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After big turnover, Bridgette Andrzejewski charged with leading McDonogh girls soccer

Soccer

The precise finish from McDonogh soccer star Bridgette Andrzejewski — a heavy shot from 30 yards aimed inside the upper corner — was a welcome sight for coach Harry Canellakis.

That it happened during a pickup game in the middle of the summer, with nothing on the line, didn't matter.

The No. 1 Eagles graduated a number of standouts from last year's Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship team, but Andrzejewski's wicked strike — her first touch in the friendly session — was a comforting reminder of what Canellakis has returning this season.

After scoring 29 goals and adding 10 assists to lead the Eagles in scoring for the second straight year, Andrzejewski, 17, is primed to do even more in her junior season.

"I've realized you always want to work hard and prove yourself every time you step on the field," said Andrzejewski, who earned All-Metro first-team honors in her first two years. "And now, as an upperclassman, I want to work hard and have the freshmen and sophomores look up to me. We'll all work hard together and connect."

The past year has been a big one for Andrzejewski.

After helping the Eagles win the championship in November, she trained with the U.S. under-18 national team in December.

Early in the summer, she was invited to participate in the Nike/ECNL Camp, a showcase of the country's top talent, in Portland, Ore.

Andrzejewski, who has 44 goals and 18 assists in her career, made an oral commitment in August to play at powerhouse North Carolina.

"It was a very hectic year as far as soccer, but in a very good way," she said. "It definitely shows that I'm becoming a better player and I need to keep getting better … All those great accomplishments from the past year, it will be exciting to see what this year will bring for me as a player."

These days, her attention is set on helping the Eagles defend their league crown. The team graduated eight seniors from last year's team, including All-Metro Player of the Year Anna Bialczak and All-Metro first-team selection Casey Martinez.

That puts more attention and pressure on Andrzejewski.

"Now, it's going to be Bridgette having the ball more and being the centerpiece of our attack," Canellakis said. "I think that favors her because she wants that responsibility. When the game is on the line, she wants to be the person out there. She's up for the challenge and excited about it."

For opponents, the chore of stopping her isn't as thrilling.

The Eagles also return three other Division I prospects in Kia Rankin (North Carolina State), Gaby Vincent (Louisville) and Marcela Robinson (La Salle), but the priority for opposing defenses will be limiting Andrzejewski.

"Her speed and quality of skill is what separates her, and usually you don't find that combination with one player," Severn coach Albert Oni said. "If someone is incredibly fast, they may have some technical deficiencies. Or if they're very technical on the ball, their pace may just be average. She's got frightening speed and brilliant technique, so the combination of that is what makes her deadly."

Andrzejewski comes from a passionate soccer family. Her father, uncle, brother and sister all played before her, which helped her learn the game the right way and love it.

"The big thing in our family was while you were learning to play when you were little, you had to have fun with it. And I always told them the better they became, the more fun they would have," said Andrzejewski's father, Gary.

For the youngest Andrzejewski, that meant following the example set by her older sister, Ali, another McDonogh standout who went on to play for U.S. Women's National Team and professionally for the Washington Freedom.

It also meant regular 45-minute training sessions with her father — shooting drills with both feet and sprints at the end to build endurance — which they still do.

Bridgette was 10 when Ali took her to watch her play for the Freedom. Because their parents weren't able to go, Bridgette sat behind the team's bench so Ali could keep a close eye. When lightning forced a delay, Bridgette had the chance to go into the team's locker room.

The music was blaring and all the players made sure to talk with her. Bridgette recognized the strong bond the team enjoyed, and it made her love the game even more.

"I wanted to be a sister that really encouraged her, and wanted her to have an awesome time. So the message that I really tried to give her over the years was just that I loved her and soccer is supposed to be fun," said Ali Andrzejewski. "I haven't ever really said to her what you're doing is right or wrong. But for me, it's the way she hears me talk about things — my career and my teammates and my attitude, and that there's a right way and a wrong way to approach the game and treat your teammates. That's just loving the game and having fun, and also making sure that you're prepared."

The perfectly placed shot this summer is another indication of just how prepared she is.

"I hadn't seen her play in a while and that was literally her first touch," Canellakis said. "I was like, 'I guess that answers that question — she's up for it.'"

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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