Madisyn Pezzino is a fearless player on the pitch, a natural born goal scorer with the ability to rise to the occasion in big situations.
One would think the first team All-Western New York soccer player has been playing the sport since she first started running, but that’s not the case.
When her parents first signed her up for soccer, Madisyn, then 5 years old, wanted no part in taking the field. She was so against it, she cried.
“I have no idea why,” the Grand Island junior, now 16, said Sunday, noting she tried her hand in gymnastics shortly after that. “I was just kind of like scared when I was younger. I don’t remember.”
What she remembers is being an 8-year-old and seeing all her friends playing soccer. That gave her the itch to want to give the sport another try. Good thing her parents were receptive.
Pezzino, who leads Western New York in goals (48) and points (105), is one of the top players in the state. The 5-foot-9, 150-pounder already has a verbal commitment to play at the Division I level with Florida State, which is currently the defending national champion.
“I think she’s dangerous every time she touches the ball,” said Williamsville East coach and Section VI chairman Chris Durr. “She has really, really good speed and has the ability to score from all different areas on the field. Dangerous any time she gets the ball.”
How did a Western New Yorker get noticed by the top program in the country?
Rather quickly and with the help of her academy-level coaches Aaran Lines and Alex Sahlen of the Western New York Flash.
Pezzino has been playing/training with Lines and Sahlen since age 10. She has typically been the youngest kid on a team with older players just because she had the skills and ability to play up a level. She plays in a summer league with current college players.
She even practiced with members of the WNY Flash last season twice a week, testing/improving her skills against professional and national team-level players.
Atlantic Coast Conference recruiters started taking notice after watching the striker play against kids her own age, at the suggestion of Lines and Sahlen.
Last May at one of the top showcase tournaments for Division I college prospects, she got on Florida State’s radar while playing for Quick Strike FC of downstate New Windsor.
One of the Seminoles’ assistants, at a suggestion from Lines who knows head coach Mark Krikorian, watched Pezzino. That assistant suggested to Krikorian that he might want to see Pezzino in action. The longtime Florida State pilot altered his travel schedule just enough to squeeze in some time to watch her in game action for about 20 minutes. She scored a goal and made a huge impression.
“He was standing right there during warmups,” Sahlen said of Krikorian making his presence known to Pezzino. “She comes up big in big moments. She knew all along she was good enough to go to that school. … She had only 35 minutes to show him what she had and she did it.”
Other ACC schools stepped up their recruiting efforts, including Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh – prompting the Pezzino family to make an earlier-than-initially planned visit to Florida State last June. After spending a day on campus, she received the scholarship offer from the Seminoles that was just too good for her to refuse.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the ACC,” said Pezzino, whose 173 career goals and 48 goals this season are Grand Island records. “I’ve always played at a super high level my soccer career. I just wanted to continue to get better and I believe that Florida State being No. 1 in the nation and winning a national championship last year can definitely continue to improve my game.
“Just the fact of me visiting there and just loving it from the start was super awesome. The coaches are amazing and I’m extremely excited to go over there and play soccer and hopefully have a good college career too.”
Before leaving for Tallahassee, she still has some unfinished business with the Grand Island Vikings (17-1), who are ranked fourth in the state.
She became the Vikings’ all-time goals leader last week when she scored three times in a prequarterfinal win over Cheektowaga. She increased that total to 173 with another three-goal effort in a 9-1 quarterfinal final win over Hamburg.
Although she’s been on Grand Island’s varsity team since seventh grade, she didn’t entertain thoughts of breaking Jessica Remmes’ record for career goals (168) until netting her 100th career goal during her sophomore season.
Now that Pezzino has those individual records, the only thing left on her to-do list is winning a Section VI championship. GI came close last year, losing to Williamsville East, 2-1.
She and the Vikings once again have reached the semifinals, where on Wednesday they will face Amherst in the second game of a quality Class A playoff doubleheader at Depew High School. The twin bill starts at 5:30 p.m. with defending champion Williamsville East facing unbeaten Pioneer.
Grand Island last won a sectional title 2010.
“This year, I have a pretty good feeling with all the talent and individuality with all these players (we have),” Pezzino said of GI’s chances. “I want to win a sectional title.”