Back when kids had to learn how to amuse themselves, Carissima Cutrona was ahead of her time.
The then-5-year-old used to kick a soccer ball up against the concrete stairs that led to the front porch of her home in Williamsville. Neighbors who wondered whatever happened to that little girl would probably be delighted to learn she's become one of the best players in Western New York.
"I loved soccer since I was little," said Cutrona. "Outside my house we had four steps leading up to the house and that's where I learned to play soccer, just kicking it back and forth. I'd go out everyday and just kick the ball against the front stairs, and I just fell in love with it. I would want to practice and get better."
One of her first coaches taught her the egg drill in which you treat the ball as if it's an egg and you make sure you get a good touch on it.
Cutrona didn't just get better. As a freshman and sophomore, she was named to the 14-player All-Western New York team. With nearly two full seasons left to play for Williamsville South, the junior forward already has 84 career goals. Last year she tallied 34, including both goals in the 5-2 loss to Rockville Center in the New York State Class A semifinals.
As accomplished as she is, Cutrona is not above revisiting where it all began. "I still go out there today, you can always go back to your basics. That's what the game of soccer is. If you practice those and get those down, you can be good. The neighbors probably think I'm a little crazy, but actually the little girl, she's 6, across the street, she's gotten into soccer just watching me. I love that."
Cutrona is a finisher who loves to score and has the ability to energize the team. Opponents find her a tough matchup.
She currently has five goals and an assist, giving her a share of ECIC II scoring lead with Hamburg's Kara Daley.
"Her ball skills are just phenomenal, she's almost a freak," said East Aurora coach Tom Cashmore. "A lot of kids are good, she's a step above that, and I'm not even talking about my own kids. She's one of the reasons I'm glad we dropped down to [Class] B."
Despite the loss of seven seniors, South believes it has enough talent, and players with state tournament experience, to reach the Sectional finals. Seniors Maggie Papia and Colleen Stelley are four-year players. Sophomore Fiona Dargen, who got lot of minutes last year, has earned a starting spot at forward. Dargen scored the lone goal last year against Mercy in the Far West Regionals.
Last year the Billies (9-2-1) nosed out Williamsvsille East (9-3) to win ECIC II.
Sophomore Alyssa Calandra makes her season debut this week after suffering a broken leg while playing club soccer over the summer. She scored twice against Starpoint in last year's Section final. Senior Lauren Haase returns at goalkeeper.
"It's all about my teammates around me always making me look good," said Cutrona. "It's not a one-player sport, it's a team sport, our team has 19 players and everyday we show up for practice and we do it as a team together.
South is off to a 1-0-1 start, beating Iroquois and tying rival Williamsville East in overtime. On Saturday at noon the Billies will host Rochester Mercy in a rematch of last year's Far West Regionals, won by South, 1-0.
"We have so many good girls who are coming up from JV we're definitely excited about this year," she said. "It's a bit of a new team, but we're looking forward to starting again. We're definitely looking to get to the sectional final and win it again. That's the main goal once we get there; who knows where we can go from there?"
She may be a year-round soccer player, but Cutrona is also an honor roll student who plays the saxophone in South's marching band.
"She's a once-in-a-lifetime kid to have in your program," said South coach Kevin McNamara. "This kid's just special in so many ways, on the field and off. Out of all the things, her leadership and being a good teammate really keeps our team solidified She works so hard at the game, she continually works at it wants to get better. "
Cutrona plans to continue her soccer career at the college level and has already visited the University at Buffalo, West Virginia and Penn State. No matter how far soccer takes her Cutrona will never forget her roots and where those stairs can lead.