Bordentown soccer player Lexi Mazzella had a breakout season as a freshman last year, scoring 18 goals. (Photo by Rich Fisher.)

The Bordentown Township High School girls’ soccer team is so deep, coach Dominic Castaldo claims, “This year it’s gonna be a battle. I could start any one of 20 people.”

It’s a pretty good bet that one of those 20 will be sophomore Lexi Mazzella, who burst on the scene dynamically last fall. The forward-midfielder led the Scotties in both goals (18) and assists (5) despite playing defender for most of her career.

“I used to play in the back in travel and I was really dominant back there,” she said. “But my coach thought I could do more up top. I was like, 14 when they moved me up.”

Which means Mazzella has only been playing up front for less than two years, but she certainly looks like a veteran.

“She has that knack,” Castaldo said. “A forward just has that knack. That’s her. She knows what positions to get into, she knows how to get herself open with the ball and without the ball. She’s not afraid to take a shot. She’ll take a shot no matter what. Her shot is hard but it’s also well placed.”

With Mazzella’s impressive start in high school, there is the temptation to compare her to Alexis McTamney, the program’s all-time leading scorer who went on to play for Monmouth University. But Castaldo feels there is a difference between the two, since McTamney was a born striker.

“Lexi doesn’t have that forward mentality that Alexis McTamney had,” the coach said. “There you had a pure forward, here you have a player who’s a midfield-forward who likes to score, who enjoys scoring but hasn’t polished it to that level. But at this level right now she’ll score a lot of goals, get a lot of assists and be involved in a lot of things.”

Which is the biggest difference between the two. McTamney was the more explosive scorer, but Mazzella brings other attributes to the table.

“Lex McTamney could score at will if she wanted to,” Castaldo said. “Lexi maybe can’t score at will but she’ll put people in position or put herself in a position to gain an opportunity. You’re dealing with a pure forward versus a player who’s more rounded throughout the field.”

Although she never saw McTamney play, Mazzella noted, “I did see a video of her playing. I was like ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’”

Lexi began playing soccer at age 6 in the Bordentown rec league. She moved on to travel and helped the Bordentown Jaguars win the State Cup and reach the regional finals two years ago.

Once Mazzella was moved to forward, she began to rely on tips from her dad Sal, a former Hamilton West standout who played for a national champion at Mercer County Community College.

“My dad really pushed me to get where I am,” she said. “He pushed me to score goals after I moved up front.”

Mazzella never expected to score the way she did as a freshman.

“Not really,” she said. “I expected just to be in there and work as a team. I started scoring goals and wanted to score more. It was really just everyone pushing each other and it pushed me to keep going and not stop.”

Playing with predominantly sophomores and freshman, Bordentown struggled to a 6-13 record and Mazzella’s scoring played a part in the victories as she had goals in four of the six wins. Her scores came in bunches as she had four hat tricks and two other games with two goals, but she was hardly being selfish.

“She’s quick, her movements were good for that freshman coming in,” Castaldo said. “We’re looking for a lot more movement and more distribution this year. She’s probably one of the more unselfish players. She can score goals but it seems like at times she likes playing balls to set people up. She’ll give you that mix.”

It is something she does by design.

“I’m just looking to win and get the goals in,” Mazzella said. “But everyone wants to score so you try to distribute to everyone.”

Castaldo plans on playing his scorer a little further away from the goal, somewhere in between forward and midfield. His reasoning is that when Mazzella is facing the goal, it makes her that much more dangerous; and it gives her an opportunity to defend as well.

“She likes to come back and play defense, which you don’t see a lot,” Castaldo said. “She’s just a really good kid. The biggest thing is she gets very frustrated. She likes to win, sometimes the frustration gets in her and she tries to do a little too much and we gotta bring it down a bit. But I feel that her strength will be facing the goal. She’ll make people think.”

Mazzella hopes her frustration won’t be as frequent this year, as Bordentown is hoping the fruits of its youth movement over the past two years will start to emerge. The sophomores and juniors have experience and for the second straight year a talented freshman class is coming in.

Other key returnees include juniors Haley Russell and Gillian Baker and Katie Sprague, sophomore goalie Rayna Hamden and sophomore defender Georgia Boberg.

“I think we’ll do really well this year,” Mazzella said. “There’s a lot to like. We’re really close and we push each other to our fullest. A lot of the girls on this team are on my travel team, and we connect really well.”

Which can only help Mazzella, who will probably be marked a little tighter than she was last year.

“That whole freshman class was a talented bunch, but she just took everybody by storm,” Castaldo said. “This year it will be a little interesting because people are gonna look for her. But I think she’s got that mindset and she’s been working hard so far.”

Asked how she will counter the extra attention, Mazzella keeps it simple.

“I just let them do whatever they want (defensively), and from there I’m gonna shoot,” she said. “I just try to get in front of them and shoot. And I just block them from getting the ball. I pay attention in practice to the way defenders are defending and just figure out ways to go.”

The Scotties hope she continues to pick the right ways this season.