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Lady Flames Have Burning Desire To Win

Twenty wins, against just two losses, is a total that any varsity soccer team would be extremely proud to have.

But when the Williamsville East Lady Flames look at their 20-2 mark from last season what sticks in their craw isn’t so much the number of losses, but the positioning of them. The season began with an opening day loss to rival Williamsville South and ended with a 1-0 loss to Section XI Islip in the final minute of their NYSPHSAA semifinals match up. Islip would go on to win states.

“This team is driven after last year’s run,” Lady Flames head coach Chris Durr said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

While the Flames took satisfaction in claiming the Section VI and Far West Regional Class A titles last season, they returned to work this year with the drive of nothing less than the state title is acceptable.

Leading the way for the Lady Flames, who return eight starters, are captains Tess Ford, a junior who plays center-mid, and seniors Marissa Birzon and Riley Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons (stopper) is the cornerstone of the Will-East defensive wall, while Birzon, a forward, was the team’s leading scorer with 50 goals and 13 assists for 113 points.

Durr said that while the team knows they can always count on Birzon (fifth year of varsity) to come through in the clutch with a goal, she brings so much more to the team dynamic. Birzon brings all the intangibles that great leaders have; a strong work ethic, team first attitude, helpful and supportive to teammates. Birzon does what all great players do. She makes everyone around her better.

“She’s been doing that since she was in eighth grade. We knew in eighth grade that she was a special player,” Durr said. “She’s always been welcoming to the younger players. She’s always been helpful to the younger players. As good as she is on the field, she’s just as good off the field with her leadership, her character and her ability to get along with kids. Even though she had 50 goals she really is the consummate team player. She’s always looking to make the other kids on the team better.”

Ford, who has been on varsity since eighth grade, led the team with 16 assists last season. Ford said that even though falling in the semifinals stung, it gave the returning players the confidence to know they can not only get back – but finish the job.

“We’re definitely ready,” Tess Ford said. “All the people (back) from last year, we’re all really optimistic about this year and we really want it even more, because we were so close last year.”

On the backend, the Flames will also look to returning sweeper Grace Beichner (senior) and returning junior goalie Sarah Panepinto, who had a save percentage of 88.591% last year.

Alexandra Bone, Chloe Bertie and Ruby Zhangi also return to a team that welcomes four ninth graders to varsity and that has a total of 14 girls that play high level travel.

“I think we’re gonna be even stronger this year because we have new, young players that are really good,” Ford said.

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