Benjamin Girls’ Soccer Season Ends in Heartbreaking Loss to NSU in State Semifinals


The girls’ soccer team celebrates on the field following their regional finals win over Edgewood on Tues. Feb. 14.

On Friday, Feb. 17th, the Benjamin Girls’ varsity soccer team (15-0-1) played NSU University (14-3-3) in the State Semifinals game resulting in a 2-1 loss for the Bucs after double overtime and penalty kicks.

NSU came out strong in the first five minutes, connecting with freshman Taylor Smith, their center forward and captain. However, the Bucs’ defense held their own and both centerbacks, Popilek and Grissman, fought back to stop NSU’s overwhelming attacking line.

The Bucs’ first substitution occurred when freshman Chase Zur was replaced by sophomore Natasha Yedinak.

With 13 minutes and 46 seconds left in the first half, freshman Sophia Balistreri’s shot was too much for NSU’s goalkeeper, Avirl Ramirez, and put Benjamin in the lead with a beautiful goal assisted by freshman Kenna Kujawa. The crowd exploded as the goal was scored and Balistreri felt this overwhelming support.

“Seeing that goal go in was one of the best moments this year for me during this season. Even though we lost, the moment where everyone was in a circle hugging and screaming was something I’ll never forget,” said Balistreri.

With momentum clearly on their side after the goal, the Bucs were able to suppress NSU’s attack and to play into the game by finding junior Lily White in the midfield.

In the last five minutes of the half, freshmen Sienna Barboni had to leave the game due to a hamstring injury. Benjamin ended the half ahead, but was missing one of their strongest players.

Midfielder Chase Zur passes the ball as the Lady Bucs play their 4-3-3 formation.
(Haley Roth)

To start the second half, the Bucs maintained their intensity even without Barboni and continued to fight for the chance to go to the State Championship. As the half progressed though, NSU started to gain on the Bucs creating more chances and keeping possession.

NSU’s Smith and midfielder Mia Hererra were connecting passes beautifully and were starting to put some stress on sophomore goalie Emily Simon, who had to make multiple saves. At the end of the third quarter, the Bucs had only connected three passes consecutively and had started to stray away from their normal strategy of quick clean passes.

The stress became too much in the fourth quarter when NSU’s Smith scored a beautiful free-kick right outside the box to tie up the game for NSU. Yet, the Bucs would not be discouraged, and White decided to put the team on her back, constantly generating more and more chances for the buccaneers. In the last few minutes, the Bucs had five huge chances all created by White who was able to dribble from half field all the way down to NSU’s goal.

The team as a whole agrees that there are always ways they could have played better. The girls see their mistakes and realize how they could have improved.

“I think we were a little slow at the beginning so if we were a little more alert and energetic we could have performed better. We were the better team but, in the end, NSU was able to perform when it mattered the most,” said White.

After the final whistle blew, both teams went to the bench to enter overtime, which consisted of two ten minute halves. After twenty minutes NSU and Benjamin were still neck and neck leaving the game to be decided by a penalty shootout.

Junior Lily White attempts to score on the Sharks as Sam Woods and Kenna Kujawa guard the other NSU players.
Copy and paste this link to see this free-kick attempt!
(Haley Roth )

The Bucs called upon sophomore Vanessa Zito, White, Balistreri, sophomore Sam Woods, and Yedinak as their penalty kickers and hoped they could seal the victory to get them to the State Finals. Zito shot first and missed as did NSU’s first kicker, Smith. White, Balistreri and Woods all made their penalties along with the NSU players that followed them. With the score tied four to four, Yedinak stepped up to the kick and missed by a hair, allowing the goalkeeper to save her shot. Then NSU’s final kicker shot right to the top left corner making a save impossible.

The Benjamin Community showed up for the Lady Bucs as both the parent and student sections were packed with vibrant crowds. The Benjamin family was kept on the edge of their seats as they watched this soccer game, cheering and screaming when the girls scored and saved many goals. When the game went into overtime and then into penalty kicks, the crowd showed their blue and orange spirit, flooding the sidelines and chanting for the girls’ varsity soccer team until the very end.

With this loss in the State Semifinals, the Benjamin Girls Soccer Team’s season has ended. The NSU Sharks secured the win and will advance to the FHSAA State Finals where they will face off against Montverde Academy on Wednesday, Feb 22.

The Lady Bucs were heartbroken by this loss, but are ready to grow from the experience and prepare for the 2024 soccer season.

 “As a coach, the goal is always to be on top, but more so we have the desire to build a team that is cohesive and works for each other to push each other to be at their best. The girls really dictate what the season goals are and I just push them to make their goals a reality,” said Carney.