Olivia Gonsalves spent last season on the Ward Melville sidelines, watching earnestly as then-goalie Emma Jehle proved a shining example in net. Gonsalves knew she stood on the doorstop of opportunity, and her diligence as a junior backup is now paying off in her senior year, her first as a starter.
Case in point: Ward Melville's 11-9 win over host and Division I rival Smithtown West on Thursday.
With the Patriots (4-0) clinging to a 10-9 advantage in the game's waning moments, Smithtown West's Natalie Lynch attacked with fervor.
First, the midfielder got position in front of the net and dropped to her knees as she tried to fling in a shot, only to be denied by Gonsalves' kick save with 3:45 left. Less than a minute later, Lynch came sweeping across from left to right for a shot on goal, but Gonsalves reacted instantaneously for a point-blank save.
Samantha Nemirov's goal, on a breakaway with 1:21 remaining after she forced a turnover, put the finishing touch on Ward Melville's win.
Gonsalves racked up 15 saves and credited the constant communication with the defense led by seniors Katie Koester and Emily LaRosa for her success.
"When they're playing well and we're communicating, I play well," Gonsalves said. "And when we work together as a unit, we're really unstoppable."
The game-time temperature sat at 37 degrees, dipping to 28 when factoring in the 15 mile per hour winds, but Ward Melville's attack was hot at the start. A dish from Nemirov to attack Alex Vignona two minutes into the game ignited an 8-1 run by the Patriots.
But after the two teams exchanged goals to make the score 9-2 with 4:43 left in the first half, goals by Kaitlin Unser, Mackenzie Heldberg and Chelsea Witteck brought Smithtown West (3-2) to within four at halftime.
"At halftime, we really noticed that we had to wake up," Nemirov said. "We had to play with as much fire as we did during the first 20 minutes and just do whatever it takes to come out on top."
The Bulls scored three consecutive times midway through the second half, but Nemirov's fourth goal of the game sealed it.
Hannah Hobbes and Kaitlin Thornton each added two goals for Ward Melville.
"We came out strong, then hit kind of a lull but were able to pull it out. So a great experience for us," Patriots coach Kerri Kilkenny said, "but definitely a little bit of a roller-coaster ride."