The team graduated just three seniors from last year. But when one of them is your big sister, according to Hailey Gutowski, it can’t help but change your approach.
Gutowski, a star senior midfielder for the Cinnaminson girls’ soccer team since her freshman year, said she still talks to her sister, Justyne, every day.
Justyne, now a student at West Chester University, was a forward on last year’s Pirates’ team that won the Burlington County Scholastic League Liberty Division for the first time since 2011 and advanced to South Jersey Group 2 championship game.
“We tweet out the results of our games, and [Justyne] will call me every single time a score is tweeted out. She still has the notifications on,” Gutowski said. “She still helps me out however she can. And she’s still really close with the team.”
It speaks to the bond the players have. Last year’s team displayed a concerted, all-out effort to reach its biggest goal of winning the division. This year’s team looks poised for even bigger things.
Just four games into the season, the Pirates (3-1) already have signature wins over Moorestown and Holy Cross, perennially two of their biggest division rivals.
“We’re not where we want to be yet. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but our underclassmen have stepped up, and our juniors that came back as seniors are stronger this year, so I’m very pleased so far,” said coach Matt Digney.
“And Hailey is one of those players who has gotten better every single year. This year, she’s really embraced the fact that she’s our leader. She’s the one making sure girls are doing the right thing and in the right place.”
Gutowski said even though she’s been playing with many of her teammates most of her life, she made sure her role has changed a bit coming into this season. She’s wants to be more of a leader. She tries to set an example.
“I remember looking up to the upperclassmen when I was younger, so I think it’s really cool to now be able to set that example.” Gutowski said. “Obviously the biggest difference for me this year is not having my sister. She’s my best friend, and we were so close on and off the field last year. But the players who came before us showed us how to build chemistry. And I think this year, that chemistry is really strong across the whole team.”
Leadership appears to come naturally to Gutowski, according to Digney.
“She takes a professional persona when she takes the field, almost like it’s a job,” Digney said. “She knows how to have fun. But she has an edge that’s tough to find in a high school player.”
When asked whether she does look at soccer like a job, Gutowski smiled.
“Of course, I love playing soccer,” she said. “But I do feel like practice should be just as hard as a game. That’s how you get your work in.”
Her approach has helped her build herself into one of the most technically skilled goal scorers in South Jersey. It’s also helped her land a spot on a Division 1 team next year, as she’s headed to St. Joseph’s University.
And her work ethic has been a big part of her team’s ability to grow into one of South Jersey’s most cohesive and talented units.
The Pirates returned their entire defense this year, including goalie Maddie Ogden. On offense, Gutowski and Emma Karch, a breakout freshman a year ago, tied with a team-best 14 goals last season.
It’s why the team appears as excited now as its ever been. Last year, the Pirates missed out on a South Jersey title by one goal, a 1-0 loss to Haddonfield. This year, they have visions of being on the other end of that score.
“A lot of it is chemistry,” Gutowski said. “When every class and every player is together, that’s what leads to success.”