NISKAYUNA — Olivia Piraino remembers the play well.
The Niskayuna High School girls’ soccer star was competing with an opposing player for a loose ball during an early-season game last year.
Then, abruptly, her season was over.
“I sort of twisted on my [right] leg, planted on it, and then I twisted on my left knee and I felt it grind,” Piraino said during the first week of fall practice while wearing a supportive black brace on the leg she injured 11 months ago. “We both fell down, but only I tore my ACL.”
Piraino, now a junior, delivered the last part of that line with a laugh. The 16-year-old is able to do that, comfortable again with the health of her knee and ready to use the 2018 season as a reminder to everyone about the kind of special talent she possesses.
“She’s been great,” Niskayuna head coach Bryce Colby said. “With her dribbling, she looks like herself already. But I don’t want to tire her too quickly. I want to go slow with her, at least through the preseason. There’s no rush.”
As a freshman, Piraino needed no time to emerge on the Section II and Suburban Council scenes in a big way. Piraino scored a team-high 19 goals as a freshman and helped lead Niskayuna to an appearance in the 2016 Class AA state semifinals.
Without Piraino, Niskayuna advanced to its third-consecutive area championship game last year before falling to Shenendehowa. Watching that postseason run helped motivate Piraino in the early stages of rehabilitating her left knee.
“I just wished I could have been out there helping them,” Piraino said. “But now I’m back.”
Piraino took a conservative approach with her recovery. She was able to run four months after her surgery, but didn’t participate in full-contact soccer until late last month at a Syracuse University camp. In the few weeks since that point, Piraino said she hasn’t questioned the strength of her left knee.
“She feels pretty good, and she’s told me she has no reservations about it,” Colby said. “For me, I need to see her play more. We’ll see what she can do . . . [but] I think she is [healthy]. She seems very comfortable out there. There is no hitch in her stride.”
A healthy Piraino is one of the best players in the area, an entertaining playmaker and superb finisher. Her return is likely to keep the Silver Warriors in the mix atop a loaded Suburban Council, despite Niskayuna losing a talented senior class from a year ago that included stars such as Ali Greco and Izzy Lynch.
“I think we have enough talent to man the positions we need,” Colby said. “I think we’re good enough, but I think a lot of teams in the Suburban are good enough, too.”
Few teams in the area, though, have a player as talented as Piraino. In the past, she has played a supporting role to her team’s veterans, but that should change this season as the Silver Warriors gear their game around Piraino’s talents.
“I want to maximize her ability,” Colby said. “We need to get her involved.”