By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — If it seems like Jess Laszlo has been occupying center stage on the Westhill High School soccer field for many more than two years, it is likely because the prolific scorer’s heroics have kept her name in the headlines — as well at the top of opponents’ game plans.
Yet Laszlo has just passed the midpoint of what thus far has been a storied career as she sets out to start her junior year with the Vikings.
“It feels like it has been a long time,” Laszlo said.
As the Vikings prepare to open their season at home Wednesday against Norwalk, they will be counting on the combination of a young nucleus bolstering six returning starters, led by Laszlo.
“We lost a lot of key players,” Laszlo said. “We need to get our fitness up. Fitness is the key at such a high level. We need to get our connections with each other down. You can be as good as (FC) Barcelona, but if you don’t have the right chemistry any other team can beat you.”
Right now the storyline for the Vikings appears remarkably like two years ago, when Laszlo was a freshman. The team was coming off back to back appearances in the state final, and graduation losses led to modest expectations. Laszlo immediately took the FCIAC by storm, scoring 27 goals as Westhill won its first nine games en route to a 13-3-4 season.
“It is a little similar,” Westhill coach Dave Flower said. “I think the pressure is off. I think we are going to do well. We have good players coming in. There is no pressure to do well and I expect to do fairly well.”
Laszlo scored 22 goals last season, though it was a difficult one for her, as opposing teams shadowed her with two or occasionally even three defenders, limiting both her touches and space. About the only time she felt relief was on set pieces.
“It was frustrating,” Laszlo said. “You feel like you are leaving your team hanging because you can’t do anything. You go wide and hope to take players with you. It’s not fun. It was mentally tough not being able to help your team out.”
Flower said he could sense Laszlo’s mindset when she was cast as a decoy.
“She could handle it,” Flower said. “She took it for the team. It is tough to be man-marked by anybody.”
While Laszlo has an explosive shot, Flower said there are improvements she can make that will give her more scoring chances.
“A few parts of her game need work,” Flower said.
“A few parts she is very good at, and it is impossible to stop them when she does them. Her movement could be better. That would go well with her strength and skill. Her left foot is as good as anyone’s.”
Laszlo had a good offseason playing with the New York Rush Patriots premier team.
“I know I am going to need to step up my play this year,” Laszlo said. “Hopefully the younger players will also adapt to the mental aspect of the game because I think this team is a lot like my freshman year, when nobody thought we were going to be any good.”
Flower is hoping the quick development of some of the underclassmen will enhance Laszlo’s game and thus the Vikings’ performance.
“If everybody is on the same page then I think she will play well,” Flower said. “It is important that everyone is on the same page. If you put Jess on a team with a lot of attacking players she will have more goals. She is potentially one of the best players this league has ever seen.”
Laszlo is already getting looks from a lot of top Division I programs, and while the future prospects are exciting, so is the present.
“I’m always excited to start soccer season,” she said. “High school is the best soccer season of all. Club is more competitive, but high school is the most fun. Playing with all my friends. It’s great.”