For the St. Anthony’s girls soccer team, the 2015 season was an emotional rollercoaster.
Team moderator Bro. Cletus Burke died in August. He was a stalwart on the sidelines during games and practices, and many considered him part of the team. The Friars wore patches that read “BRO” after his death.
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This was the first emotional test for a team that eventually would win the CHSAA Class AA state championship on its home turf three months later. The remaining challenges came on the field.
Coach Sue Alber was tasked with replacing seven starters from last year’s state championship squad, sometimes using players who were out of position.
“Coming into this year, we lost most of our back line,” Francesca Venezia said. “It was hard to find a whole new back line. She put people in positions where they weren’t as comfortable, but they found a way to make it work.”
By season’s end, Katrina Etts and Alex Mazzucca were a standout pairing on the back line.
Next, the Friars had to overcome a tough 1-0 loss to St. John the Baptist on Sept. 28.
“You kind of take for granted winning a state championship, and you can get complacent,” Alber said. “St. John’s beating us at our place was a wake-up call. It was a turning point.”
Alber’s squad responded by not losing another game all season.
The final potential roadblock came on Oct. 23 in the CHSAA semifinals. The top-seeded Friars went into overtime tied 1-1 with No. 4 Sacred Heart.
Francesca Picicci scored 32 seconds into the period from just inside the box to give St. Anthony’s a 2-1 advantage and a date with Kellenberg in the final.
Another obstacle, another triumph.
“Picicci could be one of the best players in the league next year,” Alber said. “She’s the kind of player who’s always working for you but doesn’t always get recognized.”
The Friars rolled through their remaining games, beating Kellenberg, 3-0, Buffalo Academy Sacred Heart, 2-0, and Christ the King, 4-1, to win the state title.
Alber said that it was a matter of time before the new starters began to hit their collective stride. She was right, as the Friars proved to be unstoppable with Venezia, Picicci, Sabrina Cristodero and Kayla Arestivo on the attack. In goal, Camryn Nici was a rock for a team that started with that up-in-the-air back line.
Credit Alber for building another champion at St. Anthony’s.
“Knowing that we play for St. Anthony’s is a great feeling,” Venezia said. “It’s a great feeling saying that I’m a Friar.”