It’s often said a soccer team is as good as its midfield and, taking it a step further, its center midfield.
“Ever since I was playing, that area in the center and the back, that spine and backbone, has to be strong,” Bordentown High girls’ coach Dominic Castaldo said. “You can get away with things in other places but not there. I’ve always been a firm believer of keeping your center strong. Keep that backbone strong, and they’ve come a long way there.”
“They” are sophomore Victoria Wheeler and freshman Julie Wojcik, who have emerged to give the Scotties a stellar set of center-mids. Wheeler is the orchestrator and playmaker, while Wojcik is the scorer with 4 goals and 2 assists. Both have senior sisters on the team in Emily Wheeler and Kenna Wojcik, who helped with their transition to high school soccer.
“Basically, those two in the middle are what’s making things go, Castaldo said. “They’re the future. And honestly they work really well together and they’re making big impacts in just about every game we played.
“The group itself is just about there, they still have lapses where they kind of lose their focus. But these two, I really think epitomize who we are. Everyone on this team is making impacts but these two are slowly starting to emerge as the part that is making things go.”
With just five seniors and a bevy of underclassmen, Bordentown was 3-2-1 entering an Oct. 22 game with New Egypt.
Wheeler, who overcame some early jitters, came through with 5 goals and 3 assists as a freshman. Despite only having 1 assist in the first six games this season, the addition of Wojcik has given Wheeler the ability
to create and the two quickly developed a chemistry that started several years ago.
“She’s awesome,” Wheeler said. “I played with Julie in middle school, her and I worked together and we came from the same PDA (South) program and both have the same playing skills. It’s really good to work with her, we talk to each other on the field, talk to each other off the field, we’ll tell each other what we need to work on. It’s really nice
“In PDA she’s on a younger team but we have a scrimmage and her team is really good. It’s always a nice balance to play against each other. She’s an awesome player. I knew coming in she was gonna be tough. I knew she’d bring some competitiveness. She’s an awesome runner and she makes the team a lot better.”
Wojcik began her career as a forward in the Bordentown rec league, but evolved into an attacking midfielder when she moved to PDA in Westhampton. Most of her career has been spent in a central position.
“I’ve always wanted to play there,” Wojcik said. “Sometimes I play center back on my other team. I just like playing in the center of the field.”
It’s not much of a secret as to what makes Julie tick when it comes to scoring.
“Everyone says that my speed is a factor in the way that I play,” she said.
Castaldo won’t argue.
“Julie’s quickness helps her and she has a tendency to go forward and help us in that respect,” the coach said. “She has good skill that she needs to harness a little bit. She takes a lot of pressure off (high-scoring junior) Lexie Mazzella. Lexi’s had a lot of pressure so far. A lot of teams are keying on her and it’s good to see other people scoring.”
While Wojcik takes some of the load off Mazzella, Wheeler makes sure both of them get the ball.
“Victoria is the distributor, she plays the ball really well,” Castaldo said. “You could see her coming into her own last year. Like any freshman stepping into a varsity role she was a little bit intimidated with everything at first.”
Wheeler admitted there were some nerves.
“Dom pulled me over this year and said ‘You seem more comfortable,’” she said. “Last year I was like ‘I can’t mess up or he’s gonna pull me.’ I was so timid and scared. But now I’m more comfortable because I know how high school works. It’s so different than middle school and I feel I can handle the girls better than last year when I felt so tiny.”
Wheeler started soccer with Bordentown rec before moving to the Florence Flames, Match Fit and finally, PDA. She roamed around the field until finding a home.
“In rec I played outside wide or defense,” she said. “I played offense and I realized I do not like playing offense. I found myself liking midfield. It’s really stressful but it’s good because you can make the game better for your team.
“I first started in the middle in middle school. At outside wide I didn’t feel I was in the game that much. I just wanted to help the team in a different way by playing midfield. It’s a challenge because you have to run a lot and you always have somebody on your back. When we played Pemberton those girls were pushy and vocal, you just have to learn to deal with it.”
Aside from her maturity, Wheeler has also benefited from the presence of Wojcik, who is surprised to be making such an impact as a ninth-grader.
“I did not expect to start or even play as much as I did as a freshman, but I’m so thankful I’m getting the playing time that I get,” she said. “(Wheeler) and I have a history of playing together so we know each other, but we’re very different so I didn’t expect us to play as well together was we do. But we have been working well together.”
The only thing bothering Wheeler so far is her lack of goals, but she figures that will come.
“This year’s like a weird year,” she said. “I want to score so bad but for some reason it’s not happening. I get more assists than goals. I do like to pass, I’m more of a passer, but I want to score some goals.”
For now, her partner in crime is the one scoring, which is fine with Castaldo.
“Having Julie helps Victoria because it gives her a little more freedom,” he said. “But it’s also a case of her settling in and feeling comfortable to keep moving forward. And both of them play for PDA, so they’re getting great training, they’re coming out here and working hard, and they’re both great kids.”