Mars' Brueckner wins second straight PSAC award with Gannon, has eyes on bigger prize
Mani Brueckner continues to amass quite a collection of soccer awards.
The Mars graduate picked up her second consecutive PSAC Women's Soccer Offensive Athlete of the Year honor this fall.
However, capturing a PSAC championship with her Gannon University squad remains atop her wish list.
Brueckner and the Golden Knights took a step in that direction this season as the program earned its first PSAC tournament win (a 1-0 upset of second-seeded Slippery Rock). West Chester eliminated Gannon, 3-0, in the PSAC semifinals.
“That was pretty exciting — to get that first win was great and gave you the feeling that the program is going in the right direction,” Brueckner said. “It definitely gives us something to build off. We have a young team, but we have a lot of talented players. We'll miss the seniors, but, hopefully, we can take another step forward next year.”
Only a sophomore, Brueckner continued her dominance in the PSAC. She led the Golden Knights (10-8-1) with 10 goals, 13 assists and 33 points. She was among the NCAA Division-II leaders in assists per game, total assists, total points and points per game.
“I was so surprised I got (the PSAC honor) two years in a row. Last year, people didn't expect a lot from me since I was a freshman,” Brueckner said. “To get it this year is a great honor and I am really excited about it. It kind of makes expectations a little scary. The further up you are, the further you can fall. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I expect a lot out of myself.”
Consistency has been crucial for Brueckner. She had 10 goals, 13 assists and 33 total points as a freshman in 19 matches, too. She earned PSAC Freshman of the Year and Daktronics Atlantic Region Player of the Year honors. Playing a steady game helped her avoid a decline in production this fall.
“One thing I was very afraid of is the sophomore slump,” she said. “When an athlete has a good freshman year, they always don't have the same kind of year as a sophomore. I was fortunate to avoid that.
“Coming in as a freshman, you're a little tentative and don't want to step on anyone's toes and you don't want to make a mistakes. I was more settled this year and was able to play my game. I knew I had to work a lot harder because a lot was expected of me and teams knew me now.”
Brueckner's preparation paid off as she fought through the extra defensive attention.
“Of all the players in our conference, she obviously has the biggest impact,” Gannon coach Pete Curtis said. “When we play teams, they have a game plan for her. At the end of last year, we discussed it a bit, and she was well aware of what was coming. She prepared herself thoroughly. Despite all of that, she was still player of the year.
“The talent is there. She is very smart. She has a lot of vision and she understands the game well. She makes the right adjustments. I think other players benefit from that, too. Teams have to take her into account. That allows us the freedom to do other things.”
Brueckner, a central midfielder, is marking her mark on Gannon's record books. She is the program's career assist leader (26). She is third in career points (66).
“The assists record is really nice. It's something that has been part of my game since high school,” she said. “I have the assists record at Mars and here. I like to set my teammates up and make them look good.”
Despite her success, Brueckner knows she must continue to get better.
“It's mostly just being able to play for 90 minutes and being effective for that entire time and not letting my focus lapse,” she said. “Endurance, fitness and strength are things I have to keep working on.”
Her success isn't limited to soccer. Brueckner, an engineering major, was named to the Capital One Academic All-District II women's soccer first team. She has produced a 3.98 cumulative GPA and was named a PSAC Scholar-Athlete last season.
“It was definitely a lot tougher this semester,” she said. “Going into the season, you know you have certain amount of time to study. It's tough balancing that workload with soccer, but I wouldn't change it, either. So far, it's going OK.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.