Bellas leads Baldwin girls soccer team into ’18 season
Mandi Bellas has wrapped her life around the sport of soccer.
Bellas is one of four seniors on the girls soccer team at Baldwin, and is serving as co-captain this season along with Samantha Zeleznik, a senior defender, and Brianna Bandola, a junior forward.
Bellas has been a starter since her freshman year.
“Mandi is a very passionate player and athlete,” coach Kelly Shoplik said. “She demands the very best of her teammates around her during practices and games, but at the same time has a great balance on making everyone feel a part of the team. She has grown so much over the past few years that I have been able to coach her as a player and as a leader.
“I was so happy to see her teammates pick her as captain because she has all the qualities to lead on and off the field. As an individual player, she is never afraid to do the small things. She will get stuck in and go up for headers in any situation to get an outcome in our team’s favor. Even though she will primarily be playing a defensive role, I would not count her out to record a few goals from corners and set pieces because of her tenacity in the box.”
Bellas, Zeleznik, Erika Kuzman and Amy Schneider provide senior leadership for the Highlanders this season. All four are defensive players.
“Looking at the team early on, feelings of excitement and uncertainty arose,” Bellas said. “Every practice, the team exceeds my expectations because every single one of our players works hard. Our game needs to be faster, and I expect we will find a way to accomplish a greater speed of play throughout the season.
“Our team is very young this year, and I believe that is one of our strengths. Being a mostly younger team means the (younger players) can only get better from where they are now. I expect amazing things from the (younger) girls as they continue their Baldwin soccer careers in the future.”
Bellas also competed for five years with Pittsburgh Soccer Club until she re-injured her hip.
“With club being a huge part of my life, it was very difficult to give up on such an amazing experience and team,” she said. “However, it is more important that I do not risk getting another surgery.
“My hip is not completely healed and the odds are that it won’t ever completely heal. The more active I am, the more I ‘injure’ it, which is why I can no longer play with PFC.”
Bellas, 17, has a 4.14 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society. She also plays CYO basketball at St. Gabriel’s, and coaches U8 soccer team in the spring with Kuzman, her best friend.
Bellas has been playing soccer since participating in the Grasshoppers program for youngsters 4 and under. After high school, she plans to attend college and will major in either physical therapy or veterinary medicine.
Baldwin’s early-season starting lineup consists of Bellas, Zeleznik and sophomore Tori DiCesare on defense; in front of junior goalkeeper Elizabeth Knight.
Junior Riley Nolan and two freshmen, Megan Leary and Mia DiCesare, man the forward positions; with sophomores Robyn Sopata, Adriana Marina, Addie Carr and Makenzie Auel at midfield.
Top reserves include sophomore defender Kaitlyn Pollard, junior forward Madison Beardsley, Bandola and Kuzman; along with Schneider, sophomore Elena Zandier, at midfield, and sophomore Morgan Bell, on defense.
The Highlanders compete in Section 2-4A, along with Bethel Park, Brashear, Canon-McMillan, Moon, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.
Baldwin ended up 6-12 overall, and is aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
“Overall, we are looking at the season with optimism,” Bellas said. “Each of the girls on the team wants it more and more every day, and I know we are going to be able to hold our own in the ‘section of death’ this year and for years in the future.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.