Best kept secret
by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union (@GMSPhotoWNY) At times it’s hard to get noticed. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how good of a season you have, getting noticed could be extremely difficult. With some much talent in Western New York when it comes to girls’ soccer, being overlooked can be easy. If you don’t come from a bigger school like Clarence, Lancaster or some of the Catholic schools, getting the recognition might not be that easy. It’s not often someone can score 100 goals in a career and guy under the radar, but that’s exactly how Morgan Kulniszewski of Iroquois High School’s career has gone. She has been one of the best high school players in the area for a number if years, but few may not know about it. She has recently signed on to play Division I soccer - which is an amazing opportunity.
“Being from a smaller school, it is very difficult to receive accolades for the work you put in. There are numerous girls around WNY experiencing that same thing of not being recognized for their talents because they are from a smaller school,” stated Kulniszewski. “Moving up a division this year to ECIC 2 allowed my team and I to prove ourselves and prove that we belong at the top of the lists. For years now this team has been making history for our program, and I am extremely elated that we are finally getting the recognition we so deserve.”
Proving herself is something that Kulniszewski has done her entire career. Throughout her high school career there was one milestone that Kulniszewski was hoping to active - scoring 100 goals. Heading into last season that looked like a realistic opportunity. But, after a shortened Covid junior year scoring 100 goals didn’t look like it was in the cards. That was until Kulniszewski went on a tear this season. Even with her scoring at an amazing clip for much of the year, against better competition, Kulniszewski still didn’t know if she would reach the 100 mark.
That set the stage for Iroquois’ playoff game with Williamsville South. In their playoff win over the Billies, not only did Kulniszewski reached the 100 goal mark - she helped her team advance to the championship game, before losing to Grand Island in the overall Sectional final. “It was amazing to make that accomplishment for not only me but for my team during the playoff win. I have been working towards that goal all season, and since we were so close to the end of the season, I was worried I was not going to make it,” stated Kulniszewski. “I had to miss three games mid-season due to an injury, so those games being taken away really put the pressure on me to get to 100. Getting it during our playoffs game, in a win or go home situation, meant everything for me. It is my senior year, and these are my last games as a Lady Chief, so I am making the most of what time I have left and pushing to better my team and myself.” Her 100 goals haven’t been easy. Iroquois moved up in class this year and faced a lot harder teams that before. Also, some of the teams she played against, the girls knew her from her time with the Western New York Flash - so they knew that she could do. That meant coaches would make sure to mark her close every single game - sometimes even having two people on her at a time. Having that kind of attention on a player all the time could get frustration - especially when you are expected to score goals. Kulniszewski, however, didn’t let it get to her. She knew her time would come. Kulniszewski also knew she could count on her teammates to carry the load. “Getting marked close by teams can be frustrating, but it's something that you just must learn to deal with. In games like this, I really push my teammates to step up, and I try and set them up for better success. It can be frustrating to have to work extra in order to play at the same extent, but you must find ways around it,” stated Kulniszewski. “For example, during our semifinal game against Pioneer I had a girl on me whose position was to follow me around. We had played Pioneer for our last game of the regular season, so we had prepared for this. Our midfield planned to rotate positions on the fly, so I was moving between the left, right and center. The second half I moved up to outside forward, and eventually found the back of the net twice. It can be difficult, but it is a part of the game, and just another obstacle that you must find your way around.” A gifted goal-scorer, Kulniszewski has the vision to see the entire field. She has scored her goals from the midfield, which makes it even more impressive. When she isn’t scoring goals, Kulniszewski is making sure she is setting up her teammates - and she had a good one in sophomore forward Tessa Muskopf.
Those two have worked together all season long - and it was a relationship that was forged right from the beginning. “Having someone like Tessa on the team really changes the game for me. Tessa and I work together well, and since she got pulled up at the end of last year, we have been building that relationship. It is always nice to have someone up top that I can work along with. For my first three years of varsity, this was my sister, Grace Kulniszewski, and the last two has been Tessa,” stated Kulniszewski. “She knows the game well and playing with her makes winning much easier, and I am very grateful to have someone like her on the team that I can work with to get to the goal and can always count on to be there and playing her best for the team. I’m happy to pass the torch on to her next season and see what she can do.” When Kulniszewski isn’t playing high school soccer, she is playing for her club team the Western New York Flash. Everyone is WNY knows what the Flash have become when it comes to sending young ladies to the next level. Kulniszewski has honed her skills for the Flash while playing in the ECNL - one of the best leagues in country. There Kulniszewski has been able to test herself - and see what she needed to work on as she gets ready for the next level of competition. “Being apart of the WNY Flash for so long has shaped me to the player I am today. With such amazing coaches over the years such as Aaran Lines, Eric Dade and Rob Jackman pushing me to be a better player, I have learned all my soccer skills and I would not be here today if not for the Flash. Another large part of the Flash is being in the ECNL league. Starting my seventh-grade year, we entered the ECNL, and my team was immediately successful. All the best players from around WNY joined this team and we were able to make it to the National Playoffs our first, second and third years in the ECNL, being the only team in the club to do so. We were also back-to-back conference champions in 2018 and 2019. Traveling all over the country to play against some of the top youth soccer players has been a blessing and it has been amazing to be apart of such a great program,” stated Kulniszewski. “I also had the opportunity to play down with the 04-age group this past summer as we went down to Florida for the North American Cup. Being born in 2003 but still in high school, me and my one other teammate and lifelong friend Mirann Gacioch get to play with the 04’ age group for our final season and were fortunate enough to travel with them and earn a National Championship for the club.” Everything she has learned over the years has helped Kulniszewski become the type of player and leader that she is now. She has been on the varsity team for so long that you forget sometimes that she was once a scared underclassman not sure of herself. Now she is the leader of a team that achieved a lot this year. She has used her experience to grow as a person on and off the field - and it has shown. She has become more confidence in herself and she has shown the younger girls what it takes to compete at the highest level necessary. “Being the player that has been on varsity the longest, you tend to grow into the role with ease. I started on varsity in eighth grade and have played with many different players and two different coaches. The program has grown from not making it past the first round of playoffs to making it to the crossover finals twice and making program history when I have been on this team, and I have grown as a player as the program has grown,” stated Kulniszewski. “Playing with so many talented players throughout the years and trying to grow with them has allowed me to learn the skills of leadership and learned how to guide others and myself to success. I earned the title of captain in my junior year, and it has carried over to my senior year. Through this title I was able to use my organizational skills learned through schooling and was able to lead the team with ease.