Competition is at the core of everything the St. Anthony’s girls soccer team does.
St. Anthony’s, winners of the last three state CHSAA championships, won’t have the chance to play for a fourth state title because of precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA has plans for a full postseason, including a league championship game, and that’s what the Friars are focused on. A fourth in a row of that title.
"I feel like every year for us, winning the league is just as important as states," senior center midfielder Chiara Greco said. "The goal is to get past the league and to states and even though we can’t get to states this year, it’s still as important."
The Friars, 16-2-2 last year, graduated their top three scorers and goalkeeper. Olivia Perez, a junior, is expected to play a key scoring role. St. Anthony’s also will rely on its experienced midfield and defense, including Sonni Adams, Emily Riggins, Daniela Monzon, Natalie DeMasi and Greco.
Their schedule will appear much different though. The Friars often play some of the top schools in the region. This year, it's just CHSAA teams but that hasn’t changed the players’ mindsets.
"Coach is always on us with competition and competing because we can only play 11 on the field," Adams said. "So everyone is always high pace, high intensity, trying to compete for their starting spot."
Coach Sue Alber credited her team’s willingness to wear masks during practice. Alber said the CHSAA adapted the state’s protocols, which called for athletes to wear face coverings at all times "unless unable to tolerate face covering for physical activity." Alber said players always will need to have a mask on their possession during games, even if it’s not covering their face.
"I’ll encourage them to try to play with it on," Alber said, "but if it’s going to hinder us, obviously you have to pull it down and catch your breath."
The quest for a fourth straight league title remains at the forefront, but in the back of everybody’s mind, the main goal is to finish a season in these uncertain times.
"Obviously we want to stay healthy because that will keep the season going forward, but we are very motivated," Alber said. "For a while, they didn’t think they’d have a season, so I think emotions are extremely high and they are buzzing around and ready to go."
Kellenberg, which fell to St. Anthony’s, 1-0, in the CHSAA Class AA final, returns three-year starting goalkeeper Kylie McShea and defensive anchor Sarah DeFreitas. Along with Lindsay McShea and Taylor Argentina at midfield and Tara Harkin up top, the Firebirds could contend for a championship.
Sacred Heart returns six players, highlighted by Kaelan Bradley, a three-year starting midfielder committed to play at Army. The Spartans also feature Colleen Dorrian, Beth McDermott, Daniela Battisti and Kelsie Price.
St. John the Baptist, led by junior midfielder Meghan White and seniors Amanda Watson and Jenna Garcia, look to improve upon its semifinal appearance.
Holy Trinity returns many of its starters from last year’s 9-6 team, which reached the league final. The Titans will rely on seniors Molly Espey and Anna Swinchuck, along with junior Ariana Tavares.
Our Lady of Mercy returns 13 of 16 players and will rely on the senior experience of Catarina Chelius, Jane Maleady, Molly Daly, along with Kaleigh Walsh in goal.
St. Dominic also returns a young team, which started seven freshmen. But the senior leadership of forward Daniella Cavallone and defender Lily Schneidler will prove pivotal to the team’s success.
St. Mary’s, led by Ava Kotliar, Codie Lewis and Kira Hogan, look to compete for a playoff spot.
Defending Class A champion St. Francis Prep features a young, but talented team led by Viviana Cvecic — a three-year varsity midfielder who had three goals and eight assists.
5 players to watch
Kaelan Bradley, Sacred Heart, M, Sr.: She is as tough as they come on a soccer pitch. Bradley, a three-year starter committed to Army, had two goals and six assists to go along with her outstanding field vision for the Spartans.
Molly Espey, Holy Trinity, F, Sr.: The experienced senior forward is one of the league’s top scoring threats, including scoring in the Titans’ 3-1 loss to St. Francis Prep in the CHSAA ‘A’ final.
Chiara Greco, St. Anthony’s, M, Sr.: She helps control the team’s pace of play from midfield and can facilitate offense with her three assists last year. Greco is a consistent offensive and defensive presence.
Kylie McShea, Kellenberg, G, Sr.: The three-year varsity goalkeeper commands and controls the game from behind the back line. She helped propel the Firebirds to the CHSAA championship game last year and had 18 saves in a 1-0 loss to the eventual state champions.
Olivia Perez, St. Anthony’s, M/F, Jr.: She had six goals and three assists, and a knack for making plays in the biggest games. Her goal gave the Friars a 1-0 league championship victory over Kellenberg. She also scored in their 2-1 victory over Xaverian in the state final. Perez will take a larger role on offense after the graduation of the team’s three top scorers.