A group of Long Island soccer standouts are about to embark on the winter vacation of a lifetime: a trip to Spain and Gibraltar, where the girls will practice with a team of professionals.
The Long Island players, ages 14-16, begin their journey Feb. 16 after being selected for the tour.
“Honestly, it’s a really big opportunity and I was in shock when I found out,” said Erika Murray, a 16-year-old junior who also plays for the West Babylon High School varsity team. “It was like ‘Wow, I got picked.’ I just can’t wait to play.”
The roster consisting of seven players from Lindenhurst (Kaya Baldyga, Destiny Garcia, Aleah Irizarry, Emily Natonio, Samantha Schnaars, Chiara Sesto and Danielle Walsh), four from West Babylon (Sophia Carl, Kaylah Smolenski, Meghan Smolenski and Murray), three from Babylon (Alexa Carseni, Faythe Fifield and Casey Santos), two from East Northport (Mikaela Benchimol and Morgan Reale) along with Deer Park’s Haley Cascio and Bethpage’s Brianna Schatzel were all selected because of their individual skills and ability to perform as a unit.
“This particular group is so well-rounded in their development,” said Robert Fifield, the President of the South Shore Soccer Club, which had five players selected for the trip. “Throughout their playing time, they’ve all excelled in certain areas and when you look at their individual strengths as well as how they play as a unit, they bring a tremendous amount to a team like that.”
They will play against the Gibraltar U16 National Team on Feb. 18, followed by a Feb. 20 match in Spain and possibly one more before they return. They will also practice with the Lions Gibraltar FC Ladies Senior Team.
The girls are looking forward to competing against older players and against the international style.
“They play so differently over there that it’s just going to be so exciting to see that type of playing soccer,” said East Northport’s Benchimol, a 15-year-old sophomore who plays on the Northport High School junior varsity. “It’s exciting to learn from them and learn how the ball moves over there compared to here.”
For Carseni, a 14-year-old from Babylon, the experience of being around Gibraltar’s U16 national team will be a preview of what’s to come, as she will compete for that very team during the UEFA Development Tournament in Malta in March. Carseni’s grandfather was born in Gibraltar, which made her eligible for the team.
“It’s a great opportunity to become better as a player and it’s just overall going to be a good experience,” said Carseni, a freshman on the West Babylon varsity team. “It means a lot to my grandpa — especially — and the rest of my family, too.”
Carseni admitted she’s a little nervous to play for the national team, but is more excited to work and run with players with alternative styles.
“They do different training there,” she said. “They have a different game over there. They work on passing and all footwork and it’s more involved over there because it’s going to make you better as a player and I’m excited for that.”
Fifield said the experience will not only help the girls get the exposure to the game in different areas and different styles, but they will also be able to bring what they learn back to their teammates on Long Island.
“This will open up some doors for them for their future,” he said. “Plus they will bring things to their team, which is a little bit different.”
And after the years of practice and training, the girls are most excited just to be able to experience a new country together.
“I never would have thought that I was going to play over there,” Benchimol said. “And the fact that I get to do it with amazing people and we all get to go over and have so much fun and experience it together is just crazy.”