Members of the Ward Melville girls soccer team hug after...

Members of the Ward Melville girls soccer team hug after winning the NYSPHSAA Girls Soccer Championship game against Clarence, 1-0, at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Ward Melville defeated Clarence, 1-0, during Sudden Death overtime. (Photo by Heather Ainsworth) Credit: Heather Ainsworth/Heather Ainsworth

To be the best, you have to beat the best. And the Ward Melville girls soccer team wanted to prove from the opening week it could play with anybody.

The Patriots challenged themselves from the opening whistle with three tough non-league matchups. Their first game was against defending Suffolk Class A champion East Islip. Two days later, it was Shoreham-Wading River, the eventual Suffolk Class A champions. Then Ward Melville closed the week by facing St. Anthony’s, which won its fifth straight CHSAA state championship this fall.

Ward Melville defeated East Islip and Shoreham-Wading River. The Patriots played to a 0-0 tie with St. Anthony’s — a result few public schools can generate against the Friars.

All this cemented the fact that the goal of winning a state championship was a realistic one, even though no Ward Melville girls soccer team has previously achieved that.

“It just showed us that we could play with anyone over the season,” senior defender Grace Justiniano said. “It gave us motivation.”

Regardless of the opponent, Ward Melville was ready for the test. And the end result was bringing home that coveted state title with a 1-0 overtime victory over Clarence in the state Class AA final at Tompkins Cortland Community College on November 13. 

“We love challenges and we don’t get scared to play big opponents,” senior defender Emma Ward said. “For us, that’s what we play for — to play great teams and do our best every game.”

Ward Melville added an exclamation point to its first state title in program history by accomplishing it in an undefeated season with a 17-0-3 record.

“It’s such a big deal for us and I think for the rest of our lives, we are all going to cherish this moment,” Ward said. “Being undefeated and winning the state championship.”

The student-athletes said those three early-season results improved the team’s confidence that this could be a special season, especially the draw with St. Anthony’s.

“It was definitely a confidence-booster and even though the score was 0-0, I think we really dominated that game and really surprised everyone, I think including ourselves,” senior midfielder Eliana Hamou said. “That’s when we knew we had the potential to go really far this season.”

The schedule didn’t get much easier for Ward Melville. After getting through a very strong Suffolk Class AA field, the Patriots met Massapequa, the defending state Class AA champions, in the Long Island Class AA championship. Ward Melville won, 3-1, on Massapequa’s home field at Berner Middle School.

“I think the difference was this year we knew we were talented, too,” Hamou said. “We weren’t afraid of any opponent.”

And following the Massapequa victory, coach John Diehl and assistant coach Louise Williams made up shirts that said “Rise to the Challenge” on the back. The Patriots had seemingly been playing with the mantra throughout the season, and they truly embraced that during the state championships.

“After the Massapequa win, we were like, ‘OK, you rose up to every challenge. Can you do so for the next one? Step up the ladder to the last one to finally get to that last level,’” Diehl said. “And they did it.”

“It’s the perfect ending,” Ward said. “Not a lot of people can say they ended their high school career with a state championship and going undefeated. I’m super lucky to be a part of it.”

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