Luciana Zullo of Hunterdon Central is NJ.com girls soccer state Player of the Year for 2016
The game was still scoreless when Luciana Zullo darted toward the box.
Going up against one of the best defenders in the state in Ridge’s Ally Friedman, Zullo reached into her bag of tricks and forced Friedman into a rare error, whiffing on the ball and knocking Zullo over to set up a free kick for Hunterdon Central.
The play didn’t show up in the box score, withBrie Pavol burying the free kick for a 1-0 lead in the Group 4 state championship game. In fact, nothing Zullo did in Hunterdon Central’s 3-0 win — the program’s first state championship — registered on the stat sheet.
But that’s true for a lot of what Zullo, theNJ.com state Player of the Year for 2016, was able to accomplish this season.
“Drawing fouls and assists of assists are kind of the elements that are not in the stat book that make her so valuable,” Hunterdon Central coach Jeannine Calhounsaid. “As impressive as Luciana’s stats are in terms of goals and assists, I would venture to say a pretty big percentage of our set pieces on the field were a result of her being fouled in and around the box.”
Added Zullo: “My coach made it a point to me, she told me, ‘When you have the opportunity to dribble, do it, because they’re either going to foul or you’re going to get past them.'”
And yet, even with all that went unnoticed by the casual observer, Zullo still led the Red Devils by a healthy margin with 31 points — 14 goals and a career-high 17 assists.
It’s nothing new for the University of South Carolina commit.
The senior outside forward has led Hunterdon Central in goals and assists the previous two years, and while she fell two goals short of younger sister Corinna’s team-leading 16 this year, Luciana’s assist total almost doubled the next-best figure on the team.
Her speed helps. If there’s a universal trait among the state’s best players, it’s blazing speed.
And even in her second game in three days, when her legs felt “like jelly,” Zullo was still the fastest on the field, scoring the only two goals in a 2-0 win over Freehold Township in the Central Jersey, Group 4 final.
It’s her hard work paying off. Work that started as a 9-year-old on the Player Development Academy club team, to this past season as a senior leader.
“She never took a day off in practices or games,” Calhoun said. “Her consistency was really impressive. It was something that made her game and motivated her teammates.”
It’s how she earned MVP honors in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament, and capped the season with six goals and three assists as the best player on the field in six playoff games for Hunterdon Central.
But it’s Zullo’s skill that makes her unique.
There might be players who have the touch and vision for a nuanced skill like hitting the intended foot of a teammate on a long cross, or the control to one-touch, turn and fire, off a long pass in a tight space, but it’s nearly impossible to find another player who melds skill so seamlessly with improvisation.
“Luciana pulls moves in games that are not the moves kids go to skill training to learn — they’re not textbook soccer moves,” Calhoun said. “She does things with the ball at her feet that I don’t think she was necessarily taught. She just has this gift for making it up as she goes along.
“(Opposing teams) can’t put in a box what she’s going to do because we don’t even know what she’s going to do. I don’t know how anybody would decide how to defend her.”
Zullo doesn’t even know. She just does what feels right in the moment, and that’s why defenders, even ones as accomplished as Friedman, end up looking foolish when they try to contain her one-on-one.
“I try to do whatever feels right in the moment,” Zullo said. “I don’t like doing the same thing, having the same game plan every game. I just try to do whatever feels right.”
Provided by : http://highschoolsports.nj.com