach Marcelo Moreira has helped me be more courageous in the air and fine-tuned my forms. His intense drills improve my explosiveness and endurance,” stated Simoncelli. “Team sessions with Coach Lines helps me to improve my leadership skills in the back and most of all my decision making with distribution. It was my biggest weakness, I was so nervous and didn’t even trust myself with a pass back, now I feel confident and my players can utilize my feet and distribution skills while playing out of the back. All of the coaches and players in the Flash community continue to support me and push me to improve everyday. I am so thankful to be a part of a group where my coaches and teammates challenge themselves and me, which helps me to learn and progress with every session.”