Matt Vowinkel and Roberto Ventura were two of the top scorers in Long Island boys soccer last year.
Every time Chaminade needed a goal during its CHSAA state championship run, the Flyers looked to Vowinkel, who sent 26 shots into the back of the net. And whenever Brentwood scored during its 18-2 season, it was Ventura more often than anyone else. The striker had 20 goals to go with seven assists last year.
Vowinkel and Ventura, now seniors, have their teams poised to make deep postseason runs.
“I think you’ll see a lot of goals, won’t you?” Chaminade coach Mike Gallagher said of the season in general.
Not as many as you would have, though. Hicksville’s Matt Sloan scored 12 goals — two shy of the county leader — despite missing several games last year. Widely considered one of Long Island’s top strikers, Sloan will play center back.
“It’s very good talent everywhere,” Ventura said, regarding him, Vowinkel and Sloan.
There’s still a chance Sloan will move up front again. But while he’s anchoring Hicksville’s backline, Ventura and the Hofstra-bound Vowinkel will be drawing constant attention from opponents.
“[Vowinkel’s] not hidden anymore,” Gallagher said. “He’s not sneaking up on anybody.”
As for Ventura, Gallagher held a similar belief.
“We played them early on last year and he was a handful,” Gallagher said. “Everybody knows who he is. He’s a very, very good player in a long line of very good Brentwood players.”
So how will the increased attention affect Vowinkel and Ventura? Both natural scorers said they hope drawing extra help from defenders enables them to become better distributors while also maintaining their finishing ability.
“I know I’m a bigger target,” Vowinkel said, “so I’ve been working with a bunch of other teammates to try to take pressure off my shoulders. A bigger target on my back, more defenders come to me, so I can share some of the pressure off to them and create some easy space for myself and easy space for them.”
Said Ventura: “I’m going to be man-marked so I’m going to create space for all the players, my striker next to me. I’m going to work at it. It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to keep going and work hard.”
Hard work. That’s a trait that has defined both players as they have risen to an elite level.
For Vowinkel, offseason workouts and drills revolved around fitness and improving his ability to battle multiple defenders long enough to create openings for teammates. And for Ventura, already an athletic and skilled player, speed was a primary focus.
“His speed’s gotten better, his mentality, creating space for other people to score — not just him. It’s amazing,” Brentwood midfielder Jorge Hernandez said.
Both strikers hope to lead their teams to state championships. Brentwood is a favorite to win the Suffolk Class AA title, while Chaminade is the CHSAA’s top team.
“We’ve just got to stay right on top of it, stay extremely focused,” Vowinkel said. “Everything we do has to be one step better. It’s got to be perfect this year.”