Sophomores were key as Sacred Heart captured its first CHSAA state girls soccer championship since 2008.
The season began with a youthful look, with 12 sophomores on the 24-player roster. And they were there to do more than just observe. With seven starting, including in key roles such as the goalkeeper and the leading goal scorer, they were vital in the title quest.
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Sacred Heart never tempered its expectations because of youth. The girls didn’t care that they may not have the roster makeup of a typical state champ. They had the talent and chemistry. And the proof was in the results.
“There was really no separation between grades,” said sophomore Victoria Minda of Garden City. “It was really just one big team.”
And throughout the postseason, they had their moments to shine en route to a 1-0 victory over Buffalo Nardin at Niagara University on Nov. 12 to win its fifth CHSAA girls soccer state championship.
Sacred Heart (15-3) started with a 4-0 conference semifinal victory over St. John the Baptist, in which juniors Grace Haff (Glen Cove) and Joanna Graca (Mineola) and sophomores Caitlin Kennedy (Manhasset) and Minda scored and junior Emma Cashwell (Garden City) and sophomores Tess Cash (Bayside) and Lauren Wasserman (New Hyde Park) got assists.
After that, the Sacred Heart back line of seniors Bridget O’Hara (Rockville Centre) and Anna Donnelly (Floral Park), junior Ellen Byrnes (Port Washington) and sophomore Melissa Biscardi (Garden City) dominated and avenged two regular-season losses and a playoff elimination the year before by beating St. Anthony’s in a 1-0 penalty-kick victory for the NSCHSAA championship.
“We knew that last year we lost to St. Anthony’s on a golden goal,” said Byrnes after the victory. “So this year, our goal was not let them score at all.”
That same defense with sophomore Sara Micheli (Carle Place) and senior Shannon Etts (East Norwich) in net continued its dominant performance and didn’t allow a goal in 340 minutes of postseason soccer. Sacred Heart easily defeated Christ the King, 7-0, with all seven goals coming from sophomores. Minda had three goals and Alexa Russell (Mineola) and Kennedy scored twice each, with Kennedy’s pair of goals giving her a team-leading 26.
And then in the biggest game of the season, it was Kristen McArdle (Williston Park), the senior captain, who delivered the lone goal in the 1-0 state championship win.
With 18 returning players, Sacred Heart certainly feels confident. But nothing’s guaranteed.
“You got to take it one year at a time,” coach Peter Bralower said. “Certainly it gives us a tremendous base for some success for the next two years, but once you’re there, you got to take advantage of it because you never know what’s going to happen along the way.”
“Being a younger player on this team, it’s amazing because a lot of the sophomores are very talented,” Minda said, “so we still have a lot of talent coming up but then we also have upperclassmen that we’re losing. But hopefully we get players to replace them.”