Here are 10 things to watch as the Nassau girls soccer playoffs start this weekend. All stats and results are as reported to Newsday.
1. Syosset looking to repeat
After winning its first Nassau Class AA championship in program history last year, the top-seeded Braves have shown from the very start of the year they aren’t satisfied. Syosset won last year with a young lineup and returned many of its top players, led by Avani Brandt and twin sisters Isabella and Emma Romano.
Brandt, a two-way midfielder verbally committed to Stanford, has six goals and an assist. Isabella Romano has 10 goals and five assists, and Emma Romano has two goals and five assists while playing strong defense with Eve Waldhauser in goal.
Syosset also added some new players, including Hope Neale, who had eight goals and three assists this year. Syosset earned the top seed by winning a coin toss after identical records with Massapequa.
2. Massapequa tough as ever
The Chiefs have won 14 of the last 16 county titles, and six of the last seven Class AA titles before failing to reach the championship game last year. But Massapequa has only lost one game all season, as the Chiefs and Syosset split their two matchups.
No. 2 Massapequa, always led by a strong defense, has allowed one goal in its last six games. Sierra Brophy leads the offense with 17 goals and three assists, and Gianna Savella has eight goals and five assists. Brophy also led Nassau AA-I in goals.
The Chiefs led Nassau AA-I in goal differential (30) and have the pieces in place to make another championship run. Massapequa opens with Oceanside, which was undefeated in Nassau AA-II with a +63 goal differential.
3. The power of a playmaker: Stephanie Sparkowski, East Meadow goalkeeper and Lexi Vegoda, Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK midfielder
A goalkeeper can propel teams in the postseason, and East Meadow is lucky enough to have such a player in goal. Sparkowski, a senior who is committed to Michigan, has been a fixture in nets for years, and she helped the Jets become co-Nassau Class AA champions last year.
No. 4 East Meadow likely will need to pull an upset or two along the way, but with Sparkowski in net and Myla McLeod on the attack, the Jets will be fighting until the final whistle.
Vegoda finished second in Nassau AA-I with 19 points (12 goals) and has the ability to strike from 40 yards out. She can create for herself and her teammates, and she is a player opposing defenders and coaches will always have an eye on for 80 minutes for the No. 3 seed.
Plainview-Old Betpage JFK upset Massapequa in the playoffs last season before falling to eventual champion Syosset, and will look to create more magic this fall.
4. But don’t count out...
No. 5 Farmingdale and No. 6 Baldwin: Although both teams struggled in the win column this season, they will know what to expect against the top teams after competing in Nassau AA-I. With a few adjustments, these teams could remind local fans why they were playing with the best all season.
No. 7 Oceanside: The Sailors have shutout their opponents in 11 of 12 games and outscored their opponents 65-2. The only non-victory for Oceanside this year came in a 2-2 tie with Port Washington.
The Sailors have plenty of offensive firepower, with Julie Strianese (18 goals, four assists), Ashley Ladner (15 goals, three assists), Luigina Serrao (10 goals, seven assists) and Isabella Lazzaro (six goals, eight assists).
No. 8 Port Washington: The Vikings haven’t lost since Sept. 13. They tied Oceanside on Oct. 5. Kaeleigh Romero has led the offense with seven goals and seven assists, and Rebecca Sperry has anchored the defensive end of the field in goal.
5. Nassau AB-I parity
Some of the best soccer on Long Island all season has come out of the seven teams in Nassau AB-I. There rarely has been a one-sided matchup in the games, as the little separation in the standings dictates. In a 12-game conference schedule, no team has won more than six games, and no team has won fewer than three matchups.
Any of the seven teams, along with some teams in other conferences, can make legitimate claims to consider themselves the favorite to win the Nassau Class A championship. Let’s find out why each team should feel confident.
6. The case for…
No. 1 Wantagh: The Warriors have the fewest losses in Nassau AB-I, entering the playoffs with a 6-2-4 conference record. Morgan Flaherty has had a flare for the heroics throughout the year and leads Wantagh with 10 goals and three assists. Both of the Warriors’ conference losses have come by one goal. Wantagh has never won a county title in program history. Could this year change that?
No. 2 Garden City: Year after year, Garden City is a team prided on its defense. The Trojans only allowed multiple goals three times all year, and only twice in conference play. Kelly Brennan is one of the top defenders in the county, and Mary Haggerty adds an offensive and defensive presence at midfield for a team looking for another run at a county title. And the Trojans scored four goals in their final game, so maybe the offense is ready to strike at the right time.
No. 3 Mepham: The Pirates were the surprising Nassau AB-II team last year. That’s no longer the case. Mepham held its own against the top teams in the county all year and could continue doing the same into the playoffs. Luciana Setteducate, a sophomore, led the conference in goals (11) and points (17) and partnered with midfielder Briana Sayoc, the duo will be at the forefront of what the Pirates hope to be a long postseason.
No. 4 South Side: South Side enters the playoffs playing its best soccer of the season, winning its final five games after a slow start to the year. With one of the top goalkeepers in the area in Julia Cavanagh and a strong team defense, no one will be excited about a matchup with South Side.
No. 5 Valley Stream South: No matter how you look at it, the Falcons made history last year. They won their first state title in school history and became the lowest seed (No. 18) to win a county title in the history of Nassau girls athletics in an undefeated season.
But this year hasn’t been as kind to the Falcons. They’ve played a tougher schedule with the move to AB-I and have suffered injuries to many of their top players this year. Valley Stream South hopes to get some contributors back for the postseason, and if so, the Falcons still will be in the mix for a title.
No. 6 Manhasset: The Indians have been a team of streaks, which means if they play their best soccer come playoff time, watch out. Elizabeth Cruz leads the offense with eight goals and two assists, and Kendall Simms had five goals and four assists.
No. 7 Calhoun: A glance at the team’s record doesn’t tell the story for the Colts. Although Calhoun has seven conference losses this season, five have come by one goal. Calhoun entered the playoffs last season as the top seed but lost in the quarterfinals, so the Colts hope to be on the opposite end and pull off some upsets this fall. With Holly DiPalo in net and Kerry Pearson at midfield, there’s no reason why that’s not possible.
7. But don’t forget about...
There is no shortage of talent in AB-I, but it doesn’t end there. Here are a few more teams that should feel excited about their chances.
No. 8 MacArthur: Eight could be the Generals’ magic number. Last season, MacArthur made a run to the county final as the No. 8 seed. The Generals have the talent to repeat that. MacArthur’s lone loss came in the final game of the season to Plainedge, 3-2. But with a tough defense, Kara DeBlasio (17 goals, three assists) and Hayley Hnis (10 goals, three assists) on the attack and Shannon Kilian in net, MacArthur could be on its way for a string of upsets again.
No. 9 Plainedge: With Reilley Turowski (14 goals, nine assists), Sophia Cataldo (16 goals, six assists) and Emma Kelly (eight goals, 10 assists), Plainedge has scored multiple goals in all but two games this year. The Red Devils also have a non-conference victory over Wantagh on their resume.
No. 17 Seaford: After a 1-0 loss to Bellmore JFK to open the year, the Vikings have won 14 straight led by Niki Kassimatis (28 goals, 11 assists) and Olivia Pearse (18 goals, 17 assists). Seaford has a victory over Plainedge in non-conference.
8. A look into the Nassau Class B playoffs
No. 1 Cold Spring Harbor, which played in Nassau AB-II during the season, is led by Sierra Rosado (five goals, one assist) and Isabelle Iglesias (three goals, four assists).
No. 2 Wheatley, which won Nassau AB-III and is coming off a Long Island Class B championship, has won the last three county titles. Isabella Rios has 12 goals and three assists this season.
No. 3 Carle Place has one of the top playmakers on Long Island in Leah Iglesias, who led Nassau in goals (34) and points (41).
9. The CHSAA picture
St. Anthony’s has been the gold standard in CHSAA girls soccer recently, and the Friars posted another undefeated season in league play this year. St. Anthony’s has a trio of players with 22 points this year in Nicole Gordon, Samantha Adams and Brianna Jablonowski, making the two-time defending state champions as difficult as ever to gameplan against.
Kellenberg and Sacred Heart will have something to say about the Friars’ quest for a three-peat. Kellenberg tied St. Anthony’s this season -- the only Long Island team to do so this year -- and features a strong defensive front with eight shutouts.
Sacred Heart has posted the toughest challenge to St. Anthony's in recent years, defeating the Friars in penalty kicks in the CHSAA championship in 2016. Beth McDermott leads the offense this season with seven goals, and Colleen Dorrian has three goals and three assists with Michela Guira in goal.
10. The first-round schedule:
Nassau Class AA at higher seeds on Monday
No. 8 Port Washington at No. 1 Syosset
No. 7 Oceanside at No. 2 Massapequa
No. 6 Baldwin at No. 3 Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK
No. 5 Farmingdale at No. 4 East Meadow
Class A at higher seeds on Saturday
No. 17 Seaford at No. 1 Wantagh
No. 15 Locust Valley at No. 2 Garden City
No. 19 Long Beach at No. 3 Mepham
No. 13 Lynbrook at No. 4 South Side
No. 12 Bellmore JFK at No. 5 Valley Stream South
No. 11 Bethpage at No. 6 Manhasset
No. 10 North Shore at No. 7 Calhoun
No. 9 Plainedge at No. 8 MacArthur
Class B at higher seeds on Wednesday
No. 4 Oyster Bay at No. 1 Cold Spring Harbor
No. 3 Carle Place at No. 2 Wheatley